The 1983 amendment of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11 has been the most controversial revision of the Federal Rules in their fifty-five-year history, and Rule l l's implementation has been most controversial in civil rights cases. Rule ll's application has disadvantaged civil rights plaintiffs more than any other category of civil litigant. Courts have found civil rights plaintiffs in violation of Rule 11 at a higher rate than other types of plaintiffs and have imposed substantial sanctions on them. Civil rights plaintiffs have been required to participate in expensive, unnecessary satellite litigation involving this provision. Indeed, a new study of Rule 11 activity in the Fifth, Seventh, and Ninth Circuits indicates that judges sanction civil rights plaintiffs as frequently as all other classifications of parties and that the Rule has led civil rights attorneys to advise clients to abandon potentially meritorious claims.
These complications prompted the civil rights bar and public interest organizations to seek major changes in Rule 11. The Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure of the United States Judicial Conference (Standing Committee) recently issued a proposal to modify Rule 11. Because that proposal probably will resemble the amendment which the Supreme Court and Congress ultimately adopt and because the 1983 revision has detrimentally affected civil rights plaintiffs, the proposal warrants close analysis. This Article undertakes that effort. Section I of this Article briefly explores the background of Rule 11 since 1983, when the provision was fundamentally changed by the Court and Congress. Section II assesses whether the aspects of the Standing Committee's proposal that most directly affect civil rights plaintiffs would improve the current Rule. This evaluation finds that these new features markedly improve the 1983 Rule and also are better than the proposal developed by the Advisory Committee on the Civil Rules (Advisory Committee) in May 1991. Because the new proposal may afford insufficient protection for civil rights plaintiffs, Section III offers suggestions which the remaining entities responsible for rule revision should adopt.
Carl Tobias, Civil Rights Plaintiffs and the Proposed Revision of Rule 11, 77 Iowa L. Rev. 1771 (1992)