Seventh Circuit Sanctions an Appellant for Failing To Include the District Court’s Rulings with Its Opening Brief

19 March 2018 Wisconsin Appellate Law Blog
Authors: Eric G. Pearson

Seventh Circuit Rule 30(a) requires an appellant to “append to [its] opening brief[] the judgment under review and its adjoining findings of fact and conclusions of law.” Rule 30(b) further requires an appellant to include any other opinions or orders that bear on the issues on appeal, and subparagraph (d) requires an appellant to certify that it has met the requirements of the rule.

Let Jaworski v. Master Hand Contractors, Inc., No. 16-3601 (7th Cir. Feb. 15, 2018), serve as a warning to any would-be scofflaws of Circuit Rule 30. The decision, written by Judge Diane Sykes, sanctioned the appellant, Master Hand Contractors, for failing “to submit critical district-court opinions with its opening brief.” Slip op. 2.  “The purpose of an appeal,” the court explained, “is to evaluate the reasoning and result reached by the district court.” Id. at 4. The court cannot “do this job,” however, “if the written orders and transcript pages containing the appealed decision are not before [it].” Id.

Master Hand’s violations appear to have been blatant. Master Hand’s notice of appeal stated “that it [appealed] from the district court’s posttrial judgment, but nowhere [did] it provide the judge’s findings of facts and conclusions of law.” Id. at 5. Master Hand also asked the appellate court to review two additional orders entered by the district court, but it likewise failed to include those decisions in its opening brief. The sanction for these “blatant and unjustified” violations was summary affirmance of the decision below. That’s not a slap on the wrist.

Not helping Master Hand’s case was the Seventh Circuit’s additional finding that Master Hand’s arguments on appeal were frivolous. The court described the arguments as “empt[y]” and “nothing more than naked assertions.” Id. at 2, 9. Master Hand, for example, argued that Jaworski was an independent contractor, which (it claimed) would have absolved Master Hand of liability under certain federal and state wage-and-hour laws.

Master Hand’s brief assured the court “that the record contains ‘numerous examples of [Jaworski] engaging in such activities.’” Id. at 7. But it didn’t—not a single one. The court explained that it was not its “duty to scour the record in search of evidence,” id., and went on to explain why Master Hand’s arguments would fail as a matter of law regardless of the evidence.

The appellees had moved for sanctions under Fed. R. Civ. P. 38, and Master Hand never replied. As a result, Master Hand not only lost its appeal, but will suffer the indignity of paying its opponents’ costs and attorneys’ fees for the appeal.

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