Supreme Court Review: Analysis: Rule 11 Decisions Targeted Clients, Not Just Lawyers

Vol. 13 Nat'l L.J. S9 (Aug. 19, 1991)

The University of Texas School of Law, Public Law and Legal Theory Research Paper Series Number 510

6 Pages Posted: 23 Jun 2013

Date Written: August 19, 1991


Commentary and analysis of four Supreme Court decisions in procedure cases decided by the Court during its 1990-91 term. The article discusses Business Guides v. Chromatic Communications Enterprises Inc.; Chambers v. Nasco; West Virginia University Hospitals Inc. v. Casey; and Kay v. Ehler. In Business Guides the Court held that federal district courts may sanctions clients (as well as lawyers) under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11. The Business Guides decision is likely to have impact on the attorney-client relationship, where the client may now be held accountable for allegations made in pleadings and motions. In Chambers v. Nasco, the Court additionally rules that district court judges may sanction attorneys for their conduct before the tribunal, invoking the doctrine of the inherent powers of the court. This sanctioning power exists separate from the court’s sanctioning power under Rule 11. In West Virginia University Hospitals Inc., the Court rules that a prevailing party may not recover expert witness fees as part of attorney fees under the civil rights laws. And, in Kay v. Ehler, a unanimous Court held that a pro se litigant who also happens to be a lawyer may not recover attorney fees under statutory authority. The two sanctioning decisions reflect a get-tough policy by the Court against abusive litigation practices, while the two attorney fee cases embody a parsimonious approach to the dispensation of attorney fee awards. The attorney fee awards may have consequences for the pursuit of plaintiffs’ civil rights litigation.

Keywords: Business Guides v. Chromatic Coomunications Enterprise, Chambers v. Nasco, Kay v. Ehler, West Virginia University Hospitals Inc. v. Casey, Rule 11, sanctions, attorney fees, Fed. R. Civ. P. 11

Suggested Citation

Mullenix, Linda S., Supreme Court Review: Analysis: Rule 11 Decisions Targeted Clients, Not Just Lawyers (August 19, 1991). Vol. 13 Nat'l L.J. S9 (Aug. 19, 1991). Available at SSRN:

Linda S. Mullenix (Contact Author)

University of Texas School of Law ( email )

727 East Dean Keeton Street
Austin, TX 78705
United States
512-232-1375 (Phone)

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