CURRENT MONTH (February 2024)

Pro Se Appellant Sanctioned for Citations to Fictitious AI-Generated Cases

By Ke Liu (Kevin), Pilgrim Christakis LLP

On February 13, 2024, the Missouri Court of Appeals dismissed a pro se appellant’s appeal and entered sanctions against the appellant for, among other things, citing fictitious cases generated by artificial intelligence.

In the trial court, the appellee Molly Kruse filed suit seeking unpaid wages. The court granted summary judgment in Kruse’s favor, leading to appellant Jonathan Karlen’s pro se appeal. On appeal, Kruse moved to strike Karlen’s opening brief for failure to comply with various requirements of appellate procedure in Missouri. The appellate court noted numerous inadequacies with the brief, including the fact that it was not signed, there was no appendix, the statement of facts did not cite to the record, the table of contents and table of authorities were inaccurate, and the brief did not include a “points relied on” section summarizing the challenged ruling and the legal reasons for why the ruling should be reversed.

Beyond these issues, however, the appellate court specifically highlighted the fact that nearly all of the case citations in Karlen’s brief were fictitious and generated by artificial intelligence: “Particularly concerning to this Court is that Appellant submitted an Appellate Brief in which the overwhelming majority of the citations are not only inaccurate but entirely fictitious. Only two out of the twenty-four case citations in Appellant’s Brief are genuine.” The court noted that although some of the fictitious cases cited by Karlen had real case names—which the court characterized as “presumably the product of algorithmic serendipity”—none stood for the propositions asserted by Karlen.

In his reply brief, Karlen explained that he had hired an online “‘consultant’ purporting to be an attorney licensed in California” to prepare his brief, and that he did not know the “consultant” would use “artificial intelligence hallucinations.” This did not sway the appellate court. “Filing an appellate brief with bogus citations in this Court for any reason cannot be countenanced and represents a flagrant violation of the duties of candor Appellant owes to this Court . . . We regret that Appellant has given us our first opportunity to consider the impact of fictitious cases being submitted to our Court, an issue which has gained national attention in the rising availability of generative A.I.” The court noted that although pro se litigants certainly face challenges in appeals, the issues with Karlen’s brief were not mere “minor technical briefing deficiencies” that could be overlooked. In the end, the appellate court found that “Appellant’s submission of fictitious cases constitutes an abuse of the judicial system” and sanctioned Karlen $10,000.

This case represents yet another instance of a growing number of cases where sanctions, warnings, or other penalties have been issued for citation of AI-generated fictitious cases. Lawyers and pro se litigants should take caution in relying on AI software for research. See Mata v. Avianca, Inc., — F. Supp. 3d —, 2023 WL 41114965 (S.D.N.Y. 2023) ($5,000 sanction); Smith v. Farwell, No. 2282CV01197 (Norfolk Cty. Sup. Ct. Feb. 12, 2024) ($2,000 sanction); Park v. Kim, 91 F.4th 610 (2d Cir. 2024) (referring counsel to appellate court’s grievance panel); Will of Samuel, — N.Y.S.3d —, 2024 WL 238160 (N.Y. Sur. 2024) (striking pleading and ordering hearing to determine whether economic sanctions are warranted); People v. Crabill, 23PDJ067, 2023 WL 8111898 (Colo. O.P.D.J. Nov. 22, 2023) (suspending attorney from practicing for one year and one day for citing fictitious AI-generated case law and then falsely attributing the citations to a legal intern); Mescall v. Renaissance at Antiquity, No. 23-cv-332, 2023 WL 7490841 (W.D.N.C. Nov. 13, 2023) (warning that sanctions may be issued for use of AI-generated citations); Morgan v. Comm. Against Violence, No. 23-cv-353, 2023 WL 6976510 (D.N.M. Oct. 23, 2023) (same); United States v. Michael Cohen, No. 18-cr-602, 2023 WL 8635521 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 12, 2023) (ordering counsel to show cause why he should not be sanctioned for citing fictitious cases), see also ECF No. 104 (explaining that the cases were located via Google Bard, an generative AI service).


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