Skip to content

a. Fines

Posts

  • 1st Circuit

    The First Circuit courts have imposed fines for failure to comply with a court order compelling the production of information. See, e.g., United States v. LaRouche Campaign, 841 F.2d 1176 (1st Cir. 1988) (affirming the district court’s decision to hold the media in civil contempt for failing to comply with a court order to submit a videotaped interview for in camera review).

    Reporters who are held in contempt and fined for failure to comply with a subpoena may request the court to stay any penalties for contempt pending the outcome of an appeal. In such cases, the court will often expedite the appeal process. In LaRouche, the district court had ordered the media to submit, for in camera review, outtakes of a videotaped interview with a prospective key witness. United States v. LaRouche Campaign, 841 F.2d 1176, 1179 (1st Cir. 1988). The media did not comply with this order, and the court found the network to be in civil contempt. The court also fined the media $500 per day. Id. The fine was stayed pending the disposition of an expedited appeal. Id.

    Compensatory sanctions in cases of civil contempt are limited to the loss suffered by the injured party as a result of the violation leading to contempt. See Dystar Corp. v. Santo, 1 F. Supp.2d 28 (D. Mass. 1997). However, there is no reported First Circuit decision that limits the amount of fines that can be levied against reporters who refuse to comply with a court order to disclose information. In In re Special Proceedings, 373 F.3d 37 (1st Cir. 2004), a reporter charged with civil contempt asserted that the $1,000 a day fine against him should be struck down for being punitive. The court rejected this charge, noting that the “obvious purpose” of the fine was to compel compliance. The court also stated that far more severe fines for civil contempt had been upheld in the First Circuit and in other circuits. See e.g., Int’l Union, United Mine Workers v. Bagwell, 512 U.S. 821, 830 (1994), In re Power Recovery Sys., Inc., 950 F.2d 798, 801-02 (1st Cir. 1991).

    view more
  • 2nd Circuit

    There is a wide range of fines that could be levied if a reporter or media entity is held in contempt. In In re National Broadcasting Co. (Krase v. Graco Children Products, Inc.), 79 F.3d 346 (2d Cir. 1996), the appeals court reversed a district court fine of $5,000 a day for contempt of court. In Graco, which involved an application of New York's state shield law, the district court ordered NBC, a non-party in a products liability suit, to produce and testify about certain outtakes of televised interviews that defendants subpoenaed, including interviews with plaintiff's counsel on "Dateline." The district court fined NBC $5,000 a day until it produced the outtakes. The Second Circuit reversed the order because defendants had not satisfied the "necessary and critical" and "exhaustion" prongs of New York's Shield Law. [The district court also denied NBC's motion to stay the sanctions pending appeal. The Second Circuit granted NBC's stay motion and ordered that the appeal be heard on an expedited basis. 79 F.3d at 350.]

    In Von Bulow v. Von Bulow, the Second Circuit affirmed a fine of $500 a day. 811 F.2d 136, 138, 147 (2d Cir. 1987) (the district court stayed the fine until the Second Circuit ruled on the validity of the contempt order). In Von Bulow, the district court ordered that the author of a manuscript on the accused murderer Claus von Bulow turn over her written notes and materials, including reports on the lifestyles of von Bulow's wife's children and the author's personal notes on the trial of Claus von Bulow. The Second Circuit did not allow the author to benefit from the reporter's privilege because she did not gather the "information initially for purposes other than to disseminate information to the public." Id. at 146. (For more discussion on Von Bulow, see infra Section IV.A.2.).

    In United States v. Cutler, the Second Circuit affirmed a fine of $1.00 per day. United States v. Cutler, 6 F.3d 67, 70, 75 (2d Cir. 1993) (the district court stayed the fine pending an expedited appeal). During the trial of John Gotti, Cutler, Gotti's attorney, was charged with criminal contempt following his public comments about the case in violation of a court order. Cutler subpoenaed reporters and TV stations to obtain unpublished notes, video outtakes and testimony regarding interviews with him and statements by government officials. The district court held the reporters in contempt for refusing to provide these materials to Cutler. The Second Circuit ordered the reporters and TV stations to disclose their unpublished notes, video outtakes and testimony about Cutler. Id. at 73-74. Cutler was held not entitled to the same types of information about government officials that were involved in the case. Id. at 74-75. (For more discussion on Cutler, see Sections I and II.).

    view more
  • 3rd Circuit

    Where a reporter or news organization fails to comply with a subpoena after a court has ruled that it is valid and the recipient is not entitled to invoke the reporter's privilege, courts in the Third Circuit typically will hold the reporter in civil contempt and daily fines are the penalty most often imposed. Such fines often are stayed pending the appeal of the contempt citation, however. See, e.g., In re Gronowicz, 764 F.2d at 984 (affirming contempt citation imposing fine of $500 per day on author, which fine was stayed pending appeal); Cuthbertson I, 630 F.2d at 149 (affirming contempt citation imposing fine of $1 per day, which fine was stayed pending appeal).

    view more
  • 4th Circuit

    There are no recent examples of fines being levied by Fourth Circuit courts against reporters refusing to comply with court orders to disclose sources or information.

    view more
  • 5th Circuit

    No case law indicates that the Fifth Circuit places a cap on fines assessed for civil contempt. Rather, fines levied in a civil contempt proceeding must be calculated for either of two purposes: (i) to compensate the complainant, in which case the amount must be limited to the complainant's actual damages; or (ii) "to compel the contemnor to comply with the court's order, in which case the amount must be reasonably designed to force compliance, without being punitive." Dinnan, 625 F.2d at 1149; see also United States v. Cornerstone Wealth Corp., Inc., 2006 WL 522124, at *9 (N.D. Tex. 2006). It is not unusual for the court to impose a $500/day fine on a witness until he complies with a subpoena. San Antonio Tel. Co. v. AT&T, 529 F.2d 694, 695 (5th Cir. 1976). In Petroleos Mexicanos v. Crawford Enterprises, the court held that it was reasonable and necessary for the lower court to assess fines of over $79,000 against a party that refused to comply with a subpoena. 826 F.2d 392, 408 (5th Cir. 1987). The fines were meant to cover the subpoenaing party's costs of having to prosecute the contempt proceeding. Id.

    view more
  • 6th Circuit

    The court derives its civil contempt statute from the Recalcitrant Witness statute codified in 28 U.S.C.S. § 1826(a) (2002). The statute provides that whenever a witness in any proceeding before or ancillary to any court or grand jury of the United States refuses without just cause shown to comply with an order of the court to testify, the court may order his confinement until he is willing to give his testimony, or provide such information.

    view more
  • 7th Circuit

    There is no statutory or case law addressing this issue.

    view more
  • 8th Circuit

    No Eighth circuit case law addresses this issue in the context of the reporter's privilege.

    view more
  • 9th Circuit

    There is no statutory or case law addressing this issue.

    view more
  • Alabama

    There is no Alabama statutory or reported case law addressing this issue.

    view more
  • Alaska

    Alaska appellate courts have not had occasion to squarely address the existence or scope of a reporter's privilege. Various trial courts have recognized and applied the qualified constitutional privilege in a number of cases, and in none of these has testimony or production of documents been compelled.

    view more
  • Arizona

    There is no statutory or case law addressing this issue. There are no recent examples of reporters being fined for refusing to comply with subpoenas.

    view more
  • Arkansas

    Fines for civil contempt under the statute are capped at thirty dollars.

    view more
  • California

    California Code of Civil Procedure § 1218 limits to $1,000 any fine that may be imposed as a result of a contempt order. In addition, for a contempt committed outside of the presence of the court, the party committing the contempt “may be ordered to pay to the party initiating the contempt proceeding the reasonable attorney’s fees and costs incurred by this party in connection with the contempt proceeding.” Id.

    view more
  • Colorado

    In Gordon, the defendant talk show host was sanctioned $5,000 for refusing to reveal the identity of sources regarding his news report on an altercation at a bar. Gordon, 9 P.3d at 1111. The talk show host was also sanctioned $15,000 for "obfuscation of the discovery process." Id. at 1113. Under Rule 37, an "evasive or incomplete disclosure, answer or response" is a failure to disclose and is sanctionable. Id, at 1112, n. 4.

    view more
  • Connecticut

    Fines are not capped. There are no recent examples.

    view more
  • D.C. Cir.

    Fines have been issued in this Circuit in both civil and criminal proceedings.  E.g., Lee v. Dep’t of Justice, 401 F. Supp. 2d 123, 142 (D.D.C. 2005) (ordering fine of $500 per day in civil context until contemnor complies with discovery order); In re Special Counsel Investigation, 332 F. Supp. 2d 33, 34 (D.D.C. 2004) (ordering a fine of $1,000.00 per day in grand jury context until contemnor complies with discovery order).  The district court has held that a nominal sanction of $1 per day is “insufficient to coerce compliance,” while a fine of $1,000 a day is too punitive in the civil context.  Lee v. Dep’t of Justice, 327 F. Supp. 2d 26, 33 (D.D.C. 2004), vacated in part on other grounds, 413 F.3d 53 (D.C. Cir. 2005).  In Hatfill v. Mukasey, the court went so far as to prevent a journalist held in contempt “from accepting reimbursement to satisfy the monetary sanction imposed by the Court,” so that the journalist alone would “be required to bear the financial burden of her choice not to” comply with the court’s order.  539 F. Supp. 2d 96, 107 (D.D.C. 2008).  However, courts have shown a willingness to stay the imposition of fines pending appeal of a contempt order.  E.g., Lee, 401 F. Supp. 2d at 142; In re Special Counsel Investigation, 332 F. Supp. 2d 33, 34 (D.D.C. 2004).

    view more
  • Delaware

    The statute does not specify a cap on the amount a reporter may be fined for refusing to comply with the court's order to testify or produce documents.

    Courts are authorized, at their discretion, to issue fines for civil contempt. See, e.g., 10 Del. C. § 9506 (enabling Justices of the Peace to impose fines of up to $100 for civil contempt). In addition to fines and possible incarceration, parties who fail to comply may also be liable for damages to the aggrieved party. 10 Del. C. § 4301.

    view more
  • District of Columbia

    No statutory or case law addressing the appropriate fine for a reporter refusing to obey a subpoena exists.  However, under SCR-Civ. 37(a)(5), if a person has refused to testify without substantial justification, a court may award the party who successfully moved to compel both its attorney’s fees and its costs in bringing that motion.

    view more
  • Florida

    No published Florida appellate decision addresses whether a journalist might face a civil contempt fine for non-compliance with a subpoena. However, in theory contempt is an available remedy for failure to comply with the requirements of a subpoena once a motion to quash has been denied. The reviewing court will look to the merits of the underlying motion to quash in deciding whether to uphold the contempt citation. See, e.g., Tribune Co. v. Huffstetler, 489 So. 2d 722, 724 (Fla. 1986) (quashing subpoena); Morgan v. State, 337 So. 2d 951, 956 (Fla. 1976); (overturning 90-day jail sentence); In re Mary Jo Tierney, 328 So. 2d 40, 47 (Fla. 4th DCA 1976) (vacating contempt sentence because of expiration of term of grand jury before which journalist refused to answer questions).

    view more
  • Georgia

    If an order compelling testimony from a non-party reporter were upheld on direct appeal (an event that has never occurred since enactment of the privilege), a Georgia trial court would be authorized to consider imposing fines in order to force compliance with its order. The Georgia Court of Appeals has held that statutory restrictions on contempt powers found at O.C.G.A. § 15-7-4 (fine of no more than $1,000 and/or 20 days in jail) do not to apply in the civil contempt context. Grantham v. Universal Tax Systems, 217 Ga. App. 676, 678 (1995); Mathis v. Corrugated Gear and Sprocket, Inc., 263 Ga. 419, 421-22 (1993).  However, as with all contempt citations, "courts should limit their orders to the least possible exercise of power required." In re Siemon, 264 Ga. 641, 641 (1994).

    view more
  • Hawaii

    There is no authority in Hawai'i regarding caps on fines for contempt. However, the Hawai'i Supreme Court has the authority to mitigate or reduce fines imposed on civil contempt when the promotion of justice would be better enhanced by such mitigation or reduction. Haw. Rev. Stat. § 602-5(7). There are no recent experiences with reporters being jailed or fined for refusal to comply with a subpoena.

    view more
  • Idaho

    There is no statutory or rule-made cap upon fines imposed as part of a civil contempt order. The amount and duration of such fines are reviewable, however, as with other aspects of a contempt order, by the appellate courts. Ordinarily, in Idaho, such a review is sought by the filing of a Writ of Review with the Idaho Supreme Court, under its original jurisdiction powers. A comprehensive summary of the use of the Writ of Review can be found in the chapter on extraordinary proceedings contained in the Idaho Appellate Handbook published by the Idaho Law Foundation.

    view more
  • Illinois

    There is no Illinois statutory or case law addressing this issue.

    view more
  • Indiana

    Fines for civil contempt are not capped. See Moore v. Ferguson, 680 N.E.2d 862, 866–67 (Ind. App. 1997) (holding that the contempt fine was not excessive).

    view more
  • Iowa

    The maximum fines for contempt of court are: "1. In the supreme court or the court of appeals, by a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars . . .; 2. Before district judges, district associate judges, and associate juvenile judges by a fine not exceeding five hundred dollars . . .; and 3. Before judicial magistrates, by a fine not exceeding one hundred dollars . . . ." Iowa Code § 665.2.

    view more
  • Kansas

    There is no statutory or case law specifically addressing the issue of whether fines are capped. There are no recent examples of fines being levied against reporters who refuse to comply.

    view more
  • Kentucky

    Fines for contempt are not capped. KRS 432.260. There are no recent examples of fines being levied against reporters who have refused to comply with subpoenas.

    view more
  • Louisiana

    "The supreme court, the courts of appeal, the district courts . . . may punish a person adjudged guilty of contempt of court . . . for any contempt of court [other than that of direct contempt committed by an attorney, contempt for disobeying a lawful restraining order, or preliminary or permanent injunction, or contempt for deliberate refusal to perform an act which is within the power of the offender to perform] by a fine of not more than five hundred dollars, or imprisonment for not more than three months." La. R.S. 13:4611(1)(d).

    We are not aware of recent examples of fines being levied against reporters who refused to comply with a valid, upheld subpoena.

    view more
  • Maine

    No Maine cases.

    view more
  • Maryland

    Maryland cases do not provide examples of fines levied against reporters who refused to comply with court orders. In addition, Maryland cases do not address whether fines are capped for civil contempt

    view more
  • Massachusetts

    Although courts cannot impose fines that are wholly punitive in nature in cases of civil contempt, fines intended to compensate the complainant for actual loss and reasonable expenses are permissible. Town of Manchester v. Dept. of Environmental Quality Engineering, 409 N.E.2d 1054 (Mass. 1980); Allen v. School Committee of Boston, 508 N.E.2d 605 (1987).

    view more
  • Michigan

    There have been no appellate cases discussing this precise issue. There is no cap on fines for contumacious behavior.

    view more
  • Minnesota

    Courts sometimes impose continuing fines for each day of noncompliance with an order. A $250 fine is the maximum permitted for contempt. Minn. Stat. § 588.10; see also Wenger v. Wenger, 274 N.W. 517, 521 (Minn. 1937). Although the courts have inherent authority to sentence for contempt, independent of any statutory authorization, they should generally defer, as a matter of comity, to the statutory limits on such sentences. State v. Tatum, 556 N.W.2d 541, 547 (Minn. 1996); State v. Lingwall, 637 N.W.2d 311, 314 (Minn. Ct. App. 2001).

    Violation of a lawful court order is constructive (rather than direct) contempt. Minn. Stat. § 588.01 subd. 3 (2001). Under Minnesota law, "[e]very court and judicial officer may punish a contempt by fine or imprisonment, or both. When it is a constructive contempt, it must appear that the right or remedy of a party to an action or special proceeding was defeated or prejudiced by it before the contempt can be punished by imprisonment or by a fine exceeding $50." Minn. Stat. § 588.02.

    view more
  • Mississippi

    The Mississippi Supreme Court has held that attorneys’ fees and costs are appropriate where the party subpoenaed fails to attempt to comply. Flechas v. Pitts, 138 So. 3d 907, 913 (Miss. 2014) (finding the offending party to be in contempt of court). Fines are not capped.

    view more
  • Montana

    The fine for civil contempt is capped at $500.

    view more
  • Nebraska

    Fines may be levied as a contempt sanction to coerce compliance with a subpoena. There are no known instances of fines being levied against reporters for failing to comply with a subpoena.

    view more
  • New Hampshire

    There is no statutory or case law capping the amount of fines.

    view more
  • New Jersey

    The maximum fine for a summary contempt proceeding is $1,000.00.

    view more
  • New Mexico

    No New Mexico law specifically addresses this issue with respect to an unsuccessful assertion of the reporter’s privilege. In general, however, courts can levy compensatory or coercive fines in cases of civil contempt. No law caps such fines.

    view more
  • North Carolina

    In civil actions, a witness who disregards a subpoena must pay forty dollars ($40.00) to the party who issued the subpoena. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 8-63. In addition, the witness is liable "for the full damages which may be sustained for the want of such witness's testimony." Id.

    view more
  • North Dakota

    Applicable fines for non-compliance are not capped for journalists. Any fines levied against reporters are comparable to general rules of court.

    view more
  • Ohio

    Rule 45(E), Ohio Rules of Civil Procedure:

    Failure by any person without adequate excuse to obey a subpoena served upon that person may be deemed a contempt of the court from which the subpoena issued. A subpoenaed person or that person's attorney who frivolously resists discovery under this rule may be required by the court to pay the reasonable expenses, including reasonable attorney's fees, of the party seeking the discovery. The court from which a subpoena was issued may impose upon a party or attorney in breach of the duty imposed by division (C)(1) of this rule an appropriate sanction, which may include, but is not limited to, lost earnings and reasonable attorney's fees.

    view more
  • Oklahoma

    We are not aware of any situation in Oklahoma where a reporter has been fined for refusal to disclose privileged information.

    view more
  • Oregon

    No statutory or case law addressing this issue.

    view more
  • Pennsylvania

    A person held in civil contempt can be fined. It is unclear what, if any, limitation there is on the amount of a fine a court may impose to coerce a reporter to comply with its orders. In Bowden, a Philadelphia trial court held two reporters in contempt and imposed a fine of $100 per minute during part of the trial to compel them to testify about their jailhouse interviews with a defendant facing murder charges. The resulting fine was $40,000 per reporter. 838 A.2d at 745. On appeal, the Superior Court remanded the case for reconsideration of the amount of the fine, finding the “steep sanction [an] unprecedented” abuse of discretion. Id. On further appeal, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed the Superior Court’s ruling, but on different grounds. Id. at 760. The Supreme Court held that the process by which the trial court determined its penalty – suggesting $1000 an hour moments before drastically increasing the sanction to $100 a minute, without explanation – was deemed impermissibly capricious. Id. at 764 n.20. Specifically, the trial court expressed “a significant degree of skepticism about the effectiveness of its sanction” and did not consider the “‘financial resources and the consequent seriousness of the burden” to the parties paying the fine. Id. at 763-64 (citation omitted).

    view more
  • Rhode Island

    Fines are not capped and are available against those persons in contempt of a civil order. The purpose of civil contempt sanctions is to coerce the contemnor to comply with the court's order and to compensate the complying party for its losses. Durfee v. Ocean State Steel, Inc., 636 A.2d 698, 704 (R.I. 1994).

    view more
  • South Carolina

    There are no caps on civil fines imposed to compel compliance with a court order. Fines in the form of sanctions have been imposed against recalcitrant litigants in civil cases, but these cases have not involved reporters.

    view more
  • South Dakota

    Failure to attend is punishable by fine up to $50. Refusal to testify is punishable by fine up to $50 and imprisonment until willing to testify. SDCL 19-5-12.

    view more
  • Tennessee

    Tennessee law generally authorizes courts to punish civil contempt by fines not exceeding $50. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-9-103.

    view more
  • Texas

    Failure to comply with a subpoena may be punishable by a fine, confinement, or both. Tex. R. Civ. P. 176.8. There is no limit in the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure to the amount of a fine that may be imposed for civil contempt.

    view more
  • Utah

    There is no statutory or case law addressing this issue.

    view more
  • Vermont

    Only compensatory fines or coercive sanctions may be imposed in a civil contempt proceeding. State v. Pownal Tanning Co., 142 Vt. 601, 603, 459 A.2d 989, 990 (Vt. 1983) (requiring proof of loss for compensatory fines or proof that a fine was “purgeable” for coercive fines). “In the context of contempt proceedings, purely prospective fines are not favored in Vermont.”  State v. Gundlah ex rel. Smallheer, 160 Vt. 193, 197, 624 A.2d 368, 370 (Vt. 1993).  However, “civil contempt fines may be imposed in an appropriate circumstance either to compensate complainants or as a coercive sanction. When a prospective fine is imposed as a coercive sanction, the fine must be purgeable — that is, capable of being avoided through adherence to the court’s order. Further, the situation must be such that it is easy to gauge the compliance or noncompliance with an order.” Mann v. Levin, 2004 VT 100, ¶ 32, 177 Vt. 261, 273, 861 A.2d 1138, 1149 (Vt. 2004) (quoting Vermont Women’s Health Ctr. v. Operation Rescue, 159 Vt. 141, 151, 617 A.2d 411, 417 (Vt. 1992)).

    view more
  • Virginia

    When a reporter is summarily held in civil contempt in the circuit court, there is no cap on the fine that may be imposed by the court to compel compliance. When a reporter is summarily held in contempt in the district court, the fine shall not exceed $250. Virginia Code § 18.2-458.

    view more
  • Washington

    Washington's case law has not yet squarely addressed this issue.

    view more
  • West Virginia

    In West Virginia, there is no history of reporters being fined for failure to comply with a subpoena. There is no specific cap on such fines, and there is no statute or caselaw specifically addressing contempt proceedings where a reporter refuses to comply with a subpoena.

    view more
  • Wisconsin

    The court may levy a fine against a reporter held in civil contempt not to exceed $2,000 for each day the contempt of court continues, not to exceed six months. See Wis. Stat. § 785.04(1)(b) and (c).

    view more
  • Wyoming

    There are no known cases in Wyoming where a reporter has been fined for failing to comply with a subpoena.

    view more