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Hutchinson v. Hahn

November 24, 2010

THOMAS R. HUTCHINSON; DENNIS P. BULLARD; ROBERT J. BULLARD; BARBARA L. LAWRENZ; RUTH ANN LIBBY; KATHRYN M. ROBINSON; JOHN M. SPANTON; C. CLAY ROBERTS, III, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS A FORMER MEMBER OF ROBERTS, MARRS & CARSON, PLAINTIFFS - APPELLANTS, AND JOAN GODLOVE, APPELLANT,
v.
BONNIE J. HAHN, PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE OF THE ESTATE OF ROBERT H. HAHN, DECEASED; BAMBERGER, FOREMAN, OSWALD AND HAHN; BAMBERGER, FOREMAN, OSWALD AND HAHN, L.L.P.; DAVID P. KASPER; LOCKE REYNOLDS BOYD & WEISELL; LOCKE REYNOLDS LLP; MARTHANDA J. BECKWORTH; AND ATKINSON, HASKINS, NELLIS, HOLEMAN, BRITTINGHAM, GLADD & CARWILE; WALTER D. HASKINS, III; ATKINSON, HASKINS, HELLIS, HOLEMAN, BRITTINGHAM, GLADD & CARWILE, P.C.; KENNEDY GALLERIES, INC., CINCINNATI MUSEUM ASSOCIATION; BUTLER INSTITUTE OF AMERICAN ART; EARLE J. MAIMAN AND THOMPSON HINE &FLORY, L.L.P, DEFENDANTS - APPELLEES.



(D.C. No. 4:05-CV-00453-TCK-PJC) (N.D. Okla.).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Paul J. Kelly, Jr. Circuit Judge

ORDER AND JUDGMENT*fn1

Before KELLY, GORSUCH, Circuit Judges, and MELGREN*fn2, District Judge.*fn3

Plaintiffs-Appellants Thomas R. Hutchinson and his counsel, Joan Godlove, appeal from the district court's monetary judgment running jointly and severally against them awarding $73,208.57 and $33,808.57 to various lawyer or law firm defendants as sanctions resulting from the underlying lawsuit. IV Aplt. App. 849-852. On appeal, they contend that (1) the district court's sanction order should be set aside, (2) the district judge should recuse, and (3) the action should be transferred of another district within this circuit with directions to conduct an evidentiary hearing on Plaintiffs' motion for default judgment as a sanction. II Aplt. App. 252-254; Aplt. Br. at 25-26. Our jurisdiction arises under 28 U.S.C. § 1291 and we affirm.

Background

The parties are familiar with the facts and the extensive procedural history and we need not restate that material here. Suffice it to say, the underlying lawsuit is part of a relentless and wholly unsuccessful effort to establish ownership of certain paintings of American Impressionist artist Theodore Robinson. See generally Hutchinson v. Pfeil, 223 F. App'x 765 (10th Cir. 2007) (unpublished) (affirming district court's dismissal of the complaint and imposing sanctions for frivolous appeal); see also Hutchinson v. Pfeil, 211 F.3d 1278 (10th Cir. 2000) (Table) (affirming district court's grant of summary judgment against plaintiffs because the claim was barred by laches and limitations); Hutchinson v. Pfeil, 105 F.3d 562 (10th Cir. 1997) (affirming district court's grant of summary judgment against plaintiffs because the claim was barred by laches); Hutchinson v. Spanierman, 190 F.3d 815 (7th Cir. 1999) (same).

The effort began some thirty years ago and has continued largely unabated, most recently with Ms. Godlove and her clients filing lawsuits against past-defendants and new ones including lawyers and law firms that have prevailed against them. See, e.g., Hutchinson v. Carter, 33 P.3d 958 (Okla. Ct. Civ. App. 2001); see also Hutchinson v. Hahn, No. 05-CV-453-TCK(PJC), 2008 WL 1995406 at *3-*4 (N.D. Okla. May 6, 2008) (listing cases).*fn4 Like this lawsuit, claims raised include civil RICO, attorney deceit and fraud on the court. At the hearing on the motions for sanctions, the district court reviewed the proceedings in state and federal courts around the country and stated "[i]t has to be stopped and it will be stopped." IV Aplt. App. 1058. We agree.

The district court granted various motions for sanctions filed by Defendants, I Aplt. App. 138-142, 201-204, and (1) dismissed the Plaintiffs' amended complaint with prejudice as both vexatious and frivolous, (2) permanently enjoined Ms. Godlove from filing any civil lawsuit in the Northern District of Oklahoma containing the same or similar claims asserted in this lawsuit or its predecessors, (3) required Ms. Godlove to disclose these sanctions in any like civil lawsuit filed elsewhere, (4) declared Plaintiff Hutchinson and Ms. Godlove jointly and severally liable for attorney's fees and costs in defending against the lawsuit, including pursuing sanctions, and (5) referred the matter to the district court's admissions and grievances committee to determine whether Ms. Godlove should be barred from practicing in the Northern District. Hutchinson v. Hahn, No. 05-CV-453-TCK(PJC), 2007 WL 2572224, at *11 (Sept. 4, 2007). The district court then adopted, over objection, the magistrate judge's report and recommendation as to the amount of the fees reflected in the judgment. Hutchinson v. Hahn, No. 05-CV-453-TCK(PJC), 2008 WL 1995406 (N.D. Okla. May 6, 2008). It also denied reconsideration. IV R. 996-997.

We review a sanction award of attorney's fees and costs under an abuse of discretion standard. Chambers v. NASCO, Inc., 501 U.S. 32, 55 (1991) (inherent power); Cooter & Gell v. Hartmarx Corp., 496 U.S. 384, 405 (1990) (Rule 11); Resolution Trust Corp. v. Dabney, 73 F.3d 262, 265 (10th Cir. 1995) (28 U.S.C. § 1927). We have recognized that § 1927 is designed to compensate the victims of abusive litigation practice, as opposed to Rule 11 which focuses on deterrence and punishment. Hamilton v. Boise Cascade Express, 519 F.3d 1197, 1205 (10th Cir. 2008). Accordingly, certain procedural protections required in Rule 11 do not apply to sanctions under § 1927, which deals with multiplying proceedings apart from filing the complaint. Steinert v. Winn Group, Inc., 440 F.3d 1214, 1224-25 (10th Cir. 2006).

A. Absolute Immunity

Plaintiff and Ms. Godlove first argue that absolute immunity for litigation statements pertains to defamation and does not extend to allegations of fraud. Ball Corp. v. Xidex Corp., 967 F.2d 1440, 1444 (10th Cir. 1992); Robinson v. Volkswagenwerk AG, 940 F.2d 1369, 1373-74 (10th Cir. 1991). They contend that the district court uncritically adopted the statements of Defendants' counsel in awarding sanctions when sanctions should have been awarded against the Defendants for fraud on the court. Aplt. Br. at 17. We disagree-the basis for the court's sanctions ruling is that Plaintiff and Ms. Godlove persisted in filing (and then pursuing) claims that have been repeatedly rejected by courts and that are foreclosed by clear precedent. SeeHutchinson, 2007 WL 2572224, at *7. We have previously rejected Plaintiffs' arguments that reliance upon adverse decisions by other courts is somehow improper. Hutchinson v. Pfeil, 223 F. App'x at 767-68. We characterized appeal of that issue as frivolous. Id. Although Plaintiff and Ms. Godlove seem unwilling to make the distinction, a lawyer may zealously represent his or her client by advocating defenses that will doom a plaintiff's case without committing fraud on the court.

B. Factual Basis for Slander

Plaintiff and Ms. Godlove next argue that the district court's finding that the Plaintiffs' pleadings contain slanderous allegations lacks support. They contend that the district court should have held a full evidentiary hearing. While the district court did refer to this case as "an attorney-slandering-suing monster," IV Aplt. App. 1058, and remarked that various attorneys and federal judges had been slandered during this litigation, IV Aplt. App. 1061, slander is not the basis of the sanctions. It is the dogged refusal of Ms. Godlove and her clients to accept, let alone follow, the rulings of the courts, thereby initiating groundless suits and multiplying proceedings, given materially indistinguishable facts.

Ms. Godlove reminds us that findings of fact in one case are usually not admissible to establish the truth in another. Aplt. Reply Br. at 16-17; Fed. R. Evid. 201(b) (judicially noticed facts must not be subject to reasonable dispute); United States v. Boyd, 289 F.3d 1254, 1258 (10th Cir. 2002). But a court may take judicial notice of its own records as well of those of other courts, particularly in closely-related cases. St. Louis Baptist Temple, Inc. v. Fed. Deposit Ins. Corp., 605 F.2d 1169, 1172 (10th Cir. 1979). Although Ms. Godlove blames rulings against her on the ...


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