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Wrolstad v. Cuna Mutual Insurance Society

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

July 24, 2017

GARY WROLSTAD, Plaintiff,
v.
CUNA MUTUAL INSURANCE SOCIETY, Defendant.

          OPINION & ORDER

          JAMES D. PETERSON District Judge.

         On April 4, 2017, the court granted defendant CUNA Mutual Insurance Society's motion for summary judgment, entered judgment in CUNA Mutual's favor, and closed this case. Dkt. 45 and Dkt. 46. Several days later, CUNA Mutual moved for sanctions under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11. Dkt. 47. CUNA Mutual wants its reasonable attorney fees and expenses because plaintiff Gary Wrolstad's discrimination claims were frivolous and unsupported, and he should have withdrawn them before the court had to rule on CUNA Mutual's motion for summary judgment.

         This is a close call. But one of Wrolstad's claims had minimally arguable merit, so the court will deny the motion for Rule 11 sanctions.

         BACKGROUND[1]

         CUNA Mutual moved for summary judgment on November 30, 2016. Dkt. 10. On February 6, 2017, shortly after the parties had completed briefing, CUNA Mutual sent Wrolstad's attorney a draft Rule 11 motion. Dkt. 49-1. In a cover letter, CUNA Mutual stated that Wrolstad's “continued prosecution of his age discrimination claims relating to the elimination of his position and his non-selection for the various other positions violates the provisions of Rule 11(b)(2), (3) and (4), . . . as set forth in the enclosed draft Rule 11 motion.” Id. at 1. Wrolstad's counsel reviewed her case and the draft Rule 11 motion and decided to voluntarily withdraw four of Wrolstad's discrimination claims. Counsel determined that “there is no reason to proceed on four of the five positions Plaintiff alleged he did not received in this case . . . . We believe there are genuine factual issues for the pension participant support specialist position. Thus, we are not willing to dismiss the age case.” Dkt. 49-2.

         Because Wrolstad did not withdraw all of his discrimination claims, CUNA Mutual deposed him. In March, after Wrolstad's deposition, CUNA Mutual again asked Wrolstad to drop his claim based on CUNA Mutual's failure to hire Wrolstad as a pension participant support specialist (PPSS). Dkt. 49-3. Wrolstad declined. Dkt. 49-4.

         ANALYSIS

         Rule 11(b) provides:

By presenting to the court a pleading, written motion, or other paper-whether by signing, filing, submitting, or later advocating it-an attorney or unrepresented party certifies that to the best of the person's knowledge, information, and belief, formed after an inquiry reasonable under the circumstances:
(1) it is not being presented for any improper purpose, such as to harass, cause unnecessary delay, or needlessly increase the cost of litigation;
(2) the claims, defenses, and other legal contentions are warranted by existing law or by a nonfrivolous argument for extending, modifying, or reversing existing law or for establishing new law;
(3) the factual contentions have evidentiary support or, if specifically so identified, will likely have evidentiary support after a reasonable opportunity for further investigation or discovery; and
(4) the denials of factual contentions are warranted on the evidence or, if specifically so identified, are reasonably based on belief or a lack of information.

         If the court determines that an attorney or a party has violated Rule 11(b), the court may impose sanctions. Fed.R.Civ.P. 11(c)(1). Sanctions “must be limited to what suffices to deter repetition of the conduct or comparable conduct by others similarly situated, ” and the court may award reasonable attorney fees ...


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