P.M. BRIEFING : Court Acts on Frivolous Suits : Justices Make Fining Lawyers Over Frivolous Suits Easier

From Times Wire Services

The Supreme Court today made it easier for federal judges to penalize lawyers who file lawsuits determined to be improper or frivolous.

The court, voting 8 to 1, ruled against Cooter & Gell, a Washington, D.C., law firm penalized $21,402 for filing an antitrust suit based on research deemed inadequate.

The justices said a judge had authority to impose the fine even though the law firm agreed to drop the suit.

Cooter & Gell represented Dash's Designer, a now bankrupt discount men's clothing store.

Dash's filed an antitrust suit against Hartmarx Corp., manufacturers and distributors of Hickey-Freeman and Hart, Schaffner & Marx men's clothing.

Dash's suit said Hartmarx illegally sold the brands exclusively to only one retailer in each of various major cities nationwide.

Cooter & Gell relied in part on research by a secretary at the law firm who telephoned some retailers in Washington and three other cities to determine whether Hartmarx had such an exclusivity policy.

Hartmarx later asked for dismissal of the Cooter & Gell suit after submitting affidavits that showed it distributed to as many as 20 different retailers in some markets.

The law firm agreed to drop the suit.

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