Contempt of Court

Standard for civil and criminal contempt of court.

Courts have the inherent power[1] to hold individuals in contempt of court for disobeying court orders, disrupting court proceedings, or otherwise violating the court's authority.[2]Contempt sanctions may be civil or criminal, or both. Courts have had some difficulty distinguishing between civil and criminal contempt, but the characterization is important for determining the extent of procedural protections to which the defendant is entitled.[3] Whether sanctions are civil or criminal "turns on the 'character and purpose' of the sanction involved."[4] A contempt sanction is considered civil if it "is remedial, and for the benefit of the complainant,"[5] usually to "compel compliance with a court order or compensate a party harmed by non-compliance."[6] It is considered criminal if it "is punitive, to vindicate the authority of the court."[7]Both forms of contempt may be direct or indirect. Direct contempt is that which presents an ongoing threat to a judicial proceeding, "impede[s] the court's ability to adjudicate the proceedings before it," and typically occurs in court.[8] Indirect contempt occurs outside the court's presence (e.g., a party's failure to comply with a court order). Courts are likely to grant contempt sanctions summarily where the contempt is direct, but not where it is indirect.Contempt sanctions come in the form of a fine or a term of imprisonment.[9]Civil ContemptCivil contempt sanctions are those penalties aimed at compelling future compliance with a court order.[10] They "are considered to be coercive and avoidable through obedience, and thus may be imposed in an ordinary civil proceeding upon notice and an opportunity to be heard."[11] Indirect civil contempt can be coercive or remedial. As noted, coercive contempt sanctions (more common) are designed to force a reluctant defendant to comply with a court order. Remedial contempt sanctions are designed to function as a form of compensatory damages.Standard for Civil ContemptThe standard for finding civil contempt is "well settled": "The moving party has the burden of showing by clear and convincing evidence that the contemnors violated a specific and definite order of the court. The burden then shifts to the contemnors to demonstrate why they were unable to comply."[12] The inquiry is "(1) whether the alleged contemnor had notice of the order; (2) whether the order was clear, definite, and unambiguous; (3) whether the alleged contemnor had the ability to comply with the order; and (4) whether the alleged contemnor violated the order."[13]Unlike criminal contempt, civil contempt does not require the defendant to be willful or conduct his actions in "bad faith."[14] It serves a remedial purpose, and therefore "the focus 'is not on the subjective beliefs or intent of the contemnors in complying with the order, but whether in fact their conduct complied with the order at issue.'"[15] Unlike a criminal contempt sanction, a civil contempt sanction cannot be immediately appealed separate from the main action, unless the party held in contempt is a non-party.[16]Inability to comply with a judicial order is a defense to a charge of civil contempt.[17] The impossibility defense must be asserted "categorically and in detail."[18]Note that contempts "such as failure to comply with document discovery . . . while occurring outside the court's presence, impede the court's ability to adjudicate the proceedings before it" are traditionally addressed through means other than contempt, "such as by striking pleadings, assessing costs, excluding evidence, and entering default judgment -- to penalize a party's failure to comply with the rules of conduct governing the litigation process."[19]Criminal ContemptCriminal contempt prosecution for violation of a court order is "a separate and independent proceeding" from the case in which the order was issued and does not depend on the validity of that order or the proceedings.[20] It cannot be prosecuted by an interested party in a proceeding.[21]A criminal contempt conviction is "indistinguishable from ordinary criminal convictions."[22] As such, criminal contempt requires constitutional protections afforded to criminal defendants, including the presumption of innocence, the requirement that guilty be proved beyond a reasonable doubt, that an individual cannot be compelled to testify against himself, and (for contempts not committed in the presence of the court[23]) the right to counsel.[24] If a prison sentence of over six months is to be imposed, the defendant has a Sixth Amendment right to trial by jury.[25] Criminal contempt cannot be imposed summarily.[26]Standard for Criminal ContemptTo support a criminal contempt conviction, "the government must prove: (1) that the court entered a lawful order of reasonable specificity; (2) the order was violated; and, (3) the violation was willful."[27] Unlike civil contempt, criminal contempt "requires a willful, contumacious or reckless state of mind,"[28] which "means a deliberate or intended violation, as distinguished from an accidental, inadvertent, or negligent violation of an order."[29]Under the collateral bar doctrine, defendants may not assert the possible invalidity of a court order as a defense to a charge of criminal contempt.[30] The two exceptions to the collateral bar doctrine are: "(1) where the order exceeded the court's jurisdiction; or (2) where the order was 'transparently invalid.'"[31] However, even the "transparently invalid" exemption requires the defendant to make a good faith effort to seek emergency appellate relief, "or show compelling circumstances for failing to do so."[32][1] 18 U.S.C. § 401-402 ("A court of the United States shall have power to punish by fine or imprisonment, or both, at its discretion, such contempt of its authority, and none other, as – (1) Misbehavior . . . as to obstruct the administration of justice . . . (3) Disobedience or resistance to its lawful writ, process, order, rule, decree, or command.").[2]Anderson v. Dunn, 19 U.S. 204 (1821) (Courts must be vested with "power to impose silence, respect, and decorum, in their presence, and submission to their lawful mandates, and . . . to preserve themselves and their officers from the approach and insults of pollution."); Int'l Union v. Bagwell, 512 U.S. 821, 828 (1994) ("The paradigmatic coercive, civil contempt sanction . . . involves confining a contemnor indefinitely until he complies with an affirmative command such as an order "to pay alimony, or to surrender property ordered to be turned over to a receiver, or to make a conveyance.'"), citing Gompers v. Bucks Stove &' Range Co., 221 U.S. 418, 442 (1911). See also McCrone v. United States, 307 U.S. 61, 64 (1939) (failure to testify).[3]Int'l Union v. Bagwell, 512 U.S. 821, 830 (1994).[4]Int'l Union v. Bagwell, 512 U.S. 821, 827-28 (1994), citing Gompers v. Bucks Stove &' Range Co., 221 U.S. 418, 441 (1911).[5]Int'l Union v. Bagwell, 512 U.S. 821, 827-28 (1994), citing Gompers v. Bucks Stove &' Range Co., 221 U.S. 418, 441 (1911).[6]U.S. v. Saccoccia, 433 F.3d 19, 27 (1st Cir. 2005), citing McComb v. Jacksonville Paper Co., 336 U.S. 187, 191 (1949).[7]Int'l Union v. Bagwell, 512 U.S. 821, 827-28 (1994), citing Gompers v. Bucks Stove &' Range Co., 221 U.S. 418, 441 (1911).[8]Int'l Union v. Bagwell, 512 U.S. 827, 832-33 (1994).[9]Int'l Union v. Bagwell, 512 U.S. 821, 827-28 (1994), citing Gompers v. Bucks Stove &' Range Co., 221 U.S. 418, 441 (1911) ("a 'flat, unconditional fine' totaling even as little as $50 announced after a finding of contempt is criminal if the contemnor has no subsequent opportunity to reduce or avoid the fine through compliance.").[10]Int'l Union v. Bagwell, 512 U.S. 827, 830 (1994).[11]Int'l Union v. Bagwell, 512 U.S. 827, 830 (1994).[12]F.T.C. v. Affordable Media, LLC, 179 F.3d 1228 (9th Cir. 1999), citing Stone v. City and County of San Francisco, 968 F.2d 850, 856 n. 9.[13]U.S. v. Saccoccia, 433 F.3d 19, 26 (1st Cir. 2005).[14]See McComb v. Jacksonville Paper Co., 336 U.S. 187, 191 (1949) ("The absence of wilfulness does not relieve from civil contempt. Civil as distinguished from criminal contempt is a sanction to enforce compliance with an order of the court or to compensate for losses or damages sustained by noncompliance . . . An act does not cease to be a violation of a law merely because it may have been done innocently."dddddddddddddddddddd).[15]In Re Dyer, 322 F.3d 1178, 1191 (9th Cir. 2003), citing Hardy v. United States, 97 F.3d 1384, 1390 (11th Cir.1996).[16]See Fox v. Capital Co., 299 U.S. 105, 107 (1936); Criminal contempt orders are immediately appealable because they are independent of the main action. See Carbon Fuel Co. v. United Mine Workers of America, 517 F.2d 1348, 1349 (4th Cir. 1975). But see Bogosian v. Gulf Oil Corp., 738 F.2d 587, 591 (3d Cir.1984) ("Unlike the non-party witness, a party has no immediate right to appeal even if it has been adjudicated in civil contempt to gain compliance with a discovery order.").[17]F.T.C. v. Affordable Media, LLC, 179 F.3d 1228, 1239 (9th Cir. 1999), citingUnited States v. Rylander, 460 U.S. 752, 757 ("While the court is bound by the enforcement order, it will not be blind to evidence that compliance is now factually impossible. Where compliance is impossible, neither the moving party nor the court has any reason to proceed with the civil contempt action.").[18]F.T.C. v. Affordable Media, LLC, 179 F.3d 1228, 1239 (9th Cir. 1999).[19]Int'l Union v. Bagwell, 512 U.S. 821, 833 (1994); Fed. Rules Civ. Proc. 11, 37.[20]Matter of Hipp, Inc., 895 F.2d 1503, 1510 (5th Cir. 1990), citing Gompers, 221 U.S. at 446 ("Proceedings for civil contempt are between the original parties, and are instituted and tried as part of the main case. But . . . proceedings . . . for criminal contempt are between the public and the defendant, and are not part of the original cause.").[21]Young v. U. S. Ex Rel. Vuitton Et Fils S. A., 481 U.S. 787, 806-07 (1987).[22]Bloom v. State of Illinois, 391 U.S. 194, 88 S.Ct. 1477, 20 L.Ed.2d 522 (1968).[23]Bloom v. Illinois, 391 U.S. 194, 205 (1968) citingCooke v. United States, 267 U.S. 517, 537 (1925) ("prosecution of contempt, except of that committed in open court, requires that the accused should be advised of the charges and have a reasonable opportunity to meet them by way of defense or explanation . . . [including] the assistance of counsel, if requested, and the right to call witnesses to give testimony").[24]Matter of Hipp, Inc., 895 F.2d 1503, 1509 (5th Cir. 1990); Gompers v. Bucks Stove &' Range Co., 221 U.S. 418, 444 (1911).[25]Matter of Hipp, Inc., 895 F.2d 1503, 1509 (5th Cir. 1990); Frank v. United States, 395 U.S. 147 (1969); Codispoti v. Pennsylvania, 418 U.S. 506 (1974). [26]Int'l Union v. Bagwell, 512 U.S. 821, 826 (1994), citing Hicks v. Feiock, 485 U.S. 624, 632 (1988). SeeIn re Bradley, 318 U.S. 50 (1943) (double jeopardy); Cooke v. United States, 267 U.S. 517, 537 (1925) (rights to notice of charges, assistance of counsel, summary process, and to present a defense). For "serious" criminal contempts involving imprisonment of more than six months, these protections include the right to jury trial. Bloom v. Illinois, 391 U.S. 194, 199; see also Taylor v. Hayes, 418 U.S. 488, 495 (1974). Gompers v. Bucks Stove &' Range Co., 221 U.S. 418, 444 (1911) (privilege against self-incrimination, right to proof beyond a reasonable doubt). In Gompers, the American Federation of Labor (AFL) instituted a boycott against the Bucks Stove and Range Co. for alleged unfair labor practices. The company obtained injunctive relief against the AFL restraining them from assisting the boycott or publishing the company name on an "unfair" list. The court found the defendants guilty of contempt for continuing the boycott and publishing statements that the company was on the "unfair" list. The defendants were sentenced to prison terms between 6-12 months. The U.S. Supreme Court found that while the injunctive relief was proper, the trial court did not use proper procedures for contempt sanctions. It noted that criminal contempts require certain criminal procedure protections, such as the presumption of innocence, the privilege against self incrimination, and the requirement to prove guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.[27]U.S. v. Burstyn, 878 F.2d 1322, 1324 (11th Cir. 1989).[28]Matter of Hipp, Inc., 895 F.2d 1503, 1509 (5th Cir. 1990); see also 18 U.S.C. § 402 (Contempts constituting crimes).[29]United States v. Baldwin, 770 F.2d 1550, 1558 (11th Cir. 1985), citing Falstaff Brewing Corp. v. Miller Brewing Co., 702 F.2d 770, 782 (9th Cir.1983).[30]In Re Criminal Contempt Proceed. Against Crawford, 133 F.Supp.2d 249, 259 (W.D.N.Y. 2001) ("the Supreme Court explained that the central tenet of obedience to court orders necessitates what has come to be known as the collateral bar doctrine which prohibits challenges to the validity of a court order as a defense to criminal contempt"), citing Walker v. City of Birmingham, 388 U.S. 307, 316-17 (1967); see also See Buffalo Courier-Express, Inc. v. Buffalo Evening News, Inc., 601 F.2d 48, 60 (2d Cir.1979) (unlike civil contempt, a defendant may be punished for criminal contempt for disobedience of an order later set aside on appeal).[31]In Re Criminal Contempt Proceed. Against Crawford, 133 F.Supp.2d 249, 260 (W.D.N.Y. 2001), citingUnited States v. Cutler, 58 F.3d 825, 832 (2d Cir.1995).[32]In Re Criminal Contempt Proceed. Against Crawford, 133 F.Supp.2d 249, 260 (W.D.N.Y. 2001), citingUnited States v. Cutler, 58 F.3d 825, 832 (2d Cir.1995).

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