Court's Sanctions for BOP's Refusal to Discuss Settlement Vacated
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The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a district court's sanctions against two Assistant U.S. Attorney's for not making good faith settlement discussions. The plaintiff/prisoner collided with an unpadded pole while pursuing a fly ball during a softball game at the Fort Worth Federal Correctional Facility. He injured his shoulder, requiring surgery, sued for premises liability. The district court ordered the prisoner and BOP to enter settlement discussions. BOP attorney's refused to make a monetary offer. The Court held the government was at least 50% to 75% liable, and if a private party were involved the plaintiff would not have been discouraged to pursue the claim and told no claim existed by the BOP lawyers. The Court entered sanctions, against the two BOP lawyers, of a strong reprimand that the conduct in settlement negotiations was highly inappropriate and unacceptable. One lawyer was required to attend a 15-hour course on an attorney's ethical conduct. The Fifth Circuit reversed and vacated the sanctions finding a plaintiff's status as a prisoner, pro se or otherwise, is a legitimate factor for the opposing party to consider in making a settlement offer. Further, discouraging other prisoners to pursue suits seeking a "nuisance value" settlement is further advanced by refusing to settle. The case was dismissed because the prisoner failed to prosecute the claim upon release. See: Dawson v. United States, 68 F. 3d 886 (5th Cir., 1995).