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OF CIVIL PROCEDURE
Justice Scalia , with whom Justice Thomas joins, and I dissent from the Court's adoption of the amendments to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 11 (relating to sanctions for frivolous litigation), and 26, 30, 31, 33, and 37 (relating to discovery). In my view, the sanctions proposal will eliminate a significant and necessary deterrent to frivolous litigation; and the discovery proposal will increase litigation costs, burden the district courts, and, perhaps worst of all, introduce into the trial process an element that is contrary to the nature of our adversary system.
It is undeniably important to the Rules' goal of "the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of every action," Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 1, that frivolous pleadings and motions be deterred. The current Rule 11 achieves that objective by requiring sanctions when its standards are violated (though leaving the court broad discretion as to the manner of sanction), and by allowing compensation for the moving party's expenses and attorney's fees. The proposed revision would render the Rule toothless, by allowing judges to dispense with sanction, by disfavoring compensation for litigation expenses, and by providing a 21-day "safe harbor" within which, if the party accused
of a frivolous filing withdraws the filing, he is entitled to escape with no sanction at all.
To take the last first: In my view, those who file frivolous suits and pleadings should have no "safe harbor." The Rules should be solicitous of the abused (the courts and the opposing party), and not of the abuser. Under the revised Rule, parties will be able to file thoughtless, reckless, and harassing pleadings, secure in the knowledge that they have nothing to lose: If objection is raised, they can retreat without penalty. The proposed revision contradicts what this Court said only three years ago: "Baseless filing puts the machinery of justice in motion, burdening courts and individuals alike with needless expense and delay. Even if the careless litigant quickly dismisses the action, the harm triggering Rule 11's concerns has already occurred. Therefore, a litigant who violates Rule 11 merits sanctions even after a dismissal." Cooter & Gell v. Hartmarx Corp., 496 U.S. 384, 398 (1990). The advisory committee itself was formerly of the same view. Ibid. (quoting Letter from Chairman, Advisory Committee on Civil Rules).
The proposed Rule also decreases both the likelihood and the severity of punishment for those foolish enough not to seek refuge in the safe harbor after an objection is raised. Proposed subsection (c) makes the issuance of any sanction discretionary, whereas currently it is required. Judges, like other human beings, do not like imposing punishment when their duty does not require it, especially upon their own acquaintances and members of their own profession. They do not immediately see, moreover, the system wide benefits of serious Rule 11 sanctions, though they are intensely aware of the amount of their own time it would take to consider and apply sanctions in the case before them. For these reasons, I think it important to the effectiveness of the scheme that the sanctions remain mandatory.
Finally, the likelihood that frivolousness will even be challenged is diminished by the proposed Rule, which restricts the award of compensation to "unusual circumstances," with monetary sanctions "ordinarily" to be payable to the court. Advisory Committee Notes to Proposed Rule 11, pp. 53-54. Under Proposed Rule 11(c)(2), a court may order payment for "some or all of the reasonable attorneys' fees and other expenses incurred as a direct result of the violation" only when that is "warranted for effective deterrence." Since the deterrent effect of a fine is rarely increased by altering the identity of the payee, it takes imagination to conceive of instances in which this provision will ever apply. And the commentary makes it clear that even when compensation is granted it should be granted stingily--only for costs "directly and unavoidably caused by the violation." Id., at 54. As seen from the viewpoint of the victim of an abusive litigator, these revisions convert Rule 11 from a means of obtaining compensation to an invitation to throw good money after bad. The net effect is to decrease the incentive on the part of the person best situated to alert the court to perversion of our civil justice system.
I would not have registered this dissent if there were convincing indication that the current Rule 11 regime is ineffective, or encourages excessive satellite litigation. But there appears to be general agreement, reflected in a recent report of the advisory committee itself, that Rule 11, as written, basically works. According to that report, a Federal Judicial Center survey showed that 80% of district judges believe Rule 11 has had an overall positive effect and should be retained in its present form, 95% believed the Rule had not impeded development of the law, and about 75% said the benefits justify the expenditure of judicial time. See Interim Report on Rule 11, Advisory Committee on Civil Rules, reprinted in G. Vairo, Rule 11 Sanctions: Case Law Perspectives and Preventive Measures, App. I 8-I 10 (2d ed. 1991). True, many lawyers do not like Rule 11. It may cause them financial liability, it may damage their professional reputation in front of important clients, and the cost of litigation savings it produces are savings not to lawyers but to litigants. But the overwhelming approval of the Rule by the federaldistrict judges who daily grapple with the problem of litigation abuse is enough to persuade me that it should not be gutted as the proposed revision suggests. [n.1]
The proposed radical reforms to the discovery process are potentially disastrous and certainly premature--particularly the imposition on litigants of a continuing duty to disclose to opposing counsel, without awaiting any request, various information "relevant to disputed facts alleged with particularity." See Proposed Rule 26(a)(1)(A), (a)(1)(B), (e)(1). This proposal is promoted as a means of reducing the unnecessary expense and delay that occur in the present discovery regime. But the duty to disclose regime does not replace the current, much criticized discovery process; rather, it adds a further layer of discovery. It will likely increase the discovery burdens on district judges, as parties litigate about what is "relevant" to "disputed facts," whether those facts have been alleged with sufficient particularity, whether the opposing side has adequately disclosed the required information, and whether it has fulfilled its continuing obligation to supplement the initial disclosure. Documents will be produced that turn out to be irrelevant to the litigation, because of the early inception of the duty to disclose and the severe penalties on a party who fails to disgorge in a manner consistent with the duty. See Proposed Rule 37(c) (prohibiting, in some circumstances, use of witnesses or information not voluntarily disclosed pursuant to the disclosure duty, and authorizing divulgement to the jury of the failure to disclose).
The proposed new regime does not fit comfortably within the American judicial system, which relies on adversarial litigation to develop the facts before a neutral decisionmaker. By placing upon lawyers the obligation to disclose information damaging to their clients--on their own initiative, and in a context where the lines between what must be disclosed and what need not be disclosed are not clear but require the exercise of considerable judgment--the new Rule would place intolerable strain upon lawyers' ethical duty to represent their clients and not to assist the opposing side. Requiring a lawyer to make a judgment as to what information is "relevant to disputed facts" plainly requires him to use his professional skills in the service of the adversary. See Advisory Committee Notes to Proposed Rule 26, p. 96.
It seems to me most imprudent to embrace such a radical alteration that has not, as the advisory committee notes, see id., at 94, been subjected to any significant testing on a local level. Two early proponents of the duty to disclose regime (both of whom had substantial roles in the development of the proposed rule--one as Director of the Federal Judicial Center and one as a member of the advisory committee) at one time noted the need for such study prior to adoption of a national rule. Schwarzer, The Federal Rules, the Adversary Process, and Discovery Reform, 50 U. Pitt. L. Rev. 703, 723 (1989); Brazil, The Adversary Character of Civil Discovery: A Critique and Proposals for Change, 31 Vand. L. Rev. 1295, 1361 (1978). More importantly, Congress itself reached the same conclusion that local experiments to reduce discovery costs and abuse are essential before major revision, and in the Civil Justice Reform Act of 1990, Pub. L. 101-650, §§ 104, 105, 104 Stat. 5097-5098, mandated an extensive pilot program for district courts. See also 28 U.S.C. §§ 471 473(a)(2)(C). Under that legislation, short term experiments relating to discovery and case management are to last at least three years, and the Judicial Conference is to report the results of these experiments to Congress, along with recommendations, by the end of 1995. Pub. L. 101-650, § 105, 104 Stat. 5097-5098. Apparently, the advisory committee considered this timetable schedule too prolonged, see Advisory Committee Notes to Proposed Rule 26, p. 95, preferring instead to subject the entire federal judicial system at once to an extreme, costly, and essentially untested revision of a major component of civil litigation. That seems to me unwise. Any major reform of the discovery rules should await completion of the pilot programs authorized by Congress, especially since courts already have substantial discretion to control discovery. [n.2] See Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 26.
I am also concerned that this revision has been recommended in the face of nearly universal criticism from every conceivable sector of our judicial system, including judges, practitioners, litigants, academics, public interest groups, and national, state and local bar and professional associations. See generally Bell, Varner, & Gottschalk, Automatic Disclosure in Discovery--The Rush to Reform, 27 Ga. L. Rev. 1, 28-32, and nn. 107-121 (1992). Indeed, after the proposed rule in essentially its present form was published to comply with the notice and comment requirement of 28 U.S.C. § 2071(b), public criticism was so severe that the advisory committee announced abandonment of its duty to disclose regime (in favor of limited pilot experiments), but then, without further public comment or explanation, decided six weeks later to recommend the rule. 27 Ga. L. Rev., at 35.
Constant reform of the federal rules to correct emergingproblems is essential. Justice White observes that Justice Douglas, who in earlier years on the Court had been wont to note his disagreements with proposed changes, generally abstained from doing so later on, acknowledging that his expertise had grown stale. Ante, at 5. Never having specialized in trial practice, I began at the level of expertise (and of acquiescence in others' proposals) with which Justice Douglas ended. Both categories of revision on which I remark today, however, seem to me not matters of expert detail, but rise to the level of principle and purpose that even Justice Douglas in his later years continued to address. It takes no expert to know that a measure which eliminates rather than strengthens a deterrent to frivolous litigation is not what the times demand; and that a breathtakingly novel revision of discovery practice should not be adopted nationwide without a trial run.
In the respects described, I dissent from the Court's order.
I do not disagree with the proposal to make law firms liable for an attorney's misconduct under the Rule, see Proposed Rule 11(c), or with the proposal that Rule 11 sanctions be applied when claims in pleadings that at one time were not in violation of the rule are pursued after it is evident that they lack support, see Proposed Rule 11(b); Advisory Committee Notes to Proposed Rule 11, p. 51.
It is curious that the proposed rule regarding sanctions for discovery abuses requires sanctions, and specifically recommends financial sanctions and compensation to the moving party. See Proposed Rule 37(a)(4)(A), (c)(1). No explanation for the inconsistency is given.
2 For the same reason, the proposed presumptive limits on depositions and interrogatories, see Proposed Rules 30, 31, and 33, should not be implemented.