Vanderbilt Law Review


Sybil L. Dunlop

First Page



"In her wildest dreams, Barbie could not have imagined herself in the middle of Rule 11 proceedings."' However, in 2002, Mattel's Barbie Doll found herself in the center of "acrimonious litigation." Attorney James Hicks brought suit on behalf of Harry Christian, claiming that the Cool Blue Barbie infringed on the Christian Claudene Doll's copyright. Hicks, however, had failed to discover that Mattel designed Cool Blue Barbie six years before Christian's Claudine Doll. In light of this egregious error, the Ninth Circuit held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in finding Hicks' complaint frivolous under Rule 11. Barbie breathed a sigh of relief- Rule 11 effectively halted a frivolous claim and held an attorney accountable for his lapse.

"In our adversary system, some lawyers will inevitably be tempted to act unethically to further their clients' interests. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11 places primary responsibility for policing litigation related lapses in the hands of district court judges, and confers on them great flexibility and discretion." Despite the Rule's current importance, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11 has modest origins. Initially, the Rule required simply that attorneys sign all pleadings, motions, and papers filed with the court. In response to systemic abuses of the litigation process, the Supreme Court amended the Rule in 1983 to serve a stronger policing function. Rule 11's 1983 language required that attorneys make reasonable inquiries into facts and law before filing, and it leveled sanctions against those attorneys who failed to do so. This effort to bolster Rule l's force, however, swung too far in the opposite direction; after the 1983 amendments, Rule 11 spawned a "cottage-industry" of sanction litigation. To quash excessive claims and endless litigation, the Court amended Rule 11 once more in 1993.