Factors for Sanctions

May 15, 2019 § Leave a comment

Dana and Kevin Wilson obtained a TRO against Kevin’s ex-wife, Becky, following a series of unfriendly encounters and confrontations. On the issue of whether to grant a permanent injunction, however, the court granted Becky’s motion for summary judgment. Becky then filed an application for attorney’s fees under MRCP 11 and 54(d), which the chancellor granted in part. Dana and Kevin appealed.

in Wilson v. Wilson, decided March 12, 2019, the COA affirmed and addressed the court’s awarding of sanctions and the factors that trial courts are supposed to consider in their award. Chief Judge Barnes wrote the opinion:

¶14. Becky filed an application for attorney’s fees under Rule 11 and Rule 54(d) of the Mississippi Rules of Civil Procedure. Whether to award monetary sanctions under the Litigation Accountability Act is left to the trial court’s discretion. In re Spencer, 985 So. 2d 330, 336-37 (¶19) (Miss. 2008) (citing Miss. Code Ann. § 11-55-7) (Rev. 2002)). This is also true for sanctions awarded under Rule 11. Id. at 337 (¶19) (citing M.R.C.P. 11(b)). In addressing whether to award monetary sanctions, the chancery court examined each of the following factors:

(a) The extent to which any effort was made to determine the validity of any action, claim or defense before it was asserted, and the time remaining within which the claim or defense could be filed;

(b) The extent of any effort made after the commencement of an action to reduce the number of claims being asserted or to dismiss claims that have been found not to be valid;

(c) The availability of facts to assist in determining the validity of an action, claim or defense;

(d) Whether or not the action was prosecuted or defended, in whole or in part, in bad faith or for improper purpose;

(e) Whether or not issues of fact, determinative of the validity of a party’s claim or defense, were reasonably in conflict;

(f) The extent to which the party prevailed with respect to the amount of and number of claims or defenses in controversy;

(g) The extent to which any action, claim or defense was asserted by an attorney or party in a good faith attempt to establish a new theory of law in the state, which purpose was made known to the court at the time of filing;

(h) The amount or conditions of any offer of judgment or settlement in relation to the amount or conditions of the ultimate relief granted by the court;

(i) The extent to which a reasonable effort was made to determine prior to the time of filing of an action or claim that all parties sued or joined were proper parties owing a legally defined duty to any party or parties asserting the claim or action;

(j) The extent of any effort made after the commencement of an action to reduce the number of parties in the action; and

(k) The period of time available to the attorney for the party asserting any defense before such defense was interposed.

Miss. Code Ann. § 11-55-7. The chancery court addressed every relevant factor set forth in section 11-55-7 and found: (1) the Wilsons failed to investigate the validity of their claims; (2) the Wilsons failed to make an effort to reduce the number of claims against Becky; (3) all facts were “readily available to the Wilsons”; (4) “the Wilsons prosecuted the actions for an improper purpose”; (5) there were no issues of fact reasonably in conflict; (6) the Wilsons did not prevail with respect to any claim, and they were not granted any relief or offer any settlement; (7) Becky did not owe a duty to the Wilsons to explain why she was on a public street; and (8) although the Wilsons dismissed Martha from the case, they did not make an effort to dismiss Becky. [Fn omitted] Therefore, finding that Becky had incurred expenses of $715.50 and attorney’s fees of $8,287.50 since January 4, 2018, the Wilsons were ordered to pay Becky $9,003, plus interest.

Dana and Kevin argued that the chancellor’s findings were not supported by evidence in the record, but the COA analyzed the proof and affirmed the trial court.

This is a pretty useful template for proof if you find yourself having to present a case for sanctions. But I have to add that most judges in my experience do not look favorably on sanctions. There has to be a strong reason to discourage people from pursuing their legal remedies.

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