Monday, September 19, 2011
7th Circuit bench-slaps attorney for poor writing threatening him with loss of federal bar membership
[Updated with new link - thanks to a reader for letting us that the opinion has been removed from the original site]
Wow. The 7th Circuit really tee-ed off on this plaintiff's attorney for filing an "incomprehensible" complaint and then writing an appellate brief that is so bad, according to the court, that the attorney has been ordered to show cause as to why his license to practice before the 7th Circuit should not be revoked.
The case, Stanard v. Nygren, No. 09-1487, slip op. (7th Cir. Sept. 19, 2011), [try this link if the previous one is dead] involves an alleged violation of the plaintiff's civil rights because the local sheriff apparently required him to hire county deputies as a private security force for an outdoor performance venue the plaintiff had constructed. After giving the plaintiff's attorney three tries at filing an "intelligible" complaint at the trial level, the district dismissed the action with prejudice. The plaintiff then appealed and the 7th Circuit affirmed making things worse for the plaintiff's attorney by ordering him to show cause as to why his license to practice before that court should not be revoked. In addition, the attorney must send a copy of the court's order to the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission.
Here are some excerpts:
"We affirm. The district court was well within its discretion to reject the second amended complaint and dismiss the case with prejudice. Each iteration of the complaint was generally incomprehensible and riddled with errors, making it impossible for the defendants to know what wrongs they were accused of committing. Maksym's persistent failure to comply with basic directions from the court and his open defiance of court orders amply justified the judge's decision to dismiss with prejudice. Moreover, like his pleadings in the district court, Maksym's appellate briefing is woefully deficient, raising serious concerns about his competence to practice before this court. Accordingly, we order Maksym to show cause why he should not be suspended from the bar of this court or otherwise disciplined under Rule 46 of the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure. Finally, we direct the clerk to send a copy of this opinion to the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission."
"Applying these principles here, the district court was well within its discretion in refusing to accept Stanard's proposed second amended complaint. We agree that it crossed the line from just 'unnecessarily long' to 'unintelligible.' Though the complaint was far longer than it needed to be, prolixity was not its chief deficiency. Rather, its rampant grammatical, syntactical, and typographical errors contributed to an overall sense of unintelligibility. This was compounded by a vague, confusing, and conclusory articulation of the factual and legal basis for the claims and a general 'kitchen sink' approach to pleading the case. This was Maksym's third attempt to draft a comprehensible pleading, yet his effort to comply with the court's earlier directions was half-hearted at best; the proffered second amended complaint was rife with errors. We include a sampling to provide an understanding of its shortcomings: [omitting list on pp. 13-16, including footnote 7, which reproduces a 345-word sentence and runs about 1.5 pages in the slip opinion]"
"One final note: Compounding the problems he exhibited in the district court, Maksym failed to file a reasonably coherent brief on appeal. All the deficiencies that plagued the various versions of the complaint also infected his briefs here. Maksym never directly addressed the issues before this court, relying instead on cases of marginal or no relevance. In the table of authorities in his opening brief, he cites 81 cases, but almost all of them are completely irrelevant to the issues presented here. In his reply brief, after the defendants had crystallized the issues, Maksym again failed to meaningfully-or even comprehensibly-articulate an argument. His appellate briefing was characterized by a reliance on irrelevant, conclusory, and often incoherent arguments of which the following is a representative example: 'Plaintiffs claims were not "intelligible"- no "needle in a haystack" as Appellees' claim.'"
A big hat tip to our own Twitter brief-writing champion Chris Wren for this story.