On January 30, 2017, the House Judiciary Committee received two bills that could have a significant impact on litigators and their clients. One bill seeks to impose mandatory penalties on lawyers, law firms, and parties who file frivolous lawsuits. The other bill seeks to prevent fraudulent joinder of parties and prevent plaintiffs from adding defendants solely for the purpose of destroying federal jurisdiction, only to drop those defendants later.
The Lawsuit Abuse and Reduction Act, H.R. 720, would amend FRCP 11 to require judges to sanction attorneys, law firms, or parties who file frivolous pleadings. The mandatory sanction under the new rule would require parties to pay costs and attorneys’ fees. The rule would also give the court broad discretion to impose a variety of other sanctions, including striking pleadings, dismissing the lawsuit, and requiring that a party pay a penalty to the court. Further, the amendment would eliminate a party’s ability to avoid sanctions by voluntarily withdrawing claims within 21 days. The House Judiciary Committee already voted 17-6 in favor of H.R. 720. If it is passed, it will likely cause a substantial decrease in lawyers asserting frivolous claims, as they will have to consider the possibility of mandatory sanctions.
The Innocent Party Protection Act, H.R. 725, seeks to prevent small businesses from being subject to fraudulent joinder. The bill seeks to protect these small businesses by allowing judges more discretion to see through an attorneys’ motives for naming a party and dismiss a party that was fraudulently joined in a lawsuit. The House Judiciary Committee already voted 17-4 in favor of H.R. 725. If it is passed, it may help protect small businesses from the hardship caused by paying attorneys’ fees in a lawsuit in which the business should have never been involved in the first place.