Where the court denied a man’s four motions as baseless, and warned him against filing further similar motions, and the man then filed more similar motions, he was ordered to pay $2,660 to the defendant.
The court directed Jie Liu to show cause why he should not be sanctioned under Rule 11. As stated in the show cause order, this “is and should be a simple breach of contract and negligence case about a hot water heater that was, according to Plaintiff, improperly installed and caused damage to his home.” The court admonished plaintiff for his repeated, “quixotic pursuit of criminal charges, claims of professional misconduct and requests for disbarment against Lowe’s and its counsel, and that the Court strip the plumber(s) of their licenses.”
Plaintiff filed yet further frivolous motions, including one “urgent motion” asking the court to forbid Lowe’s from “all plumbing installation services in the state of Virginia,” and another baseless motion accusing Lowe’s counsel of perjury and other criminal violations. Lowe’s has filed a motion for sanctions.
The court finds that plaintiff violated Rule 11(b)(1) and Rule 11(b)(2) no less than three times, on account of his filing of his three most recent motions arguing that Lowe’s and its counsel committed criminal perjury and seeking such relief. The court finds each of these motions frivolous, and the circumstances surrounding their filings clearly demonstrates that plaintiff filed each of them for an improper purpose, such as to harass.
Indeed, after the court denied plaintiff’s first four motions for sanctions as baseless, the court expressly admonished plaintiff not to expand his litigation conduct beyond the merits of his own claims of negligence and breach of contract. The court further cautioned plaintiff against seeking to pursue criminal charges in this civil case, and warned that “repetitive and/or baseless requests for sanctions could themselves provide grounds for a successful motion for attorney’s fees or sanctions.”
Notwithstanding these (and other) repeated and express warnings, plaintiff has continued impermissibly bring baseless threats against Lowe’s and its counsel that they had engaged in criminal conduct such as perjury or obstruction of justice. On one of his more recent motions, he demands that this court suspend all of Lowe’s installation services in Virginia, and to conduct a review of all of its plumbing installations in Virginia “in the past decades.” And in another, plaintiff (again) sought to have Lowe’s counsel’s law licenses revoked, and to get the plumber’s licenses revoked.
If a monetary sanction is to be awarded, the Fourth Circuit has directed district courts to consider the following factors to determine whether a chosen sanction is appropriate: “(1) the reasonableness of the opposing party’s attorney’s fees; (2) the minimum to deter; (3) the ability to pay; and (4) factors related to the severity of the Rule 11 violation.”
Lowe’s counsel’s hourly rate of $140 is reasonable, and indeed on the lower end of hourly rates determined to be reasonable in Charlottesville for comparable work. And as supported Lowe’s counsel’s billing records, the court determines that Lowe’s counsel reasonably spent 19 hours responding to plaintiff’s sanctionable conduct, resulting in a reasonable attorney’s fee of $2,660.
The second factor supports imposition of the full $2,660 in reasonable attorney’s fees as a sanction. Plaintiff continued to raise and press further baseless requests for sanctions against Lowe’s and its counsel, notwithstanding repeated warnings by the magistrate judge and this court. Given the long-running nature of plaintiff’s contumacy in this case, the court has significant concerns that imposing a sanction less than $2,660 would fail to deter plaintiff and other would-be filers of committing other serial violations in contravention of the warnings of the court.
Third, in view of plaintiff’s uncontradicted assertions that he has at least $3,000 in his bank account currently and considering the lack of argument and lack of evidence on the issue of his financial situation, the court does not consider it appropriate to impose any reduction in the sanction of requested fees on account of the ability to pay factor.
Fourth, plaintiff was afforded multiple chances to course-correct after he filed prior baseless motions for sanctions, but he has shown no willingness to heed any of the many the warnings of this court and the magistrate judge. Moreover, plaintiff’s violations are significant in their own right, and Rule 11’s purposes would not be served if its protections could not be invoked to deter persons from making meritless threats of criminal prosecution and loss of attorney licenses.
Lowe’s motion for sanctions granted.
Liu v. Lowe’s Home Improvement, Case No. 3:20-cv-00056, Feb. 2, 2023. WDVA at Charlottesville (Moon). VLW 023-3-042. 22 pp.