United States District Court, D. Minnesota
DISABILITY SUPPORT ALLIANCE, on behalf of its members, and SCOTT SMITH, Plaintiffs,
CCRE, LLC, Defendant.
Jennifer L. Urban, Legal for Good PLLC, Counsel for Plaintiff
Disability Support Alliance.
Padraigin Browne, Browne Law LLC, Counsel for Plaintiff Scott
M. Waldeck, Waldeck Law Firm P.A., Counsel for Defendant
MEMORANDUM OF LAW & ORDER
Michael J. Davis United States District Court
matter is before the Court on Plaintiff Scott Smith and
Defendant CCRE, LLC's Joint Motion to Dismiss [Docket No.
22] and Smith's Motion for Sanctions Against Jennifer
Urban Pursuant to Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure [Docket No. 35]. Also, within Plaintiff Disability
Support Alliance's Response Opposing Plaintiff Scott
Smith's Motion for Sanctions [Docket No. 30], it has
requested Rule 11 sanctions against attorney Padraigin
Browne. The Court heard oral argument on March 30, 2017. For
the reasons that follow, the motion to dismiss and
Smith's motion for sanctions are granted and Disability
Support Alliance's request for sanctions is denied.
SUMMARY OF THE DECISION
Jennifer Urban filed a brief containing unsupported,
irrelevant, and inflammatory allegations against Plaintiff
Scott Smith, his attorney Padraigin Browne, and former
members of Plaintiff Disability Support Alliance
(“DSA”). Urban accused them of criminal activity,
but provided no admissible evidence to support her claims.
She made these irrelevant allegations with the intent to
harass. Urban also failed to conduct a reasonable inquiry by
lodging the baseless allegation that Smith was still a member
of DSA, when documentary evidence showed that DSA
acknowledged Smith's termination of his membership in
November 2015. In order to deter such behavior in the future
and to preserve the integrity of the judicial process, the
Court grants Smith's motion for Rule 11 sanctions. Urban
is ordered to pay Smith's attorneys' fees incurred in
responding to improper allegations made for an improper
purpose and in bringing a Rule 11 motion to stop Urban's
request for sanctions is baseless and was filed in violation
of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure's safe harbor
provision. Its request for sanctions against Browne is
DSA lacks standing, so it is dismissed from this case.
Allegations in the Complaint
Complaint alleges as follows:
Disability Support Alliance (“DSA”) is a
Minnesota nonprofit corporation. (Compl. ¶ 8.) Each
member of DSA is a person with a disability who lives in
Minnesota. (Id.) DSA's purpose “is to
‘eliminate discrimination on the basis of
disability' and ‘promote the betterment of the
lives of those living with disabilities.'”
Scott Smith is a member of DSA and resident of Minnesota.
(Compl. ¶ 9.) Smith uses a wheelchair for mobility.
(Id. ¶ 10.)
CCRE, LLC (“CCRE”), is a Minnesota limited
liability company. (Compl. ¶ 11.) CCRE owns the Cedar
Cliff Shopping Center located in Eagan, Minnesota.
April 22, 2015, Smith visited the Cedar Cliff Shopping Center
and found 5 accessible parking spaces marked with paint and
signage and accompanied by adjacent access aisles, although
the parking lot had more than 200 parking spaces. (Compl.
¶¶ 12-13.) Additionally, the access aisles were not
level and had ramps that bridged the change in level between
the parking lot and the sidewalk adjacent to the shopping
center. (Id. ¶ 14.) Smith uses a vehicle with a
car-top wheelchair carrier, which he cannot operate if a
vehicle is parked in the adjacent parking space and there is
no access aisle. (Id. ¶ 15.) Furthermore,
access aisles with slopes may cause his wheelchair to become
unstable during transfer between the chair and his vehicle.
of the architectural barriers at the Cedar Cliff Shopping
Center, Smith and other DSA members were deterred from
visiting the Cedar Cliff Shopping Center, although they
intended to return to patronize the center and its tenant
business. (Compl. ¶ 16.) Smith attempted to access the
Cedar Cliff Shopping Center, but could not do so due to the
barriers. (Id. ¶ 17.) There is no allegation
that any DSA member other than Smith visited the Cedar Cliff
September 23, 2015, DSA and Smith sued CCRE in this Court.
The Complaint asserts Count 1: Violations of the Americans
with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101 et
seq. (“ADA”); Count 2: Violations of the
Minnesota Human Rights Act, Minn. Stat. § 363A
(“MHRA”); and Count 3: Civil Damages for Bias
Offenses. In filing the lawsuit, both DSA and Smith were
represented by attorney Paul Hansmeier of Class Justice PLLC.
August 22, 2016, attorney Padraigin Browne substituted for
Hansmeier as counsel for Smith. [Docket No. 16] On September
12, 2016, the Minnesota Supreme Court suspended Hansmeier
from the practice of law in Minnesota. In re Disciplinary
Action against Hansmeier, 884 N.W.2d 863 (Minn. 2016).
On September 15, 2016, the District of Minnesota suspended
Hansmeier from practicing in the District of Minnesota,
effective September 26, 2016. In the Matter of the
Petition for Disciplinary Action against Paul Robert
Hansmeier, Miscellaneous Case No. 16-53 (JRT) (D. Minn.
Sept. 15, 2016). After September 26, 2016, DSA was
unrepresented in the current case.
November 30, 2016, Smith and CCRE filed a joint motion to
dismiss DSA and noted that Smith and CCRE had reached a
settlement. [Docket No. 22] They argued that DSA should be
dismissed because it had been proceeding pro se for several
months since Hansmeier's suspension. Alternatively, they
claimed that DSA lacked standing to continue prosecuting its
claims in this lawsuit.
December 28, 2016, attorney Jennifer Urban filed a notice of
appearance on behalf of DSA in this lawsuit. [Docket No. 28]
Also on that date, DSA filed a Memorandum of Law Opposing
Joint Motion to Dismiss. [Docket No. 27] This brief contained
12 pages of inflammatory allegations of criminal wrongdoing
such as tax evasion, disability benefits fraud, and theft
against DSA by Smith, Browne, and former DSA members Melanie
Davis, Zach Hillesheim, and Aaron Dalton. The Court will not
compound this harassment by repeating the allegations here.
Significantly, DSA has submitted no affidavits to support its
allegations. Although Urban has filed three documents
entitled “Affidavit of Exhibits” with attached
exhibits, none are affidavits. [Docket Nos. 29, 31, 42] Each
“affidavit” is a list of exhibits and a signature
line signed by Urban. There is no statement of personal
knowledge, no statement that the attached exhibits are what
the list says they are, no sworn statement, no declaration
under penalty of perjury, and no notarization. Cf.
28 U.S.C. § 1746. Moreover, many of the allegations in
the brief are made with no citation to the record at all.
Memorandum of Law Opposing Joint Motion to Dismiss [Docket
No. 27], DSA also claimed that Smith was still a member of
DSA because Eric Wong, DSA Chair, had never received a
written resignation from Smith. (Id. at 16, 18.) DSA
also asserted that all DSA members had signed Member
Assignment of Litigation Proceeds Agreements
(“Assignment Agreements”), which assigned to DSA
any proceeds from ADA or MHRA litigation in which the members
participated, after deduction for attorneys' fees and
to Urban, within 4 hours of filing the Memorandum of Law
[Docket No. 27] on December 28, she was contacted by the Star
Tribune and the attorney for a defendant from another case in
which Browne is the plaintiff's attorney. On December 29,
2016, the Star Tribune published an article based on
DSA's Memorandum of Law, repeating some of the criminal
allegations against Smith and the other former DSA members.
Fox 9 then ran its own similar story. Other media then