Mullen v. Butler, No. 22-2944 (7th Cir. 2024)Annotate this Case
In this case, the plaintiff, Laura Mullen, claimed that the defendants, a youth volleyball club and its owners, fraudulently concealed previous sexual abuse allegations. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants, but also imposed sanctions against them and their lawyer for improperly interfering with the class notice process. The defendants appealed the sanctions.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit held that the district court did not abuse its discretion or commit clear error in imposing the sanctions. The court found that the defendants had intentionally interfered with the class notice and opt-out process and that their communications with class members during the notice period were potentially coercive. The court also upheld the decision of the district court to impose monetary sanctions against the defendants, which included the plaintiff’s reasonable attorney’s fees and expenses, as well as a civil penalty for each defendant.
The court also affirmed the non-monetary sanctions imposed against the defendants' lawyer, who had contacted a class member directly and made a false statement to the court. Although the defendants argued that the lawyer had acted in good faith and did not knowingly or intentionally violate the rules of ethics, the court found that she had taken deliberate action to avoid confirming a high probability of wrongdoing.
Finally, the court rejected the defendants' argument that the plaintiff should have been sanctioned. The defendants claimed that the plaintiff’s use of the term “rape” was inaccurate and irrelevant, that her actions before and after filing the complaint were inconsistent, that she did not have a proper basis for bringing the suit, and that she misrepresented evidence. The court found no merit in these arguments and affirmed the district court’s decision to deny sanctions against the plaintiff.