Judge Andrews recently issued a decision denying a motion for Rule 11 sanctions finding that the defendants had waited too long to seek sanctions. Rule 11 contains several procedural requirements that must be met in addition to the showing that sanctions are warranted. In this case, the defendants observed the 21-day “safe harbor” of Rule 11(c)(2). But Rule 11, as interpreted by the Third Circuit, also requires that Rule 11 motions be served on the opposing party “promptly . . . before the entry of a final judgment and ‘[w]here appropriate, . . . at an earlier time—as soon as practicable after discovery of the Rule 11 violation.” Dragon Intellectual Property, LLC v. AT&T Services, Inc., et al., C.A. No. 13-2061-RGA, Memo. at 6 (D. Del. July 12, 2016) (internal quotations omitted).
In this case, the defendants argued that Rule 11 requires only “substantial compliance,” which was met by way of a letter the defendants sent to plaintiff in September 2014, expressing an intention to seek Rule 11 sanctions if plaintiffs did not dismiss the case. Defendants did not actually serve and file a Rule 11 motion, however, until November and December 2015, following a favorable Markman order and the withdrawal of plaintiff’s counsel, and a few months before judgment was entered in their favor. Thus, Judge Andrews determined that only the service of the actual motion met the requirements of Rule 11 and that the motion was untimely. Id. at 6-7. “Defendants waited for over a year, and until after the Court issued its Markman decision, to serve the Rule 11 motions. Therefore, Defendants did not serve their motions ‘as soon as practicable after discovery of the Rule 11 violation.’ There is simply no reason why the Rule 11 motions could not have been served earlier.” Id. at 8.
Additionally, because the plaintiff’s case failed based on a “failure to recognize an obvious prosecution history disclaimer,” Judge Andrews found that “it would be improper to award monetary sanctions against Plaintiff for conduct which relates entirely to legal issues” based on Rule 11(c)(5). That subsection of Rule 11 states that the court “must not impose a monetary sanction . . . against a represented party for violating” the requirement that an “attorney or unrepresented party . . . certify that claims, defenses, and other legal contentions are warranted by existing law or by a nonfrivolous argument for extending, modifying, or reversing existing law.” Id. at 8-9.