A unanimous panel of Second Circuit judges upheld an order of sanctions against three attorneys, Mustapha Ndanusa, Dennis Cunningham and William Veale, who insisted that Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld caused the 9/11 terror attacks. The attorneys were ordered to pay $15,000 in sanctions and to pay double what the U.S. Government spent defending itself against their lawsuit.
The attorneys represented a former member of the U.S. Army who was injured in the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon. The plaintiff claimed that a hijacked airliner did not hit the building but rather that Cheney, Rumsfeld and other Bush administration officials caused the detonation of an explosion within the building in order to use 9/11 as a pretext for launching a war against radical Muslims. The Second Circuit had already affirmed an order dismissing the former soldier’s complaint as a frivolous one which did not present a consistent, plausible theory for what plaintiff and her attorneys contend occurred on 9/11. The complaint merely consisted of vague and conclusory allegations of a conspiracy among the defendants.
The Court then ordered the client and her attorneys to show cause why sanctions should not be imposed for filing a frivolous appeal. Their response consisted of a mish-mash of irrelevant information and a presentation of every rumor, innuendo, and anecdote showing a claimed inconsistency or omission to the “official version” of the 9/11 attacks. Plaintiff and her attorneys never explained how these rumors and anecdotes provided a basis for pursuing an appeal. Hence their response did not establish that the appeal was not frivolous.
Moreover, their response asserted unsupported accusations of bias against the Court. Plaintiff and her attorneys accused the Court of being prejudiced against plaintiff’s claims and of participating in the Government’s ongoing conspiracy regarding 9/11.
Plaintiff and her attorneys argued that the judges’ alleged severe bias, based on their personal emotions arising from the 9/11 attack, led them to prejudge the complaint’s allegations and reject the complaint out of hand. They moved to disqualify the judges. The judges rejected plaintiff’s calls to disqualify them.
As grounds for awarding sanctions against the attorneys, the Court noted that the lawyers initiated multiple proceedings ”unreasonably and vexatiously.” Furthermore, the panel pointed to plaintiff’s and attorneys repeated and bad faith accusations of the Court’s bias and malice. The Court gave the attorneys sixty days to pay the sanctions and costs.
The Court did not impose sanctions against the plaintiff. Since she was not an attorney, she had not assumed the ethical obligations that her attorneys had assumed. Also, plaintiff did not direct her litigation strategy. Instead, she relied heavily upon her attorneys to draft the relevant documents and provide advice in pursuing the litigation.
The Court noted that the rule providing that the offenses of the lawyer are visited on the client does not apply to the issue of sanctions. Instead, courts must specify the conduct engaged in by the client herself that is bad enough to warrant the imposition of sanctions against her. The Court, however, admonished plaintiff that if she were to submit frivolous filings in the future, either as a pro se litigant or one represented by counsel, it may result in the imposition of sanctions against her, including monetary penalties.