7th Circuit Court of Appeals
Case Name: Laura Mullen v. Ricky Butler
Case No.: 22-2944
Officials: Flaum, Brennan, and Kirsch, Circuit Judges.
Focus: Sanctions-Improper Interference
Mullen alleged that the defendants, a youth volleyball club and its owners, had fraudulently concealed prior allegations of sexual abuse. Initially, the district court ruled in favor of the defendants but imposed sanctions on them and their attorney for improper interference with the class notice procedure. Dissatisfied, the defendants appealed the sanctions.
The Seventh Circuit determined that the district court had not erred in its discretion by imposing sanctions. It concluded that the defendants had deliberately obstructed the class notice and opt-out process, with their communications during the notice period possibly exerting undue pressure. Furthermore, the appellate court upheld the district court’s decision to levy monetary penalties on the defendants, covering the plaintiff’s reasonable legal fees and expenses, alongside a civil fine for each defendant.
Additionally, the court affirmed the non-monetary sanctions imposed on the defendants’ attorney, who had directly contacted a class member and provided false information to the court. Despite the defendants’ assertion that the attorney had acted in good faith and without knowledge of ethical violations, the court found evidence of intentional actions aimed at evading acknowledgment of potential wrongdoing.
Lastly, the court dismissed the defendants’ request for sanctions against the plaintiff. They argued that her use of the term “rape” was inaccurate and irrelevant, her pre- and post-complaint conduct inconsistent, her lawsuit lacking proper basis, and her evidence misrepresented. The court deemed these arguments without merit and upheld the district court’s decision to reject sanctions against the plaintiff.