Addressing an issue of first impression, the Second Circuit held recently that bankruptcy courts have inherent authority to impose non-nominal civil contempt sanctions, including per diem sanctions and attorneys’ fees, arising out of an attorney’s failure to comply with the bankruptcy court’s discovery orders.
Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court clarified in Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. v. Haeger that even a district court’s exercise of broad discretion to impose a civil sanction for a litigant’s bad faith conduct has to be limited by a causal link.
The parties in Goodyear had reached a settlement of the underlying product liability case after several years of contentious discovery. After the settlement, however, plaintiffs, the Haegers, learned (and Goodyear, the defendant, conceded) that Goodyear had withheld certain information that the Haegers had requested early and often during the discovery stage. Accordingly, the Haegers asked the District Court to impose sanctions on Goodyear for discovery fraud. Because the parties had already settled, the only sanction available was to award the Haegers attorney’s fees and costs expended in the litigation.