After rejecting serial petitioner 11 times, FCC confirms that he’ll have to ask permission before he can file anything more on the topic.
Long-time readers will recall the individual who, as of last July, had been turned down by the FCC eleven separate times on the same matter. In the ninth turn-down, the FCC said, “We plan to give no further consideration to this matter, and the staff is hereby directed to dismiss summarily any subsequent pleadings . . . .” Number ten followed that guidance by dismissing in two short paragraphs.
When the individual came back yet again, turn-down number eleven deemed his last several submissions to have been frivolous, and imposed a rare sanction: it required the individual to seek advance permission from the relevant bureau before filing any further documents. Think “Mother May I” or “Simon Says”, but for grown-ups, in official pleadings. In a passage it may have come to regret, the FCC gave him time to comment before the sanction went into effect.
You will not be surprised to learn the affected individual had something to say. The FCC has now responded.
The sanctioned individual argued first that, while the FCC can bounce a frivolous pleading after it arrives, the agency has no authority to prevent its being filed in the first place; by purporting to do just that, the FCC violates his First Amendment right to petition the Government. The FCC answers that this particular person has already petitioned the Government plenty. Plus, it said, the Commission has the right to control its own docket and, in effect, to avoid wasting the staff’s time.
The individual next claimed that his filings, far from being frivolous, in fact presented bona fide arguments, and besides, there hadn’t been enough of them to warrant a sanction. In response, the FCC digs back through the stack of papers to find the actual point at issue – whether a 2005 petition should have been accepted despite having been filed late – and restates that none of the filings since then have presented legally adequate grounds for ignoring the 2005 deadline. That’s what made them frivolous, it says. The FCC does, however, narrow the sanction to make clear it applies only to the one proceeding that produced the seemingly endless stream of filings.
If you ever make FCC filings yourself, without a lawyer, this order makes a point you should know about. Section 1.52 of the Commission’s rules says an attorney, by signing a document, certifies there is good ground to support it, and it is not interposed for delay. The rule adds that an attorney can be sanctioned for a willful violation, or for including “scandalous or indecent matter.” People filing without a lawyer may have believed they were not subject to the rule, which refers only to attorneys. And certainly, over the years, certain non-lawyers’ submissions have consistently fallen well short of Section 1.52. But the FCC has now made clear it will impose the same standards on non-lawyers as it has always imposed on attorneys. If you are one of those in the habit of dashing off unfounded pleadings, this is the time to shape up.
The next step in this process, by reasonable extrapolation, will be an FCC order denying reconsideration of the newly affirmed sanction. Watch this space.