Upon What Basis May Inherent Authority be Invoked?

When lawyers want the court to do something but lack a real basis for the request, they fall back to the court’s “inherent authority.”  But even that has its limits.

In the federal system, courts have inherent powers to manage those before them, but inherent powers must be exercised carefully.  “[T]he Court should exercise restraint in exercising their inherent powers because they are potent yet shielded from democratic controls.”[1]  “Before imposing sanctions under its inherent sanctioning authority, a court must make an explicit finding of bad faith or willful misconduct.”[2]  Conduct is “tantamount to bad faith” if there is “recklessness … combined with an additional factor such as frivolousness, harassment, or an improper purpose.”[3]

“Inherent authority” is not a blank check for a court to act as a litigant wants.


[1] Higginbotham v. KCS Int’l, Inc., 202 F.R.D. 444, 459 (D. Md. 2001).

[2] Knupfer v. Lindblade (In re Dyer), 322 F.3d 1178, 1197 (9th Cir. 2003).

[3] Fink v. Gomez, 239 F.3d 989, 994 (9th Cir. 2001).