Commentary and analysis of four Supreme Court decisions in procedure cases decided by the Court during its 1990-91 term. The article discusses Business Guides v. Chromatic Communications Enterprises Inc.; Chambers v. Nasco; West Virginia University Hospitals Inc. v. Casey; and Kay v. Ehler. In Business Guides the Court held that federal district courts may sanctions clients (as well as lawyers) under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11. The Business Guides decision is likely to have impact on the attorney-client relationship, where the client may now be held accountable for allegations made in pleadings and motions. In Chambers v. Nasco, the Court additionally rules that district court judges may sanction attorneys for their conduct before the tribunal, invoking the doctrine of the inherent powers of the court. This sanctioning power exists separate from the court’s sanctioning power under Rule 11. In West Virginia University Hospitals Inc., the Court rules that a prevailing party may not recover expert witness fees as part of attorney fees under the civil rights laws. And, in Kay v. Ehler, a unanimous Court held that a pro se litigant who also happens to be a lawyer may not recover attorney fees under statutory authority. The two sanctioning decisions reflect a get-tough policy by the Court against abusive litigation practices, while the two attorney fee cases embody a parsimonious approach to the dispensation of attorney fee awards. The attorney fee awards may have consequences for the pursuit of plaintiffs’ civil rights litigation.
Linda S. Mullenix, Supreme Court Review: Rule 11 Decisions Targeted Clients, Not Just Lawyers, National Law Journal, Aug. 19, 1991, at S9