Wednesday, July 18, 2012


Rarely does a federal appellate court opinion come along that relates solely to the conduct of one of the lawyers handling the case. That, however, is exactly what happened in Stanard v. Nygren, 658 F.3d 792 (7th Cir. 2011). 

An attorney* acting on behalf of the plaintiffs filed suit against the defendants but, after giving the attorney three separate chances to file a complaint that complied with Rule 8 (which requires that a complaint be simple, concise, and direct) and Rule 10(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the trial court dismissed the case with prejudice. 
The plaintiff appealed; however, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals held the trial court did not abuse its discretion in dismissing the action with prejudice because of the failure of the plaintiff’s attorney to correct deficiencies in the “generally incomprehensible” documents he filed with the court. Id. at 793. For those familiar with the term, plaintiff’s counsel’s writing in this particular case is best described as a “hot mess.” Consider these gems offered by the Seventh Circuit as sufficient justification for the trial court’s dismissal of the action:
(1) At least 23 sentences contained more than 100 words;
(2) All three documents contained “rampant grammatical, syntactical, and typographical errors";
(3) The original complaint, first amended complaint and second amended complaint all contained a “staggering and incomprehensible 345-word sentence"**; and
(4) The trial court pointed out specific errors in the original complaint but the later-filed complaints contained the very same errors.
In addition to affirming the trial court’s dismissal, the Seventh Circuit ordered the attorney to show cause as to why he should not be removed or suspended from the Seventh Circuit’s bar and ordered the clerk to forward a copy of the opinion to the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission.
I don’t want to be too hard on this attorney because he apparently was suffering from some severe health problems during the time he was handling this case. Suffice it to say that this attorney’s conduct and writing is a primer on what not to do.
* Interestingly, for those who follow high-profile criminal cases, this attorney also represented former Bolingbrook, Illinois police officer Drew Peterson in civil matters related to his arrest for the murder of his third wife, Kathleen Savio. That arrest occurred after Mr. Peterson’s fourth wife, Stacy Peterson, disappeared in October 2007.
** The entire 345-word sentence, including all original errors, is quoted below:
That pursuant to the RICO Act, Defendants extortive activities constituted a Pattern of Racketeering activity and conspiracy involving violations of 1956(a)(1)(B)(ii), and 18 U.S.C. § 1341 (wire fraud—the use of interstate mail or wire facilities, here telephone and facsimile transmissions), or the causing of any of those things promoting unlawful activity), and 18 U.S.C. § 1951 (interference with commerce and extortion by using and threatening to use legitimate governmental powers to obtain an illegitimate objectives under color of official right by wrongful plan, extortion, intimidation and threat of force and/or other unlawful consequence and through fear and misuse of there office to obstruct, hinder, interfere with, and/or affect commerce and the use and enjoyment of Plaintiffs' property and obtaining, as uniformed public officials payment for unwanted services to which they were not e

ntitled by law, attempting to conceal from the United States of America their true and correct income and the nature thereof so obtained from Plaintiffs in order to attempt to evade paying lawful taxes thereon in violation of 26 U.S.C. § 7201, et. seq., thereby using the governmental powers with which they have been entrusted to gain personal or illegitimate rewards and payments which they knew or should have known were made and/or obtained in return for the colorable official acts as aforesaid, and knowing that the property involved in a financial transaction represents the proceeds of some form of unlawful activity, conducts or attempts to conduct such a financial transaction which in fact involves the proceeds of specified unlawful activity with the intent to promote the carrying on of specified unlawful activity all in violation of RICO and the other laws set forth herein, inter alia, as well as acts chargeable under any of the following provisions of the laws of the State of Illinois 720 ILCS 5/33-3(d) (official misconduct); 720 ILCS 5/12-11 (criminal home invasion); 720 ILCS 5/19-4 (criminal trespass to a residence) 720 ILCS 5/19-4); (theft 720 ILCS 5/16 (a)(1) & (2) by knowingly obtaining or exerting unauthorized and/or through threat control over Plaintiff's property as aforesaid.
Id. at 802, fn7.

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