This case arises from the non-renewal of a medical residency administered by LSU at Lafayette General. Dr. Cordova filed suit in state court against LSU, the program director, the department head, and the director of graduate medical education. Cordova also sued University Hospital and Lafayette General. Additional defendants included Cordova’s former counsel, Christopher Johnston, and the Gachassin Law Firm, who previously represented Cordova in state court.  The case was removed based on the assertion of 1983 claims, and the Lafayette General Defendants were dismissed, as Cordova failed to allege any state action or any direct act or omission that would make them liable under 1983; the breach of contract claims, moreover, failed because none of the Lafayette General Defendants were in a contractual relation with him.

Cordova then attempted to appeal, but it was dismissed as untimely.  Similarly, his request that the Court of Appeal amend the judgment under Rule 60 could not be entertained, as it had not previously been sought in the District Court nor was it raised in briefing.

Cordova then filed a Rule 60 Motion in the District Court, which was dismissed as untimely. The District Court, nevertheless, also addressed the merits: Even if Cordova could show that the Lafayette General Defendants were his true employers and that they were contracting parties or joint actors with the LSU Defendants, there was no breach of contract or denial of due process in the non-renewal of Cordova’s residency. The District Court then also awarded attorney fees to the LSU Defendants due to plaintiff’s unreasonable attempts at continuing this litigation.

Cordova again appealed, and the U.S. Fifth Circuit affirmed and remanded the case for the District Court to calculate sanctions under Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 38. The Court also denied Cordova’s motions to disqualify counsel and for sanctions, damages, attorney fees, and costs. The Court issued its mandate in May 2023, and the District Court awarded Defendants $50,664.74 in frivolous appeal costs.

In February 2023, while the appeal regarding the LSU Defendants was pending, the District Court granted the Lafayette General Defendants’ Rule 11(b) motion for sanctions, although declining to issue sanctions under Section 1927. The District Court again rejected Cordova’s attempt to relitigate the issue of who his employer was. Because the evidence Cordova, and his attorney Mire, persistently attempted to introduce and litigate would not affect the District Court’s decision on the merits, the futility of any arguments relating to the Lafayette General Defendants’ status as employer reflects counsel’s bad faith in attempting to make an issue of it. Although the court declined to sanction Mire over her arguments regarding the Bezou Law Firm’s potential conflict of interest and the timeliness of Cordova’s Rule 60(b) motion, it found her “meritless arguments” on the Lafayette General Defendants’ employer status to be “so unfounded” as to amount to violations of Rule 11(b)(1)–(3). The District Court therefore sanctioned Mire, but not Cordova, to deter any more frivolous arguments or filings.

The Fifth Circuit rejected, as “frivolous”, Mire’s three arguments on appeal: (1) that she presented a novel argument regarding the employment relationship between Cordova and the Lafayette General Defendants and therefore sanctioning her would violate the First Amendment; (2) the sanctions against her impose a ‘chilling effect’ on future attorneys to report attorney misconduct; and (3) the district court was without jurisdiction to impose sanctions or accept ‘new evidence’ as to the employment relationship between Cordova and the Lafayette General Defendants.

With respect to the First Amendment: “We agree the First Amendment covers novel, nonfrivolous arguments, but many frivolous arguments are also novel. We expect, indeed hope, that a large number of frivolous arguments are new, i.e., have never been made before. We realize a misapplication of Rule 11 can chill counsel’s enthusiasm and stifle the creativity of litigants in pursing novel factual or legal theories. Even so, we agree with a prior panel’s conclusion that there is no First Amendment exception to a Rule 11 violation. This is because, in judicial proceedings, whatever right to free speech an attorney has is extremely circumscribed. An attorney may not, by speech or other conduct, resist a ruling of the trial court beyond the point necessary to preserve a claim for appeal. This serves Rule 11’s primary purpose of deterring baseless filings and streamlining the administration of justice…. Mire was not sanctioned because her novel arguments were frivolous, but because it was frivolous to continue to make the rejected novel arguments. The court on three separate occasions ruled that the underlying claims were meritless, regardless of who employed Cordova. Therefore, continuing to argue who was Cordova’s actual employer would not change that.”

The Court of Appeal declined to address her arguments regarding the duty to report misconduct, as she had not been sanctioned on that basis.


Cordova v. University Hospital, 92 F.4th 266 (5th Cir. 2024).