Seventh Circuit Rules Attorney Lacks Standing To Appeal Negative Remarks

The parties reached a settlement of a Fair Housing Act claim that was filed in federal court in Illinois. But then the parties could not agree on the terms of the agreement, so cross motions to enforce an agreement were filed. The district court granted defendant’s motion, denied plaintiff’s motion, and criticized plaintiff and her attorney for not being honest about the settlement.

When the settlement was brought to the Surrogate Court in New York for a determination that plaintiff’s children were fairly represented, plaintiff said that none of the settlement was attributable to her children. That was contrary to the original settlement agreement.

Back in Illinois, the federal district court concluded that plaintiff and her attorneys made improper representations to the defendants and to the Surrogate Court. The district court then entered a new settlement agreement, which attributed part of the money to plaintiff’s children.

Plaintiff’s attorney’s fee was a percentage of the settlement attributable to plaintiff, but not plaintiff’s children. So plaintiff’s attorney, on her own behalf, by way of a Rule 72 objection, contested the agreement. After the Rule 72 motion was denied, plaintiff’s attorney filed her own appeal. The appeal sought to overturn the settlement agreement and the orders that were critical of her conduct.

The Seventh Circuit dismissed the appeal because the district court “has not imposed a monetary sanction on Ms. Matlaw [plaintiff’s attorney] in this case and therefore she cannot base her appeal on the alleged damage to her professional reputation regardless of how harmful Judge Cole’s comments might have been.” The appellate court ruled that where there is no monetary sanction, the attorney does not have standing to appeal. The court acknowledged a split of authority among the federal circuits, but stated: The limitation on our jurisdiction is based on the realization that allowing appeals by those allegedly harmed by a judge’s comments, including ‘[l]awyers, witnesses, victorious parties, victims, [and] bystanders,’ would result in a ‘breathtaking expansion in appellate jurisdiction.’”

The entire case, Seymour v. Hug, No. 06-2502 (5/3/07), is available through Findlaw (free subscription). You also can access it through Westlaw, 2007 WL 1287513 (subscription required).