Chambers v. Nasco, Inc.Annotate this Case
501 U.S. 32 (1991)
U.S. Supreme Court
Chambers v. Nasco, Inc., 501 U.S. 32 (1991)
Chambers v. Nasco
Argued Feb. 27, 1991
Decided June 6, 1991
501 U.S. 32
CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS
FOR THE FIFTH CIRCUIT
Petitioner Chambers, the sole shareholder and director of a company that operated a television station in Louisiana, agreed to sell the station's facilities and broadcast license to respondent NASCO, Inc. Chambers soon changed his mind and, both before and after NASCO filed this diversity action for specific performance in the District Court, engaged in a series of actions within and without that court and in proceedings before the Federal Communications Commission, the Court of Appeals, and this Court, which were designed to frustrate the sale's consummation. On remand following the Court of Appeals' affirmance of judgment on the merits for NASCO, the District Court, on NASCO's motion and following full briefing and a hearing, imposed sanctions against Chambers in the form of attorney's fees and expenses totaling almost $1 million, representing the entire amount of NASCO's litigation costs paid to its attorneys. The court noted that the alleged sanctionable conduct was that Chambers had (1) attempted to deprive the court of jurisdiction by acts of fraud, nearly all of which were performed outside the confines of the court, (2) filed false and frivolous pleadings, and (3) "attempted, by other tactics of delay, oppression, harassment and massive expense to reduce [NASCO] to exhausted compliance." The court deemed Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11 -- which provides for the imposition of attorney's fees as a sanction for the improper filing of papers with a court -- insufficient to support the sanction against Chambers, since the Rule does not reach conduct in the foregoing first and third categories, and since it would have been impossible to assess sanctions at the time the papers in the second category were filed, because their falsity did not become apparent until after the trial on the merits. The court likewise declined to impose sanctions under 28 U.S.C. § 1927, both because the statute's authorization of an attorney's fees sanction applies only to attorneys who unreasonably and vexatiously multiply proceedings, and therefore would not reach Chambers, and because the statute was not broad enough to reach "acts which degrade the judicial system." The court therefore relied on its inherent power in imposing sanctions. In affirming, the Court of Appeals, inter alia, rejected Chambers' argument that a federal court sitting in diversity must look to state law, not the court's inherent power, to assess attorney's fees as a sanction for bad-faith conduct in litigation.
Held: The District Court properly invoked its inherent power in assessing as a sanction for Chambers' bad-faith conduct the attorney's fees and related expenses paid by NASCO. Pp. 501 U. S. 42-58.
(a) Federal courts have the inherent power to manage their own proceedings and to control the conduct of those who appear before them. In invoking the inherent power to punish conduct which abuses the judicial process, a court must exercise discretion in fashioning an appropriate sanction, which may range from dismissal of a lawsuit to an assessment of attorney's fees. Although the "American Rule" prohibits the shifting of attorney's fees in most cases, see Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. v. Wilderness Society,421 U. S. 240, 421 U. S. 259, an exception allows federal courts to exercise their inherent power to assess such fees as a sanction when a party has acted in bad faith, vexatiously, wantonly, or for oppressive reasons, id. at 421 U. S. 258-259, 421 U. S. 260, as when the party practices a fraud upon the court, Universal Oil Products Co. v. Root Refining Co.,328 U. S. 575, 328 U. S. 580, or delays or disrupts the litigation or hampers a court order's enforcement, Hutto v. Finney,437 U. S. 678, 437 U. S. 689, n. 14. Pp. 501 U. S. 43-46.
(b) There is nothing in § 1927, Rule 11, or other Federal Rules of Civil Procedure authorizing attorney's fees as a sanction, or in this Court's decisions interpreting those other sanctioning mechanisms, that warrants a conclusion that, taken alone or together, the other mechanisms displace courts' inherent power to impose attorney's fees as a sanction for bad-faith conduct. Although a court ordinarily should rely on such rules when there is bad-faith conduct in the course of litigation that could be adequately sanctioned under the rules, the court may safely rely on its inherent power if, in its informed discretion, neither the statutes nor the rules are up to the task. The District Court did not abuse its discretion in resorting to the inherent power in the circumstances of this case. Although some of Chambers' conduct might have been reached through the other sanctioning mechanisms, all of that conduct was sanctionable. Requiring the court to apply the other mechanisms to discrete occurrences before invoking the inherent power to address remaining instances of sanctionable conduct would serve only to foster extensive and needless satellite litigation, which is contrary to the aim of the rules themselves. Nor did the court's reliance on the inherent power thwart the mandatory terms of Rules 11 and 26(g). Those Rules merely require that "an appropriate sanction" be imposed, without specifying which sanction is required. Bank of Nova Scotia v. United States,487 U. S. 250, distinguished. Pp. 501 U. S. 46-51.
(c) There is no merit to Chambers' assertion that a federal court sitting in diversity cannot use its inherent power to assess attorney's fees as a sanction unless the applicable state law recognizes the "bad-faith" exception to the general American Rule against fee-shifting. Although footnote 31 in Alyeska tied a diversity court's inherent power to award fees to the existence of a state law giving a right thereto, that limitation applies only to fee-shifting rules that embody a substantive policy, such as a statute which permits a prevailing party in certain classes of litigation to recover fees. Here the District Court did not attempt to sanction Chambers for breach of contract, but rather imposed sanctions for the fraud he perpetrated on the court and the bad faith he displayed toward both NASCO and the court throughout the litigation. The inherent power to tax fees for such conduct cannot be made subservient to any state policy without transgressing the boundaries set out in Erie R. Co. v. Tompkins,304 U. S. 64, Guaranty Trust Co. v. York,326 U. S. 99, and Hanna v. Plumer,380 U. S. 460, for fee-shifting here is not a matter of substantive remedy, but is a matter of vindicating judicial authority. Thus, although Louisiana law prohibits punitive damages for a bad-faith breach of contract, this substantive state policy is not implicated. Pp. 501 U. S. 51-55.
(d) Based on the circumstances of this case, the District Court acted within its discretion in assessing as a sanction for Chambers' bad-faith conduct the entire amount of NASCO's attorney's fees. Chambers' arguments to the contrary are without merit. First, although the sanction was not assessed until the conclusion of the litigation, the court's reliance on its inherent power did not represent an end run around Rule 11's notice requirements, since Chambers received repeated timely warnings both from NASCO and the court that his conduct was sanctionable. Second, the fact that the entire amount of fees was awarded does not mean that the court failed to tailor the sanction to the particular wrong, in light of the frequency and severity of Chambers' abuses of the judicial system and the resulting need to ensure that such abuses were not repeated. Third, the court did not abuse its discretion by failing to require NASCO to mitigate its expenses, since Chambers himself made a swift conclusion to the litigation by means of summary judgment impossible by continuing to assert that material factual disputes existed. Fourth, the court did not err in imposing sanctions for conduct before other tribunals, since, as long as Chambers received an appropriate hearing, he may be sanctioned for abuses of process beyond the courtroom. Finally, the claim that the award is not "personalized" as to Chambers' responsibility for the challenged conduct is flatly contradicted by the court's detailed factual findings concerning Chambers' involvement in the sequence of events at issue. Pp. 501 U. S. 55-58.
894 F.2d 696 (CA5 1990), affirmed.
WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, STEVENS, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. SCALIA, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 501 U. S. 58. KENNEDY, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and SOUTER, J., joined, post, p. 501 U. S. 60.
JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.
This case requires us to explore the scope of the inherent power of a federal court to sanction a litigant for bad-faith conduct. Specifically, we are asked to determine whether the District Court, sitting in diversity, properly invoked its inherent power in assessing as a sanction for a party's bad-faith conduct attorney's fees and related expenses paid by the party's opponent to its attorneys. We hold that the District Court acted within its discretion, and we therefore affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals.
This case began as a simple action for specific performance of a contract, but it did not remain so. [Footnote 1] Petitioner G. Russell Chambers was the sole shareholder and director of Calcasieu Television and Radio, Inc. (CTR), which operated television station KPLC-TV in Lake Charles, Louisiana. On August 9, 1983, Chambers, acting both in his individual capacity and on behalf of CTR, entered into a purchase agreement
to sell the station's facilities and broadcast license to respondent NASCO, Inc., for a purchase price of $18 million. The agreement was not recorded in the parishes in which the two properties housing the station's facilities were located. Consummation of the agreement was subject to the approval of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC); both parties were obligated to file the necessary documents with the FCC no later than September 23, 1983. By late August, however, Chambers had changed his mind and tried to talk NASCO out of consummating the sale. NASCO refused. On September 23, Chambers, through counsel, informed NASCO that he would not file the necessary papers with the FCC.
NASCO decided to take legal action. On Friday, October 14, 1983, NASCO's counsel informed counsel for Chambers and CTR that NASCO would file suit the following Monday in the United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana, seeking specific performance of the agreement, as well as a temporary restraining order (TRO) to prevent the alienation or encumbrance of the properties at issue. NASCO provided this notice in accordance with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 65 and Rule 11 of the District Court's Local Rules (now Rule 10), both of which are designed to give a defendant in a TRO application notice of the hearing and an opportunity to be heard.
The reaction of Chambers and his attorney, A.J. Gray III, was later described by the District Court as having
"emasculated and frustrated the purposes of these rules and the powers of [the District] Court by utilizing this notice to prevent NASCO's access to the remedy of specific performance."
NASCO, Inc. v. Calcasieu Television & Radio, Inc., 623 F.Supp. 1372, 1383 (WD La.1985). On Sunday, October 16, 1983, the pair acted to place the properties at issue beyond the reach of the District Court by means of the Louisiana Public Records Doctrine. Because the purchase agreement had never been recorded, they determined that, if the properties
were sold to a third party, and if the deeds were recorded before the issuance of a TRO, the District Court would lack jurisdiction over the properties.
To this end, Chambers and Gray created a trust, with Chambers' sister as trustee and Chambers' three adult children as beneficiaries. The pair then directed the president of CTR, who later became Chambers' wife, to execute warranty deeds conveying the two tracts at issue to the trust for a recited consideration of $1.4 million. Early Monday morning, the deeds were recorded. The trustee, as purchaser, had not signed the deeds; none of the consideration had been paid; and CTR remained in possession of the properties. Later that morning, NASCO's counsel appeared in the District Court to file the complaint and seek the TRO. With NASCO's counsel present, the District Judge telephoned Gray. Despite the judge's queries concerning the possibility that CTR was negotiating to sell the properties to a third person, Gray made no mention of the recordation of the deeds earlier that morning. NASCO, Inc. v. Calcasieu Television & Radio, Inc., 124 F.R.D. 120, 126, n. 8 (WD La.1989). That afternoon, Chambers met with his sister and had her sign the trust documents and a $1.4 million note to CTR. The next morning, Gray informed the District Court by letter of the recordation of the deeds the day before, and admitted that he had intentionally withheld the information from the court.
Within the next few days, Chambers' attorneys prepared a leaseback agreement from the trustee to CTR, so that CTR could remain in possession of the properties and continue to operate the station. The following week, the District Court granted a preliminary injunction against Chambers and CTR and entered a second TRO to prevent the trustee from alienating or encumbering the properties. At that hearing, the District Judge warned that Gray's and Chambers' conduct had been unethical.
Despite this early warning, Chambers, often acting through his attorneys, continued to abuse the judicial process. In November, 1983, in defiance of the preliminary injunction, he refused to allow NASCO to inspect CTR's corporate records. The ensuing civil contempt proceedings resulted in the assessment of a $25,000 fine against Chambers personally. NASCO, Inc. v. Calcasieu Television & Radio, Inc., 583 F.Supp. 115 (WD La.1984). Two subsequent appeals from the contempt order were dismissed for lack of a final judgment. See NASCO, Inc. v. Calcasieu Television & Radio, Inc., No. 84-9037 (CA5, May 29, 1984); NASCO, Inc. v. Calcasieu Television & Radio, Inc., 752 F.2d 157 (CA5 1985).
Undeterred, Chambers proceeded with "a series of meritless motions and pleadings and delaying actions." 124 F.R.D. at 127. These actions triggered further warnings from the court. At one point, acting sua sponte, the District Judge called a status conference to find out why bankers were being deposed. When informed by Chambers' counsel that the purpose was to learn whether NASCO could afford to pay for the station, the court canceled the depositions consistent with its authority under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(g).
At the status conference nine days before the April, 1985, trial date, [Footnote 2] the District Judge again warned counsel that further misconduct would not be tolerated. [Footnote 3] Finally, on the eve of trial, Chambers and CTR stipulated that the purchase agreement was enforceable and that Chambers had breached the agreement on September 23, 1983, by failing to file the
necessary papers with the FCC. At trial, the only defense presented by Chambers was the Public Records Doctrine.
In the interlude between the trial and the entry of judgment, during which the District Court prepared its opinion, Chambers sought to render the purchase agreement meaningless by seeking permission from the FCC to build a new transmission tower for the station and to relocate the transmission facilities to that site, which was not covered by the agreement. Only after NASCO sought contempt sanctions did Chambers withdraw the application.
The District Court entered judgment on the merits in NASCO's favor, finding that the transfer of the properties to the trust was a simulated sale and that the deeds purporting to convey the property were "null, void, and of no effect." 623 F.Supp. at 1385. Chambers' motions, filed in the District Court, the Court of Appeals, and this Court, to stay the judgment pending appeal were denied. Undeterred, Chambers convinced CTR officials to file formal oppositions to NASCO's pending application for FCC approval of the transfer of the station's license, in contravention of both the District Court's injunctive orders and its judgment on the merits. NASCO then sought contempt sanctions for a third time, and the oppositions were withdrawn.
When Chambers refused to prepare to close the sale, NASCO again sought the court's help. A hearing was set for July 16, 1986, to determine whether certain equipment was to be included in the sale. At the beginning of the hearing, the court informed Chambers' new attorney, Edwin A. McCabe, [Footnote 4] that further sanctionable conduct would not be tolerated. When the hearing was recessed for several days, Chambers, without notice to the court or NASCO, removed from service at the station all of the equipment at issue, forcing the District Court to order that the equipment be returned to service.
Immediately following oral argument on Chambers' appeal from the District Court's judgment on the merits, the Court of Appeals, ruling from the bench, found the appeal frivolous. The court imposed appellate sanctions in the form of attorney's fees and double costs, pursuant to Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 38, and remanded the case to the District Court with orders to fix the amount of appellate sanctions and to determine whether further sanctions should be imposed for the manner in which the litigation had been conducted. NASCO, Inc. v. Calcasieu Television & Radio, Inc., 797 F.2d 975 (CA5 1986) (per curiam) (unpublished order).
On remand, NASCO moved for sanctions, invoking the District Court's inherent power, Fed.Rule Civ.Proc. 11, and 28 U.S.C. § 1927. After full briefing and a hearing, see 124 F.R.D. at 141, n. 11, the District Court determined that sanctions were appropriate "for the manner in which this proceeding was conducted in the district court from October 14, 1983, the time that plaintiff gave notice of its intention to file suit, to this date." Id. at 123. At the end of an extensive opinion recounting what it deemed to have been sanctionable conduct during this period, the court imposed sanctions against Chambers in the form of attorney's fees and expenses totaling $996,644.65, which represented the entire amount of NASCO's litigation costs paid to its attorneys. [Footnote 5]
In so doing, the court rejected Chambers' argument that he had merely followed the advice of counsel, labeling him "the strategist," id. at 132, behind a scheme devised "first, to deprive this Court of jurisdiction and, second, to devise a plan of obstruction, delay, harassment, and expense sufficient to reduce NASCO to a condition of exhausted compliance," id. at 136.
In imposing the sanctions, the District Court first considered Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11. It noted that the alleged sanctionable conduct was that Chambers and the other defendants had "(1) attempted to deprive this Court of jurisdiction by acts of fraud, nearly all of which were performed outside the confines of this Court, (2) filed false and frivolous pleadings, and (3) attempted, by other tactics of delay, oppression, harassment and massive expense to reduce plaintiff to exhausted compliance." Id. at 138. The court recognized that the conduct in the first and third categories could not be reached by Rule 11, which governs only papers filed with a court. As for the second category, the court explained that the falsity of the pleadings at issue did not become apparent until after the trial on the merits, so that it would have been impossible to assess sanctions at the time the papers were filed. Id. at 138-139. Consequently, the District Court deemed Rule 11 "insufficient" for its purposes. Id. at 139. The court likewise declined to impose sanctions under § 1927, [Footnote 6] both because the statute applies only to attorneys, and therefore would not reach Chambers, and because the statute was not broad enough to reach "acts
which degrade the judicial system," including "attempts to deprive the Court of jurisdiction, fraud, misleading and lying to he Court." Ibid. The court therefore relied on its inherent power in imposing sanctions, stressing that "[t]he wielding of that inherent power is particularly appropriate when the offending parties have practiced a fraud upon the court." Ibid.
The Court of Appeals affirmed. NASCO, Inc. v. Calcasieu Television & Radio, Inc., 894 F.2d 696 (CA5 1990). The court rejected Chambers' argument that a federal court sitting in diversity must look to state law, not the court's inherent power, to assess attorney's fees as a sanction for bad-faith conduct in litigation. The court further found that neither 28 U.S.C. § 1927 nor Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11 limits a court's inherent authority to sanction bad-faith conduct "when the party's conduct is not within the reach of the rule or the statute." [Footnote 7] 894 F.2d at 702-703. Although observing that the inherent power
"is not a broad reservoir of power, ready at an imperial hand, but a limited source; an implied power squeezed from the need to make the court function,"
id. at 702, the court also concluded that the District Court did not abuse its discretion in awarding to NASCO the fees and litigation costs paid to its attorneys. Because of the importance of these issues, we granted certiorari, 498 U.S. 807 (1990).
Chambers maintains that 28 U.S.C. § 1927 and the various sanctioning provisions in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure [Footnote 8] reflect a legislative intent to displace the inherent
power. At least, he argues that they obviate or foreclose resort to the inherent power in this case. We agree with the Court of Appeals that neither proposition is persuasive.
It has long been understood that "[c]ertain implied powers must necessarily result to our Courts of justice from the nature of their institution," powers "which cannot be dispensed with in a Court, because they are necessary to the exercise of all others." United States v. Hudson, 7 Cranch 32, 11 U. S. 34 (1812); see also Roadway Express, Inc. v. Piper,447 U. S. 752, 447 U. S. 764 (1980) (citing Hudson). For this reason,
"Courts of justice are universally acknowledged to be vested, by their very creation, with power to impose silence, respect, and decorum, in their presence, and submission to their lawful mandates."
"governed not by rule or statute, but by the control necessarily vested in courts to manage their own affairs so as to achieve the orderly and expeditious disposition of cases."
Prior cases have outlined the scope of the inherent power of the federal courts. For example, the Court has held that a federal court has the power to control admission to its bar and to discipline attorneys who appear before it. See Ex parte Burr, 9 Wheat. 529, 22 U. S. 531 (1824). While this power "ought to be exercised with great caution," it is nevertheless "incidental to all Courts." Ibid.
In addition, it is firmly established that "[t]he power to punish for contempts is inherent in all courts." Robinson, supra, at 86 U. S. 510. This power reaches both conduct before the court and that beyond the court's confines, for
"[t]he underlying concern that gave rise to the contempt power was not . . . merely the disruption of court proceedings. Rather, it was disobedience to the orders of the Judiciary, regardless of whether such disobedience interfered with the conduct of trial."
Of particular relevance here, the inherent power also allows a federal court to vacate its own judgment upon proof that a fraud has been perpetrated upon the court. See Hazel-Atlas Glass Co. v. Hartford-Empire Co.,322 U. S. 238 (1944); Universal Oil Products Co. v. Root Refining Co.,328 U. S. 575, 328 U. S. 580 (1946). This "historic power of equity to set aside fraudulently begotten judgments," Hazel-Atlas, 322 U.S. at 322 U. S. 245, is necessary to the integrity of the courts, for
"tampering with the administration of justice in [this] manner . . . involves far more than an injury to a single litigant. It is a wrong against the institutions set up to protect and safeguard the public."
Id. at 322 U. S. 246. Moreover, a court has the power to conduct an independent investigation in order to determine whether it has been the victim of fraud. Universal Oil, supra, 328 U.S. at 328 U. S. 580.
There are other facets to a federal court's inherent power. The court may bar from the courtroom a criminal defendant who disrupts a trial. Illinois v. Allen,397 U. S. 337 (1970). It may dismiss an action on grounds of forum non conveniens, Gulf Oil Corp. v. Gilbert,330 U. S. 501, 330 U. S. 507-508 (1947); and it may act sua sponte to dismiss a suit for failure to prosecute, Link, supra, 370 U.S. at 370 U. S. 630-631.
Because of their very potency, inherent powers must be exercised with restraint and discretion. See Roadway Express, supra, 447 U.S. at 447 U. S. 764. A primary aspect of that discretion is the ability to fashion an appropriate sanction for conduct
which abuses the judicial process. As we recognized in Roadway Express, outright dismissal of a lawsuit, which we had upheld in Link, is a particularly severe sanction, yet is within the court's discretion. 447 U.S. at 447 U. S. 765. Consequently, the "less severe sanction" of an assessment of attorney's fees is undoubtedly within a court's inherent power as well. Ibid.See also Hutto v. Finney,437 U. S. 678, 437 U. S. 689, n. 14 (1978).
"[t]here are ample grounds for recognizing . . . that, in narrowly defined circumstances, federal courts have inherent power to assess attorney's fees against counsel,"
Roadway Express, supra, 447 U.S. at 447 U. S. 765, even though the so-called "American Rule" prohibits fee-shifting in most cases. See Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. v. Wilderness Society,421 U. S. 240, 421 U. S. 259 (1975). As we explained in Alyeska, these exceptions fall into three categories. [Footnote 9] The first, known as the "common fund exception," derives not from a court's power to control litigants, but from its historic equity jurisdiction, see Sprague v. Ticonic National Bank,307 U. S. 161, 307 U. S. 164 (1939), and allows a court to award attorney's fees to a party whose litigation efforts directly benefit others. Alyeska, 421 U.S. at 421 U. S. 257-258. Second, a court may assess attorney's fees as a sanction for the "willful disobedience of a court order.'" Id. at 421 U. S. 258 (quoting Fleischmann Distilling Corp. v. Maier Brewing Co.,386 U. S. 714, 386 U. S. 718 (1967)). Thus, a court's discretion to determine "[t]he degree of punishment for contempt" permits the court to impose as part of the fine attorney's fees representing the entire cost of the litigation. Toledo Scale Co. v. Computing Scale Co.,261 U. S. 399, 261 U. S. 428 (1923).
Third, and most relevant here, a court may assess attorney's fees when a party has "acted in bad faith, vexatiously,
wantonly, or for oppressive reasons.'" Alyeska, supra, 421 U.S. at 421 U. S. 258-259 (quoting F.D. Rich Co. v. United States ex rel. Industrial Lumber Co.,417 U. S. 116, 417 U. S. 129 (1974)). See also Hall v. Cole,412 U. S. 1, 412 U. S. 5 (1973); Newman v. Piggie Park Enterprises, Inc.,390 U. S. 400, 390 U. S. 402, n. 4 (1968) (per curiam). In this regard, if a court finds "that fraud has been practiced upon it, or that the very temple of justice has been defiled," it may assess attorney's fees against the responsible party, Universal Oil, supra, 328 U.S. at 328 U. S. 580, as it may when a party "shows bad faith by delaying or disrupting the litigation or by hampering enforcement of a court order," [Footnote 10] Hutto, 437 U.S. at 437 U. S. 689, n. 14. The imposition of sanctions in this instance transcends a court's equitable power concerning relations between the parties and reaches a court's inherent power to police itself, thus serving the dual purpose of
"vindicat[ing] judicial authority without resort to the more drastic sanctions available for contempt of court and mak[ing] the prevailing party whole for expenses caused by his opponent's obstinacy."
We discern no basis for holding that the sanctioning scheme of the statute and the rules displaces the inherent power to impose sanctions for the bad-faith conduct described above. These other mechanisms, taken alone or together, are not substitutes for the inherent power, for that power is both broader and narrower than other means of imposing sanctions. First, whereas each of the other mechanisms reaches only certain individuals or conduct, the inherent power extends to a full range of litigation abuses. At the very least, the inherent power must continue to exist to fill in the interstices. Even the dissent so
concedes. See post at 501 U. S. 64. Second, while the narrow exceptions to the American Rule effectively limit a court's inherent power to impose attorney's fees as a sanction to cases in which a litigant has engaged in bad-faith conduct or willful disobedience of a court's orders, many of the other mechanisms permit a court to impose attorney's fees as a sanction for conduct which merely fails to meet a reasonableness standard. Rule 11, for example, imposes an objective standard of reasonable inquiry which does not mandate a finding of bad faith. [Footnote 11] See Business Guides, Inc. v. Chromatic Communications Enterprises, Inc.,498 U. S. 533, 498 U. S. 548-549 (1991).
It is true that the exercise of the inherent power of lower federal courts can be limited by statute and rule, for "[t]hese courts were created by act of Congress." Robinson, 19 Wall. at 86 U. S. 511. Nevertheless, "we do not lightly assume that Congress has intended to depart from established principles" such as the scope of a court's inherent power. Weinberger v. Romero-Barcelo,456 U. S. 305, 456 U. S. 313 (1982); see also Link, 370 U.S. at 370 U. S. 631-632. In Alyeska, we determined that "Congress ha[d] not repudiated the judicially fashioned exceptions" to the American Rule, which were founded in the inherent power of the courts. 421 U.S. at 421 U. S. 260. Nothing since then has changed that assessment, [Footnote 12] and we have thus
reaffirmed the scope and the existence of the exceptions since the most recent amendments to § 1927 and Rule 11, the other sanctioning mechanisms invoked by NASCO here. See Pennsylvania v. Delaware Valley Citizen' Council for Clean Air,478 U. S. 546, 478 U. S. 561-562, and n. 6 (1986). As the Court of Appeals recognized, 894 F.2d at 702, the amendment to § 1927 allowing an assessment of fees against an attorney says nothing about a court's power to assess fees against a party. Likewise, the Advisory Committee Notes on the 1983 Amendment to Rule 11, 28 U.S.C. App. p. 575, declare that the Rule
"build[s] upon and expand[s] the equitable doctrine permitting the court to award expenses, including attorney's fees, to a litigant whose opponent acts in bad faith in instituting or conducting litigation,"
citing as support this Court's decisions in Roadway Express and Hall. [Footnote 13] Thus, as the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has recognized, Rule 11 "does not repeal or modify existing authority of federal courts to deal with abuses . . . under the court's
inherent power." Zaldivar v. Los Angeles, 780 F.2d 823, 830 (CA9 1986).
The Court's prior cases have indicated that the inherent power of a court can be invoked even if procedural rules exist which sanction the same conduct. In Link, it was recognized that a federal district court has the inherent power to dismiss a case sua sponte for failure to prosecute, even though the language of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(b) appeared to require a motion from a party:
"The authority of a court to dismiss sua sponte for lack of prosecution has generally been considered an 'inherent power,' governed not by rule or statute, but by the control necessarily vested in courts to manage their own affairs so as to achieve the orderly and expeditious disposition of cases. That it has long gone unquestioned is apparent not only from the many state court decisions sustaining such dismissals, but even from language in this Court's opinion in Redfield v. Ystalyfera Iron Co.,110 U. S. 174, 110 U. S. 176 [(1884)]. It also has the sanction of wide usage among the District Courts. It would require a much clearer expression of purpose than Rule 41(b) provides for us to assume that it was intended to abrogate so well-acknowledged a proposition."
370 U.S. at 370 U. S. 630-632 (footnotes omitted).
In Roadway Express, a party failed to comply with discovery orders and a court order concerning the schedule for filing briefs. 447 U.S. at 447 U. S. 755. After determining that § 1927, as it then existed, would not allow for the assessment of attorney's fees, we remanded the case for a consideration of sanctions under both Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37 and the court's inherent power, while recognizing that invocation of the inherent power would require a finding of bad faith. [Footnote 14] Id. at 447 U. S. 767.
There is, therefore, nothing in the other sanctioning mechanisms or prior cases interpreting them that warrants a conclusion that federal court may not, as a matter of law, resort to its inherent power to impose attorney's fees as a sanction for bad-faith conduct. This is plainly the case where the conduct at issue is not covered by one of the other sanctioning provisions. But neither is a federal court forbidden to sanction bad-faith conduct by means of the inherent power simply because that conduct could also be sanctioned under the statute or the rules. A court must, of course, exercise caution in invoking its inherent power, and it must comply with the mandates of due process, both in determining that the requisite bad faith exists and in assessing fees, see Roadway Express, supra, at 447 U. S. 767. Furthermore, when there is bad-faith conduct in the course of litigation that could be adequately sanctioned under the rules, the court ordinarily should rely on the rules, rather than the inherent power. But if, in the informed discretion of the court, neither the statute nor the rules are up to the task, the court may safely rely on its inherent power.
Like the Court of Appeals, we find no abuse of discretion in resorting to the inherent power in the circumstances of this case. It is true that the District Court could have employed Rule 11 to sanction Chambers for filing "false and frivolous pleadings," 124 F.R.D. at 138, and that some of the other conduct might have been reached through other rules. Much of the bad-faith conduct by Chambers, however, was
beyond the reach of the rules, his entire course of conduct throughout the lawsuit evidenced bad faith and an attempt to perpetrate a fraud on the court, and the conduct sanctionable under the rules was intertwined within conduct that only the inherent power could address. In circumstances such as these in which all of a litigant's conduct is deemed sanctionable, requiring a court first to apply rules and statutes containing sanctioning provisions to discrete occurrences before invoking inherent power to address remaining instances of sanctionable conduct would serve only to foster extensive and needless satellite litigation, which is contrary to the aim of the rules themselves. See, e.g., Advisory Committee Notes on the 1983 Amendment to Rule 11, 28 U.S.C. App. pp. 575-576.
We likewise do not find that the District Court's reliance on the inherent power thwarted the purposes of the other sanctioning mechanisms. Although the dissent makes much of the fact that Rule 11 and Rule 26(g) "are cast in mandatory terms," post at 501 U. S. 66, the mandate of these provisions extends only to whether a court must impose sanctions, not to which sanction it must impose. Indeed, the language of both rules requires only that a court impose "an appropriate sanction." Thus, this case is distinguishable from Bank of Nova Scotia v. United States,487 U. S. 250 (1988), in which this Court held that a district court could not rely on its supervisory power as a means of circumventing the clear mandate of a procedural rule. Id. at 487 U. S. 254-255.
Chambers asserts that even if federal courts can use their inherent power to assess attorney's fees as a sanction in some cases, they are not free to do so when they sit in diversity, unless the applicable state law recognizes the "bad-faith" exception to the general rule against fee-shifting. He relies on footnote 31 in Alyeska, in which we stated with regard to the exceptions to the American Rule that
"[a] very different situation
is presented when a federal court sits in a diversity case."
"[I]n an ordinary diversity case where the state law does not run counter to a valid federal statute or rule of court, and usually it will not, state law denying the right to attorney's fees or giving a right thereto, which reflects a substantial policy of the state, should be followed."
"6 J. Moore, Federal Practice