Willy v. Coastal Corp., 503 U.S. 131, 9 (1992)

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Cite as: 503 U. S. 131 (1992)

Opinion of the Court

than a Rule 11 sanction. Civil contempt is designed to force the contemnor to comply with an order of the court, id., at 79; Rule 11 is designed to punish a party who has already violated the court's rules. Cooter & Gell, supra, at 396. Given that civil contempt is designed to coerce compliance with the court's decree, it is logical that the order itself should fall with a showing that the court was without authority to enter the decree. Accord, United States v. Mine Workers, supra.

The interest in having rules of procedure obeyed, by contrast, does not disappear upon a subsequent determination that the court was without subject-matter jurisdiction. Courts do make mistakes; in cases such as Catholic Conference it may be possible immediately to seek relief in an appellate tribunal. But where such an immediate appeal is not authorized, there is no constitutional infirmity under Article III in requiring those practicing before the courts to conduct themselves in compliance with the applicable procedural rules in the interim, and to allow the courts to impose Rule 11 sanctions in the event of their failure to do so.5

For the foregoing reasons, the judgment of the Court of Appeals is


5 Our conclusion that the District Court acted within the scope of the Federal Rules and that the sanction may constitutionally be applied even when subject-matter jurisdiction is eventually found lacking makes it unnecessary for us to consider respondent's alternative contention that the sanction may be upheld as an appropriate exercise of the District Court's "inherent powers."


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