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Trujillo v. Gomez

United States District Court, E.D. California

March 21, 2017

GUILLERMO CRUZ TRUJILLO, Plaintiff,
v.
GOMEZ, et al., Defendants.

         OBJECTIONS, IF ANY, DUE WITHIN TWENTY-ONE DAYS

          FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS, RECOMMENDING THAT DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR ORDER REQUIRING PLAINTIFF TO POST SECURITY UNDER LOCAL RULE 151(b) BE DENIED (ECF NO. 58)

         I. BACKGROUND

         Guillermo Trujillo (“Plaintiff”) is a state prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis with this civil rights action filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. This case now proceeds on Plaintiff's Third Amended Complaint (ECF No. 17) against defendants Gomez, Juarez, and Fernandez for excessive force in violation of the Eighth Amendment. (ECF Nos. 19, 20, & 21).

         On February 13, 2017, defendants Gomez and Fernandez filed a motion for order requiring Plaintiff to post security on the ground that Plaintiff qualifies as a vexatious litigant under California rules (“the Motion”). (ECF No. 58). Defendants ask the Court to declare Plaintiff a vexatious litigant under California Code of Civil Procedure section 391(b)(1) and require him to post security. (ECF No. 58-1). Defendants acknowledge that the federal standard is different than the California state standard for vexatious litigants (Id. at p. 2), but argue that this District's local rules allow the Court to follow California, rather than federal, law. Defendants do not make any argument that Plaintiff is a vexatious litigant under the federal standard. Plaintiff did not file a response.

         II. LEGAL STANDARDS

         The All Writs Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1651, gives the Court the inherent power to enter pre-filing orders against vexatious litigants. De Long v. Hennessey, 912 F.2d 1144, 1147 (9th Cir. 1990); Molski v. Evergreen Dynasty Corp., 500 F.3d 1047, 1057 (9th Cir. 2007). The Court has inherent power to sanction parties or their attorneys for improper conduct. Chambers v. Nasco, Inc., 501 U.S. 32, 43-46 (1991); Roadway Express, Inc. v. Piper, 447 U.S. 752, 766 (1980); Fink v. Gomez, 239 F.3d 989, 991 (9th Cir. 2001). The imposition of sanctions under the court's inherent authority is discretionary. Air Separation, Inc. v. Underwriters at Lloyd's of London, 45 F.3d 288, 291 (9th Cir. 1995). The Court's “inherent power ‘extends to a full range of litigation abuses.'” Fink, 239 F.3d at 992 (quoting Chambers, 501 U.S. at 46-47). However, such pre-filing orders are an extreme remedy and should rarely be used since such sanctions can tread on a litigant's due process right of access to the courts. Molski, 500 F.3d at 1057.

         Under Ninth Circuit precedent, in order to sanction a litigant under the court's inherent powers, the court must make a specific finding of “bad faith or conduct tantamount to bad faith.” Fink, 239 F.3d at 994. Although mere recklessness is insufficient to support sanctions under the court's inherent powers, “recklessness when combined with an additional factor such as frivolousness, harassment, or an improper purpose” is sufficient. Id. at 993-94. A litigant may be sanctioned for acting for an improper purpose, even if the act was “a truthful statement or non-frivolous argument or objection.” Id. at 992. “[I]nherent powers must be exercised with restraint and discretion.” Chambers, 501 U.S. at 44.

         Under federal law, litigiousness alone is insufficient to support a finding of vexatiousness. See Moy v. United States, 906 F.2d 467, 470 (9th Cir. 1990) (the plaintiff's claims must not only be numerous, but also be patently without merit). The focus is on the number of suits that were frivolous or harassing in nature rather than on the number of suits that were simply adversely decided. See De Long, 912 F.2d at 1147-48 (before a district court issues a pre-filing injunction against a pro se litigant, it is incumbent on the court to make substantive findings as to the frivolous or harassing nature of the litigant's actions). The Ninth Circuit has defined vexatious litigation as “without reasonable or probable cause or excuse, harassing, or annoying.” Microsoft Corp. v. Motorola, Inc., 696 F.3d 872, 886 (9th Cir. 2012). For these reasons, the mere fact that a plaintiff has had numerous suits dismissed against him is an insufficient ground upon which to make a finding of vexatiousness under Ninth Circuit precedent.

         Under California law, in contrast, a vexatious litigant is one who “[i]n the immediately preceding seven-year period has commenced, prosecuted, or maintained in propria persona at least five litigations other than in small claims court that have been . . . finally determined adversely to the person….” Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 391(b)(1). Under the law of the State of California, “a defendant may move the court, upon notice and hearing, for an order requiring the plaintiff to furnish security….” Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 391.1.

         Eastern District of California Local Rule 151(b) states: “On its own motion or on motion of a party, the Court may at any time order a party to give a security, bond, or undertaking in such amount as the Court may determine to be appropriate. The provisions of Title 3A, part 2, of the California Code of Civil Procedure, relating to vexatious litigants, are hereby adopted as a procedural Rule of this Court on the basis of which the Court may order the giving of a security, bond, or undertaking, although the power of the Court shall not be limited thereby.” It is not clear to this Court to what extent Local Rule 151(b) is an attempt to alter the federal standard as set forth in Ninth Circuit precedent. The Court notes that it is expressly a procedural rule, and does not purport to change substantive law regarding the determination of vexatiousness. As one Court in this jurisdiction explained, federal substantive law regarding who is a vexatious litigant is still binding on this Court:

Both this court's local rule and Ninth Circuit decisions demonstrate that the court looks to federal law, not state law, to define a vexatious litigant. “The All Writs Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1651(a), provides district courts with the inherent power to enter pre-filing orders against vexatious litigants. However, such pre-filing orders are an extreme remedy that should rarely be used.” Molski v. Evergreen Dynasty Corp., 500 F.3d 1047, 1057 (9th Cir. 2007)
Local Rule 151(b) prescribes that the procedure in California's vexatious litigant law is considered when determining whether to require a party to provide security before proceeding with an action.
. . .
The Ninth Circuit has held that “orders restricting a person's access to the courts must be based on adequate justification supported in the record and narrowly tailored to address the abuse perceived.” DeLong v. Hennessey, 912 F.2d 1144, 1149 (9th Cir. 1990). Before issuing such an order, a court must “make ‘substantive findings as to the frivolous or harassing nature of the litigant's actions.' ” Id. at 1148 (quoting In re Powell, 851 F.2d 427, 441 (D.C. Cir. 1988)); see also Moy v. United States, 906 F.2d 467, 470 (9th Cir. 1990) (“plaintiff's claims must not only be numerous, but also be patently without merit”). “To make such a finding, the district court needs to look at ‘both the number and content of the filings as indicia' of the ...

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