An Ohio lawyer’s “meritless appeal” warrants sanctions, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has ruled.
On Oct. 10, a unanimous panel issued a per curiam decision affirming a summary judgment ruling in favor of defendant Graphic Packaging in a wrongful discharge case. The Sixth Circuit, which ruled on the briefs and did not hold oral argument, also granted Graphic Packaging’s sanctions motion. It ruled that the company could collect costs and attorney fees related to the appeal from the plaintiffs’ lawyer, Eric Hall, who was earlier this year suspended from the practice of law in Ohio. The company has 30 days to file an affidavit with the amount it seeks.
Tamie Seifert worked at Graphic Packaging from July to December 2009, when she was fired for alleged poor performance.
She filed a lawsuit in Ohio state court, and the company removed it to federal court.
In September 2011, after discovery, Judge Donald Nugent of the Northern District of Ohio granted Graphic Packaging’s summary judgment motion, and Seifert appealed.
Judges Danny Boggs and Eric Clay, along with Senior Judge William Stafford Jr. of the Northern District of Florida, who sat on the case by designation, issued the ruling in Seifert v. Graphic Packaging International Inc.
The opinion noted that Seifert’s deposition testimony “failed to establish facts supporting her claims and directly refuted her complaint’s allegations. … In her deposition, Seifert conceded that she was not terminated because of her gender or age, forfeiting her discriminatory discharge claims. Seifert based her breach of implied contract and promissory estoppel claims on her offer letter. But that letter expressly disclaimed any employment contract or alteration of the at-will employment relationship and did not contain any specific promise of continued employment.”
The Sixth Circuit went on to observe, “The fact that Hall filed a brief with no record citations, particularly in light of Seifert’s damaging admissions in her deposition testimony, indicates that Hall and Seifert had no reasonable expectation of vacating the district court’s summary judgment in favor of Graphic Packaging.”
The appeals court determined that the pursuit of a meritless appeal warrants sanctions under Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 38 and the section of the U.S. Code that covers counsel’s liability for excessive costs. “However, the equities weigh in favor of sanctioning only Hall and not his client, who is untrained in the law.”
The court noted that the Ohio Supreme Court suspended Hall from the practice of law this year and that Hall filed a notice of disqualification with the Sixth Circuit on March 14. In its March 1 ruling in Disciplinary Counsel v. Hall, the Ohio high court stated that “Hall agreed to represent clients but then failed to perform the agreed-upon work or to respond to his clients’ efforts to reach him.”
Terri Stewart, an associate at Atlanta’s Fisher & Phillips and one of the company’s lawyers on the case, said, “We knew from the outset that the plaintiff’s claims were without merit.”
After Seifert’s deposition, Graphic Packaging’s position was solidified, Stewart said, adding, “The company gave the plaintiff every opportunity to withdrawal her meritless claims in light of her admissions and established legal authority, but the plaintiff continued to press forward.”
Hall’s lawyer, Wesley Alton Johnston of Youngstown, Ohio. could not be reached for comment.
Hall, of Brunswick, Ohio, said that Graphic Packaging filed the same sanctions motion at the district court level, but the district court ignored it. “The district court did not consider it a frivolous lawsuit; otherwise they would have considered Graphic Packaging’s motion at the district court level,” Hall said.