The opinion of the court was delivered by: Marilyn Hall Patel United States District Judge Northern District of California
Re: Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, Motion to Dismiss, Motion for Partial Summary Judgment
Plaintiff Miguel Gadda brought this action against the State Bar of California, Tracey McCormick, Betty Young, and the Supreme Court of California (the "state defendants"), alleging violations of various federal statutes and constitutional provisions in their attempts to collect monies owed by plaintiff to the state bar. Plaintiff further alleges that defendants Board of Immigration Appeals, Department of Homeland Security, Jennifer Barnes, Miriam Hayward, Alberto Gonzalez, and Mimi S. Yam (the "federal defendants") have violated plaintiff's civil rights by causing plaintiff public humiliation during immigration court proceedings and by engaging in harassing and unlawful correspondence with plaintiff. Now before the court are each of the parties' motions, variously styled as motions to dismiss, for judgment on the pleadings, and for partial summary judgment. Having considered the parties' arguments and submissions, and for the reasons set forth below, the court rules as follows.
Plaintiff is a disbarred lawyer who formerly practiced immigration law before federal immigration judges, including those named as parties to this lawsuit, and the Board of Immigration Appeals. As a result of repeated instances of incompetence and misconduct, plaintiff was disbarred by each of the bodies before which he was licensed to practice: the California state courts, the federal immigration courts, the Northern District of California, and the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. In a lawsuit commencing in 2001, plaintiff challenged his disbarment on various grounds, including a claim that the state bar exceeded its authority as a state institution in disbarring plaintiff, who practiced law exclusively in federal court. This court denied plaintiff's request for a preliminary injunction. See Gadda v. Ashcroft, No. C-01-3885 PJH, 2001 WL 1602693 (N.D. Cal. Dec. 7, 2001) (Hamilton, J.), aff'd, 377 F.3d 934 (9th Cir.), cert. denied, --- U.S. ---, 125 S.Ct. 275 (2004). Two other lawsuits relating to plaintiff's disbarment are currently on appeal. Gadda v. Ashcroft, No. C-03-4779 PJH; In re Miguel Gadda, No. C-02-0017 MHP.
On November 15, 2002, upon the conclusion of plaintiff's state disbarment proceedings, the State Bar filed a certificate of costs in the amount of $21,845.14. The California Supreme Court entered a final order requiring plaintiff to pay the costs on February 21, 2003. See Gadda v. Ashcroft, 377 F.3d at 942 n.3 (finding that the California Supreme Court's order was final). The order made the costs payable "in accordance with Business and Professions Code section 6140.7." Although State Bar Court Rule of Procedure 282 permitted plaintiff to challenge the amount assessed within 30 days, he did not do so, in part because section 6140.7 states that "costs assessed against a member who resigns with disciplinary charges pending or by a member who is actually suspended or disbarred shall be paid as a condition of reinstatement of or return to active membership." Plaintiff has no present intention of seeking readmission to the California bar.
On September 8, 2003, California Business and Professions Code sections 6086.10 and 6140.5 were amended to allow costs and assessments associated with disbarment to be enforced through money judgments. Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code §§ 6086.10(a), 6140.5(d). Section 6086.10, as amended, provides that "[i]n any order imposing discipline, or accepting a resignation with a disciplinary matter pending, the Supreme Court shall include a direction that the member shall pay costs." Id. § 6086.10(a). An order imposing costs "is enforceable both as provided in Section 6140.7 and as a money judgment." Id. Section 6140.5 similarly provides that "[a]ny assessment against an attorney [for reimbursement of the Client Security Fund] . . . that is part of an order imposing a public reproval on a member or is part of an order imposing discipline or accepting a resignation with a disciplinary matter pending, may also be enforced as a money judgment." Id. § 6140.5(d). The California State Bar has since begun "pilot" programs aimed at obtaining judgments under the new statutes. The pilot programs focus, at least in part, on offenders with the highest unpaid disciplinary costs. Complaint, Attachment 7.
In a June 1, 2005 letter to plaintiff, the State Bar of California informed plaintiff that if he did not voluntarily pay the sums he owed, the State Bar would seek a money judgment. Complaint, Attachment 4. The letter states that "[r]ecent legislative changes to the Business and Professions Code now allow the State Bar to collect certain obligations owed as a result of State Bar Court disciplinary cost assessments or Client Security Fund reimbursements as money judgments." Id. According to the letter, the total amount owed by plaintiff was $21,845.14, the amount of the original certificate of costs.*fn2 Id.
Plaintiff filed the instant lawsuit in response to the State Bar's collection attempts. Plaintiff's complaint states six claims, five of which recite violations of federal law and the sixth of which requests injunctive relief against the defendants. The first claim, for violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, is that the state defendants' attempts to collect the money owed by plaintiff are unlawful, as plaintiff has no opportunity to challenge the amount owed before a judgment is entered against him in state court. Also embedded in plaintiff's first claim is the (apparently unrelated) allegation that the federal defendants continue to send him correspondence relating to immigration cases that plaintiff formerly litigated, subjecting plaintiff to a risk of prosecution for the unlicensed practice of law.
The second claim, for violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, is (to the extent that it is comprehensible) that the state defendants' decision to seek money judgments against only a subset of offenders is discriminatory and without rational basis.
The third and fourth claims contain allegations that the State Bar of California lacked jurisdiction to disbar plaintiff, and violated the Commerce Clause, Supremacy Clause, and First Amendment in doing so.
The fifth claim contains allegations that the federal defendants violated unspecified "civil rights" of plaintiff.
The sixth claim (erroneously labeled "COUNT 5") requests injunctive relief against all defendants.*fn3
On August 30, the court requested briefing on the narrow question of whether application of sections 6140.5 and 6086.10 to plaintiff, as alleged in plaintiff's complaint, violates either the Due Process Clause or the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In response, the court has received nearly a dozen briefs on a wide range of topics, including each of plaintiff's claims, the court's authority to manage its docket, and the court's ability to rule impartially on this case. A short summary of the papers currently under consideration follows:
1. State Defendants' Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings (Filed September 14, 2005) Plaintiff's Reply to Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings (Filed September 19, 2005) State Defendants' Reply in Support of Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings (Filed October 7, 2005)
These briefs address the merits of each of plaintiff's claims against the state defendants.
2. Federal Defendants' Response to Court's Order (Filed September 19, 2005) Plaintiff's Reply to Response to Court's Order (Filed September 28, 2005) Plaintiff's Brief re Judge Patel's Order (Filed September 30, 2005)
These briefs address the merits of plaintiff's first and second claims, as they apply to the federal defendants.
3. Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (Filed September 28, 2005)
State Defendants' Objection and Opposition to Untimely Motion for Summary Judgment (Filed October 3, 2005) These briefs contain plaintiff's arguments in support of each of his claims.
4. Federal Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (Filed September 30, 2005) Plaintiff's Reply to Motion to Dismiss (Filed October 11, 2005) Federal Defendants' Reply to Opposition re Motion to Dismiss (Filed October 17, 2005) These briefs address the merits of plaintiff's claims against the ...