Sanctions Other Than Contempt

Sanctions Other Than Contempt

Long recognized by the courts as inherent powers are those authorities that are necessary to the administration of the judicial system itself, of which the contempt power just discussed is only the most controversial.223 Courts, as an independent and coequal branch of government, once they are created and their jurisdiction established, have the authority to do what courts have traditionally done in order to accomplish their assigned tasks.224 Of course, these inherent powers may be limited by statutes and by rules,225 but, just as was noted in the discussion of the same issue with respect to contempt, the Court asserts both the power to act in areas not covered by statutes and rules and the power to act unless Congress has not only provided regulation of the exercise of the power but also unmistakably enunciated its intention to limit the inherent powers.226

Thus, in the cited Chambers case, the Court upheld the imposition of monetary sanctions against a litigant and his attorney for bad-faith litigation conduct in a diversity case. Some of the conduct was covered by a federal statute and several sanction provisions of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, but some was not, and the Court held that, absent a showing that Congress had intended to limit the courts, they could utilize inherent powers to sanction for the entire course of conduct, including shifting attorney fees, ordinarily against the American rule.227 In another case, a party failed to comply with discovery orders and a court order concerning a schedule for filing briefs. The Supreme Court held that the attorney’s fees statute did not allow assessment of such fees in that situation, but it remanded for consideration of sanctions under both the Federal Rule and the trial court’s inherent powers, subject to a finding of bad faith.228 But bad faith is not always required for the exercise of some inherent powers. Thus, courts may dismiss an action for an unexplained failure of the moving party to prosecute it.229

223 “Certain implied powers must necessarily result to our Courts of justice from the nature of their institution.... To fine for contempt—imprison for contumacy— inforce the observance of order, &c. are powers which cannot be dispensed with in a Court, because they are necessary to the exercise of all others: and so far our Courts no doubt possess powers not immediately derived from statute... .” United States v. Hudson & Goodwin, 11 U.S. (7 Cr.) 32, 34 (1812).

224 See Anderson v. Dunn, 19 U.S. (6 Wheat.) 204, 227 (1821); Ex parte Robinson, 86 U.S. (19 Wall.) 505, 510 (1874); Link v. Wabash R.R., 370 U.S. 626, 630-631 (1962); Chambers v. NASCO, Inc., 501 U.S. 32, 43-46 (1991); and id. at 58 (Justice Scalia dissenting), 60, 62-67 (Justice Kennedy dissenting).

225 Chambers v. NASCO, Inc., 501 U.S. at 47.

226 501 U.S. at 46-51. But see id. at 62-67 (Justice Kennedy dissenting).

227 501 U.S. at 49-51. On the implications of the fact that this was a diversity case, see id. at 51-55.

228 Roadway Express, Inc. v. Piper, 447 U.S. 752, 764 (1980).

229 Link v. Wabash R.R., 370 U.S. 626 (1962).

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Last modified: June 9, 2014