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DiPaolo v. Moran

May 10, 2005

GREGORY DIPAOLO
v.
STEVEN MORAN; NEIL A. MORRIS ASSOCIATES, P.C.; WILLIAM MCCAULLY; WILLIAM FOX; DALE RICHARDSON; RON HOWARD TRANENKLE; BENSALEM TOWNSHIP; BENSALEM TOWNSHIP BOARD OF COUNCIL; HEATHER ODY; WILLIAM MADDOCK; JOSEPH PILARI; JOSEPH SZAFRAN; EDWARD KISSELBACK; JOSEPH DIGERALMO, SUED INDIVIDUALLY AND IN THEIR OFFICIAL CAPACITIES; NEIL A. MORRIS BRIAN M. PURICELLI, (*PURSUANT TO FRAP 12(A)) APPELLANT IN NO. 04-1670
NEIL A. MORRIS AND NEIL A. MORRIS ASSOCIATES, P.C., APPELLANTS IN NO. 04-1769



On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (D.C. Civil Action No. 99-cv-05974) District Judge: Honorable William H. Yohn, Jr.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ambro, Circuit Judge

PRECEDENTIAL

Submitted Under Third Circuit LAR 34.1(a) February 15, 2005

Before: SLOVITER, AMBRO and ALDISERT, Circuit Judges

OPINION OF THE COURT

Before us is the imposition of a sanction under Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, with the sanctioned party arguing that a sanction was not warranted and the opposing party contending that the District Court should have awarded a monetary sanction. For the reasons that follow, we affirm both of the District Court's determinations.

I. Factual Background and Procedural History

Appellant Brian Puricelli filed the underlying action on behalf of his client, Gregory DiPaolo, in November 1999, claiming that the Bensalem Police Department's termination of DiPaolo's employment as a tenured police officer violated his rights under the United States and Pennsylvania Constitutions and Pennsylvania law. The complaint named fifteen defendants—among whom were Neil Morris, Esquire and his law firm, Neil A. Morris Associates, P.C. (collectively "Morris")—both Appellees and Cross-Appellants here.

As the District Court stated, "[e]arly on in this litigation, it became apparent that there was extensive bad blood between Puricelli and Morris involving not only this litigation, but other litigation in other courts." DiPaolo v. Moran, 277 F. Supp. 2d 528, 529 (E.D. Pa. 2003). Because an account of the various suits between the parties—or the incidents evincing "bad blood"—will not shed light on those issues before us, we confine our discussion of the factual background and procedural history to those events that relate to the sanction imposed against Puricelli.

In January 2000 Puricelli (on DiPaolo's behalf) moved for a default judgment against Morris and the other defendants on the ground that they had failed to file a response to DiPaolo's complaint. Several weeks thereafter, Morris and his firm filed a motion for sanctions, in which they asserted that Morris and the other defendants had responded by filing motions to dismiss. Moreover, Puricelli refused to withdraw the motion for default judgment even after the defendants informed him that they had filed the motions to dismiss. In March 2000 the District Court granted the motion for sanctions and sanctioned Puricelli (and not DiPaolo) in the amount of $350.

Puricelli did not pay this amount, however, and defendants filed a motion seeking additional sanctions against Puricelli. In May 2000, the District Court entered an order directing Puricelli to promptly pay the $350 or he would be required to pay an additional sum.

While these events were taking place, Morris filed a motion for sanctions under Rule 11 *fn1 against DiPaolo and Puricelli, arguing that the complaint was frivolous and filed in bad faith. In May 2000, after holding oral argument on the various defendants' motions seeking dismissal of the complaint, the District Court issued an order setting out the claims—including claims against Morris—that the plaintiff (DiPaolo) could pursue in an amended complaint. The Court did not expressly rule on Morris's motion for sanctions. However, as it allowed the filing of an amended complaint, the Court apparently intended to deny the Rule 11 motion. See DiPaolo, 277 F. Supp. 2d at 530 (explaining that the Court's decision to allow an amended complaint "effectively mooted the sanctions issue; had the claims been so frivolous as to warrant Rule 11 sanctions, the court would not have permitted" the amended pleading).

After Puricelli filed the amended complaint, Morris filed a "supplemental" motion for Rule 11 sanctions against both DiPaolo and Puricelli, arguing that the amended complaint lacked legal and factual merit. In July 2000, after the time period for filing a response had expired and no response had been filed, the District Court granted Morris's motion for sanctions as to Puricelli only.

Several weeks later Puricelli moved for reconsideration, arguing that he had never received the supplemental motion for sanctions. The District Court held a hearing and found Puricelli not to be credible insofar as he testified that he had not received the supplemental motion. In making this credibility determination, the Court found that a letter dated July 5, 2000 authored by Puricelli was a "smoking gun." In the letter, Puricelli stated that a response to the "Rule 11 motion is forthcoming...." As the District Court indicated, the date of the ...


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