RESPONDENT:Marvel Entertainment Group, A Division of Cadence Industries Corporation
LOCATION:Gates Pass, Tucson, Arizona
DOCKET NO.: 88-791
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1988-1990)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
CITATION: 493 US 120 (1989)
ARGUED: Oct 02, 1989
DECIDED: Dec 05, 1989
Jacob Laufer – on behalf of the Petitioner
Norman B. Arnoff – on behalf of the Respondent
Media for Pavelic & LeFlore v. Marvel Entertainment Group, A Division of Cadence Industries Corporation
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – December 05, 1989 in Pavelic & LeFlore v. Marvel Entertainment Group, A Division of Cadence Industries Corporation
William H. Rehnquist:
The opinion of the Court in No. 88-791, Pavelic & LeFlore versus Marvel Entertainment Group will be announced by Justice Scalia.
This case is here on certiorari from the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
It is one of the few textual construction cases that is easy to describe, if not to decide.
The complaint and the other papers filed on behalf of the plaintiff in this case were found to contain allegations that had no basis in fact and had not been investigated sufficiently by counsel.
Consequently, the District Court imposed monetary sanctions under Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requiring money to be paid to the defendant who had incurred expenses because of these unsupported allegations.
The court imposed those sanctions not only against the individual lawyer who would sign the papers but also against that lawyer’s firm.
The law firm unsuccessfully argued to the District Court and on appeal to the Second Circuit that the only proper object of the sanctions was the individual lawyer.
Rule 11 reads in part as follows: “Every pleading motion and other paper of a party represented by an attorney shall be signed by at least one attorney of record in the attorney’s individual name whose address shall be stated.
A party not represented by an attorney shall sign the party’s pleading, motion, or other paper, and state the party’s address.
The signature of an attorney or party constitutes a certificate by the signer that the signer has read the pleading, motion, or other paper that to the best of his knowledge, information, and belief it is well-grounded in fact and is warranted by existing law and is not interposed for any improper purpose such as to harass or cause unnecessary delay.
If a pleading motion or other paper is not signed, it shall be stricken.”
And finally, here is the provision at issue here, “If a pleading, motion, or other paper is signed in violation of this Rule, the court upon motion or upon its own initiative shall impose upon the person who signed it a represented party or both an appropriate sanction.”
We hold contrary to the view of the Second Circuit here that the phrase “the person who signed it” in the last sentence refers only to the individual signing lawyer.
We think a fair reading of the text conveys this just as the requirement of signature is imposed personally upon the individual attorney, so is the sanction.
Its purpose is to bring home to the individual signer his personal non-delegable responsibility.
It may well be that in some cases, the firm will be more solvent than the individual attorney, but the purpose of these provisions is sanction and not compensation.
It is arguable perhaps that it would more effectively deter misconduct to impose sanctions on both an attorney and his firm, but we do not think the text of the Rule can fairly be read that way and it is our job to apply that text, not to improve upon it.
Accordingly, the judgment of the Second Circuit is reversed on this point and the case is remanded for further proceedings.
Justice Marshall has filed a dissenting opinion.