Friday, May 1, 2009

A Step Over A Fine Line

The Iowa Supreme Court affirmed a district court's order that imposed a $25,000 sanction against an attorney who had brought a class action on behalf of homeowners against a manufacturer of roofing shingles and its president. The case involved claims of breach of warranty, recession and fraudulent representations. The court here agreed with the district court that no reasonable Iowa attorney would have brought the claims. The court noted that the lawyer's trial tactics and lack of candor had increased the legal costs of defending the case.

The court stated:

Admittedly, there is a fine line at times between zealous advocacy and frivolous claims...An attorney making a good-faith challenge to existing law may still rely on notice pleading. But there comes a point in every case-usually in response to a motion for summary judgment-when the attorney must acknowledge controlling precedent with "candor and honesty" while asserting reasons to modify or change existing law. Such arguments need not be successful to avoid sanctions. However, we will not allow an attorney to act incompetently or stubbornly persistent, contrary to the law or facts, and then later attempt to avoid sanctions by arguing he or she was merely trying to reverse or expand existing law.

A dissent would find error in the determination of the amount of the sanction. (Mike Frisch)

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This is fine- she made numerous false statements in pleadings. However I was troubled by this: "it is clear her
only reason for keeping Humphreys in the litigation was to force or coerce a settlement of the litigation so Humphreys would avoid personal liability." So long as you have a VIABLE case against the corporate officer, how could it be sanctionable to pursue it because you think it's a good way to make sure your client gets paid?

Posted by: Philip | May 1, 2009 9:14:53 AM

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