Matthew Scott’s client sued MEI, asserting six Title VII claims in her Amended Complaint. The District Court set April 14, 2021 as the deadline for motions for leave to further amend the pleadings. Within the deadline, Scott moved to amend by adding two Family and Medical Leave Act claims. The District Court granted the motion, ordering that Scott’s client was “granted leave to file by December 4, 2020, her second amended complaint.” The District Court, therefore, expected Scott to file the Second Amended Complaint. But Scott did not read the order closely and assumed that the Second Amended Complaint was filed. After the plaintiff’s deposition, Scott thought it necessary to seek leave to file a Third Amended Complaint, dropping three of the six Title VII claims he believed were no longer viable. He had time to do so because the deposition occurred on April 13, 2021 and the deadline for amendment was April 14th. But, citing an inability to confer with his client, Scott did not seek leave to amend until April 20th (i.e. after the deadline had passed). MEI, which rightly understood that because the Second Amended Complaint was never filed and the First Amended Complaint – which contained no FMLA claims – remained the operative pleading, opposed the motion. From MEI’s point of view, as well as the Court’s, Scott’s tardy amendment would add new claims to the litigation after the plaintiff’s deposition, substantial discovery, and the filing of a motion for summary judgment. The District Court therefore denied leave to amend. After recounting the procedural history, the District Court expressed disbelief at Scott’s conduct and concern that Scott’s proffered reason for the new amendment – to drop claims – was pretextual since the proposed amendment would add claims. That kind of parlous behavior would, the District Court reasoned, constitute misrepresentation and conduct unbecoming a member of the bar. Pursuant to the court’s Local Rules, the court directed Scott to show cause why he should not be sanctioned for such conduct unbecoming a member of the bar, for failing to comply with the court’s scheduling order, and an inability to conduct litigation properly. The District Court also ordered MEI to file an appropriate response and to include therein a statement of fees and expenses incurred in responding to Scott’s untimely motion for leave to amend and the resultant show cause order.
Scott filed a lengthy response explaining that he had mistakenly believed that the Second Amended Complaint had already been filed, and that all subsequent errors arose from that misunderstanding. Because he had made an honest mistake, he pressed, his conduct was not an attempt to mislead the Court or otherwise act in a manner unbecoming. The District Court was satisfied that Scott understood the seriousness of the situation and what the Court expects, and ordered Scott to pay MEI $1,250 as reimbursement for reasonable attorney’s fees incurred in responding to the untimely motion for leave to amend and to the show cause order.
In a short Per Curiam, the Fifth Circuit affirmed: “When litigating in federal district court, it is often advisable to read the court’s orders. They are not merely “the breath of an unfee’d lawyer,” and an attorney who treats them as such does so at his own peril. Should an attorney misstep, the best course of action is to take responsibility for the mistake and try to move forward.” Then, after dispensing with various technical and procedural arguments, the Court concluded that: “Scott made a mistake. The district court imposed a reasonable sanction to reimburse MEI for the expense of dealing with that mistake. Law, fact, and logic itself support that course of action.”
Scott v. MEI Inc., No.21-10680, 2022 WL 1055576 (5th Cir. April 8, 2022).