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DREIZIS v. METROPOLITAN OPERA ASSOCIATION

March 31, 2004.

ROMA DREIZIS, Petitioner, -against- METROPOLITAN OPERA ASSOCIATION, INC., Respondent


The opinion of the court was delivered by: RICHARD CASEY, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Roma Dreizis ("Plaintiff") originally commenced this action against the Metropolitan Opera Association, Inc. ("the Met") and other individual defendants on March 8, 2001, alleging violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000(e) et seq. ("Title VII"); 42 U.S.C. § 1981; New York Executive Law § 296; and New York common law. On August 12, 2002, the Met served a sanctions application on Plaintiff's counsel pursuant to Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. On September 11, 2002, Plaintiff notified the Court that he was voluntarily dismissing the action. Presently before the Court is the Met's motion for sanctions against Plaintiff and his attorney Daniel Cherner, Esq., pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1927 and this Court's inherent authority.

I. Background

  Plaintiff, a Russian Jew, was hired as a temporary tailor for the Met, a world-renowned opera house, from January 1998 to March 1998 and again from August Page 2 1998 to January 1999, along with a number of other temporary employees that the Met employs during its busy seasons. In February 1999, the Met elected not to invite Plaintiff back when it hired its next group of temporary employees, a group that included two Russian Jews and a Hispanic.

  Following the Met's decision not to re-hire him, Plaintiff, with the assistance of his attorney at the time, Jan Blau, unsuccessfully attempted to re-gain employment with the Met. On February 23, and February 28, 2000 Plaintiff filed complaints with the New York State Division of Human Rights and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), respectively. It appears that Plaintiff retained Mr. Cherner, his present attorney sometime in October 2000. After receiving a right-to-sue letter from the EEOC in December 2000, Mr. Cherner commenced this action on March 8, 2001.

  In his complaint, Plaintiff claimed that he was discriminated against by Ute Picton, his German-born supervisor, based on his religion, ethnicity and national background. See Pl.'s Compl., pp. 4-5. Plaintiff alleged that this discrimination prevented him from receiving overtime, meaningful work assignments (to make him appear unproductive), and was the ultimate cause for his termination. The Met asserts that Plaintiff was terminated because he purposefully slowed his work pace in efforts to receive overtime, failed to follow instructions from his supervisors, and exhibited disruptive behavior in the workplace which interfered with his co-workers' work. See Declaration of Sharon E. Grubin in Support of Defendant Metropolitan Opera Association's Motion for Attorneys Fees ("Grubin Decl."), ¶ 8). Page 3

  To say that this proceeding got off on the wrong foot would be an understatement. After some questionable attempts by Plaintiff's attorney, Mr. Cherner, to serve the defendants, both parties finally appeared before the Court on September 7, 2001. After prolonged discovery, Plaintiff himself was finally deposed on August 7, 2002. Plaintiff's testimony at his deposition contradicted many allegations contained in his complaint and called into doubt any possibility of prevailing on his claims against the Met. At his deposition, Plaintiff readily admitted that his status as a Russian Jew played no part in the Met's decision not to re-hire him, (See Grubin Decl. Ex. 2 at pp. 118-119), that he was in fact provided with sufficient work assignments (See id. at p. 202), and the he was not in fact deprived of overtime because of his nationality or religious background (See id. at pp. 85-86).

  On August 12, 2002, the Met served Mr. Cherner with a Rule 11 application. After Plaintiff voluntarily dismissed this action, the Met moved this Court for attorneys' fees pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1927.

 II. Discussion

  28 U.S.C. § 1927 provides that "any such person who so multiplies the proceedings in any case unreasonably and vexatiously may be required by the court to satisfy personally the excess costs, expenses, and attorneys' fees reasonably incurred because of such conduct." A district court also has authority to impose sanctions pursuant to its inherent power to supervise and control its own proceedings where the losing party has "acted in bad faith, vexatiously, wantonly, or for oppressive reasons." Oliveri v. Thompson, 803 F.2d 1265, 1272 (2d Cir. 1986) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). "The only meaningful difference between an award made under § Page 4 1927 and one made pursuant to the court's inherent power is . . . that awards under § 1927 are made only against attorneys or other persons authorized to practice before the courts while an award made under the court's inherent power may be made against an attorney, a party, or both." Id. at 1273.

  In order for a court to impose sanctions under either authority, there must be clear evidence that "(1) the challenged claim was without a colorable basis and (2) the claim was brought in bad faith, i.e., motivated by improper purposes such as harassment or delay." Schlaifer Nance & Co. v. Estate of Andy Warhol, 194 F.3d 323, 336 (2d Cir. 1999). Although a court may impose sanctions where "the attorney's actions are so completely without merit as to require the conclusion that they must have been undertaken for some improper purpose such as delay," Oliveri, 803 F.2d at 1273, the imposition of sanctions requires a "clear showing of bad faith" that is characterized by a high degree of specificity. Shafii v. British Airways, PLC, 83 F.3d 566 (2d Cir. 1996). See also Milltex Indus. Corp. v. Jacquard Lace Co., 55 F.3d 34, 41 (2d Cir. 1995); Schlaifer Nance, 194 F.3d at 339; Kamen v. Am. Tel. & Tel. Co., 791 F.2d 1006, 1010 (2d Cir. 1986).

  While sanctions may be imposed under Rule 11 upon a showing of objective unreasonableness on the part of the attorney, the bad faith requirement under § 1927 or the Court's inherent authority is subjective. See MacDraw. Inc., v. CIT Group Equip. Fin., Inc., 73 F.3d 1253 (2d Cir. 1996). Accordingly, courts have declined to impose sanctions for pursuing a meritless claim alone. See, e.g., Anonymous v. Goddard Riverside Cmty Ctr., 1997 WL 475165, at *5 (S.D.N.Y. 1997); Howard v. Klynveld Peat Marwick Goerdeler, 977 F. Supp. 654, 668 (S.D.N.Y. 1997). Page 5

  With this high standard in mind, the Court will address (1) the merit of Plaintiff's claims and (2) whether ...


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