Keeping Courts Afloat in a Rising Sea of Litigation: An Objective Approach to Imposing Rule 38 Sanctions for Frivolous Appeals

As their dockets swell, federal judges’ tolerance for attorney misconduct wears thin. More than ever, judges are willing to impose sanctions for abuses of federal court processes, including frivolous appeals. As one judge explained, “[w]ith courts struggling to remain afloat in a constantly rising sea of litigation, a frivolous appeal can itself be a form of obscenity.” Aside from the need to reduce caseloads, other factors underlie the courts’ willingness to impose sanctions for frivolous appeals. One concern is that the costs to responsible, ethical litigants increase sharply when the court system’s resources are diverted to meritless claims. Another motivating factor is the simple desire to “insur[e] justice to the appellee.” Also exacerbating courts’ frustrations with frivolous appeals is their realization that, as the judiciary and bar have grown, attorneys’ incentive to regulate themselves has weakened because it is now less likely that any attorney will have to appear regularly before the same judge.