Baca v Berry

Baca and other voters sued Berry in his capacity as mayor of Albuquerque alleging voting act violations. The district court stayed the case twice and ultimately dismissed with prejudice. It then wared attorney fees to Berry under 28 USC 1927 for multiplying proceedings. The panel, 2-1, vacated the award and remanded. The majority first held there were no reversible procedural errors as Baca challenged the district court’s decision to stay instead of dismiss without prejudice, the district court had discretion to stay the case, based its decision on the applicable legal prejudice standard and in any event the fee award was based on earlier acts of Baca’s counsel and thus there could be no causal connection between the alleged procedural error and the sanction. The majority held that there was no legal error in concluding the voting rights claims lacked merit as Baca failed to prove white voters were black voting to defeat minority preferred candidates given all such candidates identified won the 5% population deviation were within the bounds of appropriate population variation allowed by Supreme Court precedent. As t the sanction, the majority held that mere failure to immediately dismiss with prejudice when Baca’s counsel received the exert report demonstrating the case lacked merit was not eh kind of action which is necessary for imposing sanctions under 1927 as attorneys need some time to evaluate negative information and the case was remanded to determine when dismissal should have been pursued or if other actions triggered 1927. The dissent argued that sanctions were improper as filing suit cannot trigger 1927, Baca’s counsel field an motion to dismiss without prejudice less than a month after receiving the report noting a major change in Albuquerque’s election law requiring majesty support to win election, the district court suggested the underlying claims had merit when it granted a stay, summarily dismissed the case with prejudice and contradicted its earlier findings on the prudence of waiting to see of the upcoming elections eliminated the need for the case to continue and thus there was no factual basis to conclude Baca’s counsel did anything to multiply proceedings.  It also argued 1927 sanctions can chill voter rights plaintiffs and should thus be very rarely imposed.