Appellate Advocacy Blog

Editor: Tessa L. Dysart
The University of Arizona
James E. Rogers College of Law

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Attorney Files Complaint in Form of a Screenplay; Court Threatens Sanctions

The title of this post is misleading, as it implies a court is threatening to sanction an attorney for a creative submission. While this title may get the reader's attention, the complaint in the form of a screenplay is the least of this attorney's problem. 

Ilya Liviz, a Massachusetts attorney, has had several ongoing disputes with the state court about filing procures and requirements. He was seeking to have the federal court hear his constitutional due process claims in these state court dismissals, and this last screenplay filing was enough for Judge Indira Talwani. Judge Talwani warned the lawyer that if he kept filing insufficient complaints, after being given fair notice, sanctions would be imposed under FRCP Rule 11. The screenplay format was mentioned by the judge but it was only a problem because it lacked the necessary substance under FRCP Rule 8.

Liviz filed his Oct. 3 suit on behalf of client Lyudmila Maslyakova, who is referred to as “Grandma” in the screenplay complaint. Liviz said in a “plot” subheading that Maslyakova was ticketed for using her husband’s handicapped placard, and she faces an immediate suspension of her license if a court does not come to her aid....

“Normal sunny day, people are smiling as they are going in and out, of the local store,” the complaint said under an “Act 1” heading. Liviz goes on to describe how Grandma pulls up to the store with her husband, her husband gets out to shop, and Grandma puts the car in reverse to pull away and do her own shopping elsewhere. “All of a sudden she hears the police siren and red and blue lights,” the Act 1 summary said.

A “theme” subhead in Liviz’s complaint said his client is seeking an injunction against the state high court for a constitutional violation of due process access to the courts because of rejected appeals and a refusal to waive filings fees.

Interestingly Liviz responded to the judge's order by moving for sanctions of his own against the court, and asking for the judge's recusal. His response will give the reader an idea of the absurdity that the court has had to put up with. Creative citation and colorful footnotes aside, here is one passage that conveys a bit of the flavor of the filing: 

Simply said; this is a frivolous comparison that equates comparing apples to a screwdriver, that is justified with erroneously juxtaposed comparison of ol-lady driver who got screwed while eating an apple. (Say what? Emphasis added.)

That passage is exactly the same as it appears in the filing. The rest of the document is slightly better, but it keeps a mocking tone and has little logical progression. Therefore, it would not be hard to understand why the court felt it necessary to remind Liviz about sanctions.

Liviz said he filed the original complaint as a screenplay because he couldn't get anyone to pay attention to him.

Liviz told the ABA Journal on Dec. 11 that he filed the complaint in the form of a screenplay because he needed to draw some attention to his client’s plight. “If I had filed it regular, not a screenplay, would you have called me?” he asked.

He elaborated on the reason for the unusual filing in an email to the ABA Journal. “No one was listening or helping,” he wrote. “Not the news, not the courts, no one; I needed to get attention to the real issue here, which is proved by your questions. What should be more important and newsworthy; showing interest in a complaint written like a ‘play’ or your attention on the fact that people’s rights are being deprived by the judiciary, which is entrusted in protecting them? I had 14 appeals thrown out in state court. No one was listening, and I feared these matters would be thrown out like all others, without even considering the merits. Thus, I switched strategy, and filed a ‘screenplay.’ ”

If there is to be creativity of this sort involved in official court documents, it usually comes from the bench side. Some judges have written their opinions like a story, or like a poem, and have used pictures to illustrate their points. These opinions are often paying up lighthearted points in the cases. In this instance, the lawyer decided to inject some uniqueness to his otherwise dry case. Because he has a history of what appears to be redundant suits, it's hard to say whether a screenplay, if done well, would be at all persuasive. It's certainly out-of-the-box, but probably a little too far to be taken seriously. It runs the risk of insulting the court, which in this case, it likely did. All things considered, I won't be recommending this structural form to my students.

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