Courts may impose penalties, called sanctions, when improper conduct is employed during litigation. Sanctions are usually fines. A lawyer seeking sanctions must file a motion with the court. A hearing is set during which the lawyer must produce evidence of wrongful conduct. The lawyer may also suggest the amount of sanctions she believes is appropriate for the circumstances. Federal and state statutes specify the improper acts that can give rise to sanctions.
Sanctions are proper when lawsuits are filed with the sole intentions of intimidating, embarrassing or harassing defendants. It is considered a serious abuse of the justice system to file lawsuits for these purposes. Lawyers may also file for sanctions if their opponents engage in needless tactics that delay the progress of litigation. Schemes designed to increase the cost of litigation may also lead to sanctions.
Sanctions for Frivolous Actions
A lawyer may file a request for sanctions in response to a frivolous lawsuit. A frivolous lawsuit is defined as a complaint that has no legal merit. Sanctions for frivolous actions include payment of the opposing party's costs and attorney's fees. Likewise, a defendant may not present frivolous defenses in response to a legitimate lawsuit. Frivolous defenses are punishable by the same sanctions as frivolous lawsuits.
Sanctions Apply to Attorneys
A lawyer is required to sign each pleading he files in court. A lawyer's signature on court documents indicates she has investigated a client's claims and vouches for their legal appropriateness. A lawyer who collaborates with a client to engage in any improper behavior is subject to the same sanctions as the litigant. Therefore, a lawyer may file for sanctions against a plaintiff, defendant and any lawyer participating in prohibited behavior.
Read More: Types of Legal Sanctions
Limitations on Sanctions
Sanctions have limitations. They may not be crafted for mere revenge or encompass exorbitant fines. They must bear a clear relationship to the damages incurred by the improper behavior. Sanctions for attorney's fees, costs and fines must be reasonable in nature.
Maggie Lourdes is a full-time attorney in southeast Michigan. She teaches law at Cleary University in Ann Arbor and online for National University in San Diego. Her writing has been featured in "Realtor Magazine," the N.Y. State Bar's "Health Law Journal," "Oakland County Legal News," "Michigan Probate & Estate Planning Journal," "Eye Spy Magazine" and "Surplus Today" magazine.