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Daley v. Bono

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Tampa Division

December 18, 2019

LAUREN DALEY, Plaintiff,
v.
DR. FRANK S. BONO, D.O., ROBERT J. SHUTTERA, GULF COAST SPINE INSTITUTE, INC., BIOSPINE INSTITUTE, LLC, and AVION ANESTHESIA, LLC, Defendants.

          ORDER

          JAMES D. WHITTEMORE United States District Judge

         BEFORE THE COURT is Defendants' Amended Motion for Sanctions Pursuant to Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (Dkt. 59) and Plaintiff Daley's response (Dkt. 60). Upon consideration, the motion is DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The order granting summary judgment in Defendants' favor outlined the relevant facts of this action. (Dkt. 57). In sum, Daley was injured in two automobile accidents and was referred by her personal injury attorney to medical providers. Before being treated, she signed assignments of benefits in favor of the medical providers as well as a letter of protection, guaranteeing payment from the proceeds of any settlement of her personal injury claims or verdict award, to cover medical costs not covered by insurance.

         In her complaint, she alleged the medical providers and their attorney violated the Florida Consumer Collection Practices Act (“FCCPA”) and Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”) by conditioning medical services on a guarantee of payment, unsuccessfully billing her insurers, sending balance statements, and enforcing the letter of protection through their attorney after her personal injury claims were settled. The first complaint brought claims against the attorney, Shuttera, for alleged violations of the FDCPA and FCCPA, and claims against the Medical Defendants for alleged violations of the FCCPA. (Dkt. 1). After the complaint was dismissed without prejudice (Dkt. 32), Daley filed her Amended Complaint, which added a claim for conspiracy to violate the FDCPA and FCCPA against all Defendants (Dkt. 34). The Amended Complaint was dismissed (Dkt. 45), and Daley filed her Second Amended Complaint (Dkt. 46).

         The order granting summary judgment noted that conditioning medical services on a guarantee or enforcing a letter of protection does not violate the FCCPA or FDCPA, and there was no evidence that the medical providers overcharged for services, engaged in harassing conduct, or sent any correspondence directly to Daley, rather than her attorney. (Dkt. 57). Defendants' motion for sanctions under Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure followed.[1] (Dkt. 59).

         II. STANDARD

         Under Rule 11, an attorney who files a pleading in federal court “certifies that to the best of the person's knowledge, information, and belief, formed after an inquiry reasonable under the circumstances” that:

(1) it is not being presented for any improper purpose, such as to harass, cause unnecessary delay, or needlessly increase the cost of litigation;
(2) the claims, defenses, and other legal contentions are warranted by existing law or by a nonfrivolous argument for extending, modifying, or reversing existing law or for establishing new law;
(3) the factual contentions have evidentiary support or, if specifically so identified, will likely have evidentiary support after a reasonable opportunity for further investigation or discovery; and
(4) the denials of factual contentions are warranted on the evidence or, if specifically so identified, are reasonably based on belief or lack of information.

         Sanctions may be awarded under Rule 11: “(1) when a party files a pleading that has no reasonable factual basis; (2) when the party files a pleading that is based on a legal theory that has no reasonable chance of success and that cannot be advanced as a reasonable argument to change existing law; or (3) when the party files a pleading in bad faith for an improper purpose.” Anderson v. Smithfield Foods, Inc., 353 F.3d 912, 915 (11th Cir. 2003) (citation omitted).

         The inquiry under Rule 11 is “whether the party's claims are objectively frivolous” and “whether the person who signed the pleadings should have been aware that they were frivolous.” Baker v. Alderman, 158 F.3d 516, 524 (11th Cir. 1998). Sanctions may be appropriate where “the plain language of an applicable statute and the case law preclude relief.” Id. However, “Rule 11 motions . . . should not be employed . . . to test the legal sufficiency or efficacy of allegations in the pleadings; other motions are available for those purposes.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 11 advisory committee's note (1993 Amendments); Lawson v. Sec'y, Dep't of Corr., No. 13-12786, 2014 WL1491862, *1 (11th Cir. Apr. 17, 2014) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted) (“[T]he imposition of a Rule ...


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