Sanctions can lead to disciplinary cases. In this matter the lawyer was sanctioned for failing to withdraw a frivolous claim. That, in turn, led to a 45 day suspension from the practice of law. The key mistake was failing to withdraw a civil conspiracy claim.
“In 2008, Mr. Mabry filed suit on Ms. Shore’s behalf against Maple Lane Farms, LLC in the Chancery Court for Blount County. The lawsuit arose out of a disagreement between Ms. Shore and Maple Lane Farms regarding the use of Maple Lane Farms’ property for concerts and other outdoor events. The Chancery Court action sought a declaratory judgment, injunctive relief, and abatement of a nuisance.
 On August 19, 2008, Mr. Mabry filed a second action on Ms. Shore’s behalf in the Circuit Court for Blount County seeking damages against Roger Fields, a Building Commissioner for Blount County, and Robert Goddard, the attorney for Blount County. The complaint alleged the existence of a civil conspiracy, involving Mr. Fields, Mr. Goddard, and Blount County Mayor Jerry Cunningham, to require Ms. Shore, rather than Maple Lane Farms, to appeal a decision by Mr. Fields to the Blount County Board of Zoning Appeals. Mr. Cunningham was not named as a defendant. Within a month after filing this lawsuit, Mr. Mabry, on behalf of Ms. Shore, voluntarily dismissed Mr. Goddard, leaving Mr. Fields as the sole defendant.
On September 19, 2008, Mr. Fields moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be sought. He sent Mr. Mabry a proposed motion for sanctions and a safe harbor letter pursuant to Tenn. R. Civ. P. 11. Mr. Mabry took no action. On October 24, 2008, Mr. Fields filed an amended motion seeking dismissal of the suit and Rule 11 sanctions against Mr. Mabry and Ms. Shore. Mr. Mabry did not respond to this motion to dismiss. Meanwhile, Ms. Shore fired Mr. Mabry as her attorney. On December 31, 2008, Mr. Mabry filed a motion to withdraw as Ms. Shore’s counsel.
On January 25, 2011, the Blount County Circuit Court heard Mr. Fields’ motion to dismiss and to impose sanctions. In a memorandum of law filed with the trial court, Mr. Mabry stated that the civil conspiracy claim against Mr. Fields became moot once Mr. Goddard was dismissed from the case. In an order issued March 4, 2011, the Blount County Circuit Court found that Mr. Mabry had more than ample opportunity—from the time he dismissed the case against Mr. Goddard, his receipt of the safe harbor letter from Mr. Fields, and being terminated by his client—to dismiss and/or correct by amendment the civil conspiracy claim. The Blount County Circuit Court imposed Rule 11 sanctions against Mr. Mabry for attorney’s fees in the amount of $5,000.”
The Tennessee Supreme Court held that the attorney demonstrated a lack of diligence, Rule 1.3.
“Upon review of these facts, we find that the Panel did not act arbitrarily or capriciously in determining that Mr. Mabry violated RPC 1.3 and RPC 8.4(a). On the contrary, Mr. Mabry’s failure to take any action in response to Mr. Fields’ safe harbor letter, motion to dismiss, and motion for sanctions was neglectful, unprofessional, and exposed his client to the very real possibility of monetary sanctions. We find there was substantial and material evidence supporting the Panel’s findings that Mr. Mabry violated the duty of diligence required of attorneys by RPC 1.3, and in doing so, that he violated RPC 8.4(a).”
Edward X. Clinton, Jr.