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Leuallen v. Borough of Paulsboro

January 10, 2002

TIMOTHY LEUALLEN, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
BOROUGH OF PAULSBORO, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Simandle, District Judge

OPINION

When an attorney, in response to the Court's concern that his 34-page Complaint on behalf of multiple plaintiffs alleging various civil rights violations against various local police departments cannot be understood, responds nonetheless with a 160-page Amended Complaint compounding the difficulties and asserting claims that are legally and factually nonsensical, there will be consequences. This Opinion, issued following a hearing after due notice to plaintiffs' counsel, Samuel A. Malat, Esquire, upon the Court's own initiative under Rule 11(c)(1)(B), Fed. R. Civ. P., explains these consequences and imposes the appropriate sanctions against this attorney's conduct.

I. INTRODUCTION AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On December 5, 2001, this Court filed an unpublished Opinion and Order, Leuallen v. Paulsboro, No. 99-4353, ____ WL _____ (D.N.J. Dec. 5, 2001), deciding two summary judgment motions, which dismissed with prejudice all claims by all plaintiffs against the Borough of Paulsboro, the Paulsboro Police Department, and Police Chief Ridinger ("the Paulsboro Defendants"), all state law claims by all plaintiffs, all section 1983 constitutional violation claims by Timothy Leuallen, Sr. as Guardian Ad Litem for Rebecca Grove, Timothy Leuallen, Jr., and Harley Leuallen, all section 1983 constitutional violation claims by Rickey Ann Vaughn as Guardian Ad Litem for Patricia Reed and Curtis Reed, Jr., all section 1983 constitutional violation claims by Bernice Leuallen, Dolores Dalbow, Phillip Williamson, Michael Morgan, and Gary Tucker, Sr., all 1983 constitutional violation claims by Marge Holeman except her 4th Amendment search and seizure claim, and Tim Leuallen, Sr.'s section 1983 claims arising from alleged Fifth, Sixth, Thirteenth, and Fourth Amendment unlawful entry claims only. Suffice it to say it required the Court to write a 48-page opinion plus charts to map out and adjudicate these confusing and largely non-meritorious claims because they were so poorly pleaded and argued by plaintiff's counsel.

This Court also ordered on its own initiative, on December 5, 2001, pursuant to Rule 11(c)(1)(B), that plaintiffs' counsel, Samuel A. Malat, Esquire, appear and show cause why he should not be sanctioned for violating Rule 11, Fed. R. Civ. P., when he signed and asserted unsupported and untenable claims on behalf of his clients under 42 U.S.C. § 1981, the Thirteenth Amendment, and state common law, without regard to the injury threshold required by the New Jersey Tort Claims Act, 59:9-1, et seq. ("NJTCA"). *fn1

For the reasons set forth herein, this Court finds that Mr. Malat violated Rules 11(b)(2)&(3) by failing to make reasonable inquiry into the existing facts and law prior to filing the Complaint in this case in September, 1999, and the two subsequent Amended Complaints in October and December, respectively. The Court notes that the Honorable Stephen M. Orlofsky found that Mr. Malat violated Rule 11 just one month prior to the filing of the instant case. See Carlino v. Gloucester City High Sch., 57 F. Supp.2d 1 (D.N.J. 1999). On August 2, 1999, Judge Orlofsky ordered that Mr. Malat attend two continuing legal education courses within 18 months and also that he pay a fine of $500.00 to the Clerk of the Court within 30 days. *fn2

Just over one month after Judge Orlofsky imposed these sanctions, Mr. Malat filed the Complaint in the instant action on behalf of eleven plaintiffs, but made factual allegations and legal claims on behalf of only one (Gary Tucker) and failed to make any allegations against a number of named defendants. *fn3 Rather than dismissing the claims of the other ten plaintiffs outright, this Court ordered Mr. Malat to file an amended complaint rectifying the obvious pleading deficiencies and reminding him that his submissions must comport with Rule 11, Fed. R. Civ. P. See Leuallen v. Paulsboro, No. 99-4353, ___ WL ________ (D.N.J. Sept. 21, 1999). Mr. Malat filed an Amended Complaint on October 1, 1999 that simply repeated the claims initially made only on behalf of plaintiff Gary Tucker for each of the named plaintiffs, thus increasing the length of the complaint from 34 to 160 pages. Although minor changes in the named parties were made, it appeared that Mr. Malat did not conduct any further legal or factual research before filing the Amended Complaint. On December 3, 1999, Mr. Malat filed a Second Amended Complaint, again without conducting any obvious legal research or additional factfinding.

II. RULE 11 SANCTIONS

Rule 11, Fed. R. Civ. P., *fn4 "imposes on counsel a duty to look before leaping and may be seen as a litigation version of the familiar railroad crossing admonition to `stop, look, and listen.'" Lieb v. Topstone Indus., 788 F.2d 151, 157 (3d Cir. 1986); Carlino, 57 F. Supp.2d at 36-37. In other words, Rule 11 requires that an attorney who submits a complaint certify that it is not asserted for improper purposes, such as delay or harassment, and that there is a reasonable basis in fact and law for the claims made. See Carlino, 57 F. Supp.2d at 37 (citing Napier v. Thirty or More Unidentified Federal Agents, etc., 855 F.2d 1080, 1090 (3d Cir. 1988)). Rule 11 is intended to discourage the filing of frivolous, unsupported, or unreasonable claims. See id.

The Third Circuit has written that "[t]he legal standard to be applied when evaluating conduct allegedly violative of Rule 11 is reasonableness under the circumstances." Ford Motor Co. v. Summit Motor Products, Inc., 930 F.2d 277, 289 (3d Cir.)(citations omitted), cert. denied, 502 U.S. 939, 112 S. Ct. 373, 116 L. Ed.2d 324 (1991); Carlino, 57 F. Supp.2d at 37. Reasonableness in the context of a Rule 11 inquiry has been defined as "an objective knowledge or belief at the time of the filing of a challenged paper that the claim was well grounded in law and fact." Ford Motor Co., 930 F.2d at 289; Clement v. Public Serv. Elec. & Gas Co., 198 F.R.D. 634, 637 (D.N.J. 2001). Bad faith is not required for a Rule 11 violation, see Clement, 198 F.R.D. at 637 (citing Martin v. Brown, 63 F.3d 1252, 1264 (3d Cir. 1995), and thus there can be no `empty head, pure heart' justification for the filing of frivolous claims. See Clement, 198 F.R.D. at 637 (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 11, adv. cmte. notes (1993)).

III. ANALYSIS

The Second Amended Complaint and its predecessors, signed by Samuel A. Malat, Esquire, contain several clearly frivolous claims which cannot arguably be supported by the law or facts of this case, namely, the 42 U.S.C. § 1981 claims, the Thirteenth Amendment claims, and all state tort law claims against public employees. As discussed below, this Court finds that Mr. Malat's submission of the Complaint, Amended Complaint, and Second Amended Complaint constituted a violation of Rule 11(b)(2) and 11(b)(3). *fn5

A. Rules 11(b)(2)&(3): Claims Not Warranted by Existing Law or Facts

All three of the types of claims identified in this Court's December 5, 2001 Order to Show Cause are frivolous, legally unreasonable, and without factual foundation. Nowhere in any of his pleadings or submissions does Mr. Malat offer any statutory, case law, or factual support for the 42 U.S.C. ยง 1981, Thirteenth ...


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