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Vizcaino v. Isaac

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

January 20, 2016

LUIS VIZCAINO, Plaintiff,
v.
ALEX F. ISAAC, et al., Defendants.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION ON PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SANCTIONS [Docket No. 30]

JENNIFER C. BOAL, Magistrate Judge.

In this action, Plaintiff Luis Vizcaino alleges, inter alia, that he retained defendant Alex F. Isaac as his agent, who then breached the parties' contract, breached his fiduciary duties to Vizcaino, and misappropriated Vizcaino's monies. Vizcaino has filed a motion for sanctions against Isaac. Docket No. 30.[1] For the following reasons, the Court recommends that the District Judge assigned to this case deny the motion.

I. RELEVANT FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Vizcaino filed his complaint on April 9, 2015. Docket No. 1. He brings claims of breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duties, conversion, fraud in the inducement, fraud and misrepresentation, unfair or deceptive acts and practices in violation of Chapter 93A and negligence.

On October 17, 2015, Isaac filed a motion for summary judgment. Docket No. 17. Isaac argued that Vizcaino's claims for conversion, fraud and misrepresentation, unfair or deceptive practices, and negligence are barred by the applicable statute of limitations because the relevant events occurred in 2011. Id. at 1. Vizcaino opposed the motion, arguing that because he did not learn of Isaac's financial misconduct until early 2014, the statute of limitations had not yet run. Docket No. 31. The District Court denied the motion for summary judgment on December 14, 2015, finding that "the factual allegations set forth in the verified complaint and affidavit filed in support of Plaintiff's opposition raise genuine issues of material fact regarding the statute of limitations." Docket No. 38.

On November 30, 2015, Vizcaino filed the instant motion for sanctions based on Isaac's filing of his motion for summary judgment. Docket No. 30. Isaac, who is proceeding pro se, [2] did not file a written response. The Court heard oral argument on January 20, 2016, at which Isaac appeared by phone and participated.

II. ANALYSIS

A. Standard of Review

"Rule 11 permits a court to impose sanctions on a party or lawyer for advocating a frivolous position, pursuing an unfounded claim, or filing a lawsuit for some improper purpose." CQ Int'l Co., Inc. v. Rochem Int'l, Inc., USA, 659 F.3d 53, 60 (1st Cir. 2011). Rule 11, however, "is not a strict liability provision, and a showing of at least culpable carelessness is required before a violation of the Rule can be found." Id . (quoting Citibank Global Mkts., Inc. v. Santana, 573 F.3d 17, 32 (1st Cir. 2009)). "The mere fact that a claim ultimately proves unavailing, without more, cannot support the imposition of Rule 11 sanctions." Id . (quoting Protective Life Ins. Co. v. Dignity Viatical Settlement Partners, L.P., 171 F.3d 52, 58 (1st Cir. 1999)); see also Kusek v. Kusek, 461 B.R. 691, 698 (1st Cir. BAP 2011) ("Every misinformed legal argument does not entitle its opponent to requital.").[3]

Whether a party breaches his duty under Rule 11 to conduct a reasonable inquiry into the facts and the law "depends on the objective reasonableness of the litigant's conduct under the totality of the circumstances." CQ Int'l Co., Inc., 659 F.3d at 62 (citation omitted). In determining whether a party has failed to comply with Rule 11, the Court may examine a number of factors, including "the complexity of the subject matter, the party's familiarity with it, the time available for inquiry, and the ease (or difficulty) of access to the requisite information." Id. at 62-63 (citing Navarro-Ayala v. Nunez, 968 F.2d 1421, 1425 (1st Cir. 1992)). A party need not carry an investigation "to the point of absolute certainty." Id. at 63 (quotation omitted). "Rather, it is sufficient if a factual contention will likely have evidentiary support after a reasonable opportunity for further investigation or discovery.'" Id . (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 11(b)(3)). "At its core, the imposition of sanctions is a judgment call." Nyer v. Winterthur Int'l, 290 F.3d 456, 462 (1st Cir. 2002) (citations omitted).

A pro se party is not immune from Rule 11. Vizvary v. Vignati, 134 F.R.D. 28, 31 (D.R.I. 1990). However:

Amended rule 11 continues to apply to anyone who signs a pleading, motion, or other paper. Although the standard is the same for unrepresented parties, who are obliged themselves to sign the pleadings, the court has sufficient discretion to take account of the special circumstances that often arise in pro se situations.

Id. (internal citations omitted). Thus, "the objective standard to be applied regarding Rule 11 asks what a reasonable person in the pro se litigant's position would have done." Id . (citation omitted). "Arguments that a lawyer should or would recognize as groundless may not seem so to the pro se litigant." Id . (citation omitted).

Rule 11 is "intended to facilitate case management, not to increase caseload by requiring a district court to analyze the reasonableness of legal and factual contentions that it would otherwise not have to ascertain." CQ Int'l Co., Inc., 659 F.3d at 62. The First Circuit has stated that "[it] will not invite full-scale satellite litigation in the area of sanctions, nor will [it] require district courts to spend valuable judicial resources in punctiliously analyzing the reasonableness of each and every legal and ...


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