United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
ALLAL K. AMRANI, et al., Plaintiffs,
U.S. BANK TRUST, N.A., AS TRUSTEE FOR LSF9 MASTER PARTICIPATION TRUST, et al., Defendants.
RICARDO S. MARTINEZ, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter is before the Court on Defendant Northstar Case
Management, LLC's Motion for Attorney's Fees and
Costs. Dkt. #61. The Court previously dismissed, without
prejudice, all Plaintiff's claims because this Court lacks
subject matter jurisdiction to hear the matter. Dkt. #59.
Defendant's Motion followed, challenging Plaintiff's
claims as frivolous on the merits and seeking an award of
attorneys' fees. Dkt. #61. Searching for a legal basis to
support an award of fees, Defendant invokes both Federal Rule
of Civil Procedure 11 and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54.
But Defendant's shallow and conclusory arguments fail to
find legal support in either Rule. Even if Defendant
identified a legal basis for an award of fees here,
Defendant's Motion does not convince the Court that an
award of fees is appropriate. The Court denies
54(d) provides that “costs-other than attorney's
fees-should be allowed to the prevailing party.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(d)(1). But this does not support
Defendant's Motion. Setting aside the fact that
Defendant's Motion seeks only attorneys' fees, the
Court notes that Defendant is not a prevailing party for
purposes of Rule 54(d)(1). See Miles v. State of
California, 320 F.3d 986, 988 (9th Cir. 2003) (“We
now conclude that, in addition to attorneys' fees
requested under the civil rights statute, costs under Rule
54(d) may not be awarded where an underlying claim is
dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, for in
that case the dismissed party is not a ‘prevailing
party' within the meaning of Rule 54(d).”).
Defendant may not proceed under this subsection.
54(d) also authorizes motions claiming entitlement to
“attorney's fees and related nontaxable
expenses.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(d)(2)(A). This provision
appears more welcoming but, by its own terms, excludes
motions that are premised on violations of the Federal Rules
of Civil Procedure-like Defendant's. See Fed. R.
Civ. P. 54(d)(2)(E) (clarifying that provisions authorizing
award of attorneys' fees and nontaxable expenses
“do not apply to claims for fees and expenses as
sanctions for violating these rules”). Defendant may
not rely on Rule 54.
leaves itself to rely on Rule 11(c) sanctions. That Rule
authorizes a party to make a motion for sanctions, but
specifically requires that “[t]he motion must be served
under Rule 5, but it must not be filed or be presented to the
court if the challenged paper, claim, defense, contention, or
denial is withdrawn or appropriately corrected within 21 days
after service or within another time the court sets.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 11(c)(2). Defendant gives no indication that it
complied with this safe harbor provision, precluding
A Rule 11 motion for sanctions must be served on opposing
counsel twenty-one days before filing the motion with the
court, providing the opposing counsel a “safe harbor .
. . to give the offending party the opportunity . . . to
withdraw the offending pleading and thereby escape
sanctions.” Barber v. Miller, 146 F.3d
707, 710 (9th Cir. 1998); see also Fed. R. Civ. P.
11(c)(2). Failure to provide the required notice precludes an
award of Rule 11 sanctions upon [party's] motion.
Barber, 146 F.3d at 710 (holding that “[a]n
award of [Rule 11] sanctions cannot be upheld” where
party seeking sanctions did not provide twenty-one day notice
period). Thus the district court was correct as a matter of
law that there was “no basis” for awarding Rule
Winterrowd v. Am. Gen. Annuity Ins. Co., 556 F.3d
815, 826 (9th Cir. 2009).
Court cannot help but note that Defendant's failure to
identify an appropriate basis for an award of fees is ironic.
Defendant's Motion is premised on the perception that
Plaintiff- proceeding pro se-failed to adequately conduct
research and failed to correctly apply legal principles. It
appears, however, that Defendant-represented by learned
counsel-may have committed those same sins.
voluntarily shoehorns all its arguments for an award of
attorneys' fees under the constrictive confines of
“frivolity.” See Dkt. #61 at 2
(asserting that “Plaintiff's claims against
[Defendant] were entirely frivolous” and providing five
supporting reasons). Defendant appears to believe that the
Court has already concluded as much. But Plaintiff's
claims were not dismissed on the merits, they were dismissed
for a lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Thus, it is
Defendant that now must bear the burden of establishing that
Plaintiff's claims were frivolous.
use frivolous as shorthand “to denote a filing that is
both baseless and made without a reasonable
and competent inquiry.” Holgate v. Baldwin,
425 F.3d 671, 676 (9th Cir. 2005) (quoting Moore v.
Keegan Mgmt. Co (In re Keegan Mgmt. Co., Sec. Litig.),
78 F.3d 431, 434 (9th Cir. 1996) (quotation marks omitted)).
“When, as here, a ‘complaint is the primary focus
of Rule 11 proceedings, a district court must conduct a
two-prong inquiry to determine (1) whether the complaint is
legally or factually baseless from an objective perspective,
and (2) if the attorney has conducted a reasonable and
competent inquiry before signing and filing it.'”
Holgate, 425 F.3d at 676 (quoting Christian v.
Mattel, Inc., 286 F.3d 1118, 1127 (9th Cir. 2002)
(internal quotations and citation omitted)).
Court first notes that Defendant's Motion almost entirely
omits any legally supported analysis. Defendant only points
to several provisions of state law related to trusts. Dkt.
#61 at 4-11. But the provisions cited do not appear to
support Defendant's broad claims. For instance, Defendant
argues that Plaintiff sued in a court that lacked
jurisdiction because of a Washington statute providing that
“[t]he superior court of every county has original
subject matter jurisdiction over trusts and all matters
relating to trusts.” Dkt. #61 at 4 (citing Wash. Rev.
Code § 11.96A.040(2)). But Defendant provides no legal
authority for the necessary supposition that
“original” jurisdiction should be interpreted as
“exclusive” jurisdiction. But see DiAntonio
v. Pennsylvania State Univ., 455 F.Supp. 510, 512 (M.D.
Pa. 1978) (noting that original jurisdiction does not mean
exclusive jurisdiction and that state and federal courts had
Court also notes that Defendant does not clearly establish
that brining an action in a court without jurisdiction
provides a basis for asserting that the merits of the legal
claim are frivolous. In fact, Defendant's Motion reads
much like a motion to dismiss. The arguments may be legally
sounds, but the Court finds it telling that pages must be
spent discussing the feasibility of Plaintiff's claims
while claiming they are patently frivolous. Further, the
Court does not find it appropriate to delve into the merits
of Plaintiff's claims where the Court dismissed this
action for a lack of subject matter jurisdiction.
Motion also leaves the second prong of the “frivolous
inquiry” entirely unaddressed. Instead, Defendant
merely relies on the bald conclusion that Plaintiff's
inquiry must have been deficient. See Dkt. #61 at
5-6 (“It is nigh inconceivable that the Plaintiff,
acting in good faith, could interpret the law such that this
Court would have jurisdiction over his claims against
[Defendant].”). Defendant appears to argue for some
sort of a per se rule that dismissal means a claim was not
supported by adequate inquiry. But the Court is not prepared
to adopt such a per se rule-especially for pro se plaintiff.
and perhaps gratuitously, the Court notes other aspects of
Defendant's Motion that left the Court puzzled. Where
Plaintiff does cite to legal authority, it is primarily to
state law authority. But again, the Court sees no reason it
should be applying anything other than federal law where it
is otherwise dismissing an action for a lack of subject
matter jurisdiction. Defendant claims that Plaintiff's
claims are frivolous because it is indemnified for certain
actions but does not explain why indemnification should be
applied as immunity or a release. See e.g., Wallerstein
v. Spirt, 8 S.W.3d 774, 779 (Tex. App. 1999)