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Chambers v. Nasco, Inc. (90-256), 501 U.S. 32 (1991)
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CHAMBERS v. NASCO, INC.

No. 90-256

G. RUSSELL CHAMBERS, PETITIONER v.NASCO, INC.

[June 6, 1991]

Justice Scalia, dissenting.

I agree with the Court that Article III courts, as an independent and coequal Branch of Government, derive from the Constitution itself, once they have been created and their jurisdiction established, the authority to do what courts have traditionally done in order to accomplish their assigned tasks. Some elements of that inherent authority are so essential to "[t]he judicial Power," U. S. Const., Art. III, 1, that they are indefeasible, among which is a court's ability to enter orders protecting the integrity of its proceedings.

"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, 7 Cranch 32, 34 (1812).

I think some explanation might be useful regarding the "bad faith" limitation that the Court alludes to today, see ante, at 13. Since necessity does not depend upon a litigant's state of mind, the inherent sanctioning power must extend to situations involving less than bad faith. For example, a court has the power to dismiss when counsel fails to appear for trial, even if this is a consequence of negligence rather than bad faith.

"The authority of a court to dismiss sua sponte for lack of prosecution has generally been considered an `inherent power,' governed not by rule or statute but by the control necessarily vested in courts to manage their own affairs so as to achieve the orderly and expeditious disposition of cases." Link v. Wabash R. Co., 370 U.S. 626, 630-631 (1962).

However, a "bad-faith" limitation upon the particular sanction of attorney's fees derives from our jurisprudence regarding the so-called American Rule, which provides that the prevailing party must bear his own attorney's fees, and cannot have them assessed against the loser. See Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. v. Wilderness Society, 421 U.S. 240, 247 (1975). That rule, "deeply rooted in our history and in congressional policy," id., at 271, prevents a court (without statutory authorization) from engaging in what might be termed substantive fee-shifting, that is, fee-shifting as part of the merits award. It does not in principle bar fee-shifting as a sanction for procedural abuse, see id., at 258-259. We have held, however - in my view, as a means of preventing erosion or evasion of the American Rule - that even fee-shifting as a sanction can only be imposed for litigation conduct characterized by bad faith. See Roadway Express, Inc. v. Piper, 447 U.S. 752, 766 (1980). But that in no way means that all sanctions imposed under the courts' inherent authority require a finding of bad faith. They do not. See Redfield v. Ystalyfera Iron Co., 110 U.S. 174, 176 (1884) (dismissal appropriate for unexcused delay in prosecution); cf. Link, supra.

Just as Congress may to some degree specify the manner in which the inherent or constitutionally assigned powers of the President will be exercised, so long as the effectiveness of those powers is not impaired, cf. Myers v. United States, 272 U.S. 52, 128 (1926), so also Congress may prescribe the means by which the courts may protect the integrity of their proceedings. A court must use the prescribed means unless for some reason they are inadequate. In the present case they undoubtedly were. Justice Kennedy concedes that some of the impairments of the District Court's proceedings in the present case were not sanctionable under the Federal Rules. I have no doubt of a court's authority to go beyond the Rules in such circumstances. And I agree with the Court that an overall sanction resting at least in substantial portion upon the court's inherent power need not be broken down into its component parts, with the actions sustainable under the Rules separately computed. I do not read the Rules at issue here to require that, and it is unreasonable to import such needless complication by implication.

I disagree, however, with the Court's statement that a court's inherent power reaches conduct "beyond the court's confines" that does not " `interfer[e] with the conduct of trial,' " ante, at 10 (quoting Young v. United States ex rel. Vuitton et Fils S. A., 481 U.S. 787, 798 (1987)). See id., at 819-822 (Scalia, J., concurring in judgment); Bank of Nova Scotia v. United States, 487 U.S. 250, 264 (1988) (Scalia, J., concurring). I emphatically agree with Justice Kennedy, therefore, that the District Court here had no power to impose any sanctions for petitioner's flagrant, bad-faith breach of contract; and I agree with him that it appears to have done so. For that reason, I dissent.