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United States v. Akers.

No. 21-3226. 8/4/2023. D.Kan. Judge Murphy. Chronic Abuse of the Court System—Frivolous Motions—Appropriateness of Sanctions.

In 2005, Akers was convicted of a single count of wire fraud, pursuant to a guilty plea. He was sentenced to 327 months’ imprisonment. The Tenth Circuit upheld the conviction on direct appeal. Akers subsequently filed repetitive and frivolous motions purporting to challenge his conviction for which the district court sanctioned him in 2013, 2017, and 2019. The Tenth Circuit upheld the sanctions orders. In 2020, Akers moved for compassionate release under 18 USC § 3582(c)(1)(A). The district court concluded that Akers failed to exhaust his administrative remedies and dismissed his request. Akers then filed a notice of appeal and moved for release on bond pending resolution of his appeal (the motion), again raising the meritless challenges to his wire fraud conviction that were repeatedly condemned by the district court and the Tenth Circuit. The district court denied the motion. Consistent with its prior notices to Akers, the district court concluded an escalating sanction was necessary, so it sanctioned Akers $40,000. The Tenth Circuit affirmed the denial of Akers’s request for release pending appeal but remanded on the $40,000 sanction because (1) the district court did not address each argument Akers raised in his motion and did not conclude the motion as a whole was frivolous, and (2) the Tenth Circuit could not determine that the arguments in support of the motion were wholly frivolous. On remand, the district court reimposed the $40,000 sanction.

On appeal, Akers argued that the district court could not sanction him for filing the motion because it was not wholly frivolous. He asserted that federal courts lack inherent authority to impose sanctions when a relevant filing, motion, or pleading contains both frivolous and nonfrivolous assertions. However, federal courts have inherent authority to impose punitive sanctions even when a relevant filing, motion, or pleading is not wholly frivolous, and the district court acted within its inherent power in sanctioning Akers for including frivolous arguments and assertions in his motion.

Akers also argued that even if imposing a sanction was valid, the district court erred by not considering whether the amount of the sanction was appropriate under Farmer v. Banco Popular of North America, 791 F.3d 1246 (10th Cir. 2015). Farmer requires courts to consider the reasonableness of the sanction, whether the sanction is the least amount necessary to deter the undesirable behavior, the offender’s ability to pay, and other factors in accordance with the circumstances. Here, while the district court indicated that Akers would be subject to a rapidly escalating schedule of sanctions, it did not address the reasonableness of the $40,000 penalty, whether that sanction is the least amount necessary to deter Akers’s undesirable behavior, or his ability to pay that sanction. Therefore, the record is insufficient for the Tenth Circuit to review the matter as mandated by Farmer, and the district court erred.

The imposition of a punitive sanction on Akers was affirmed. The matter was remanded for the district court to reconsider the amount of the sanction in light of the nonexclusive Farmer factors.

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