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Wood v. County of Contra Costa

United States District Court, N.D. California

October 15, 2019

ANDREA WOOD, Plaintiff,
v.
COUNTY OF CONTRA COSTA, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER DENYING WITHOUT PREJUDICE DEFENDANTS' REQUESTS THAT PLAINTIFF BE DECLARED A VEXATIOUS LITIGANT

          MAXINE M. CHESNEY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         By order filed October 8, 2019, the Court granted four separate motions to dismiss plaintiff Andrea Wood's ("Wood") Amended Complaint, and, in so doing, dismissed the above-titled action without further leave to amend. Two of the motions to dismiss, specifically the motions filed by Mary Carey ("Carey") and the County Defendants, [1]include a request that the Court declare plaintiff Wood a vexatious litigant and impose pre-filing restrictions as to future civil actions she may file. In her oppositions to those two motions, Wood has responded to said additional requests, and defendants have replied thereto. Having fully considered the matter, the Court rules as follows.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Before a district court may issue an order finding a litigant to be vexatious and imposing pre-filing restrictions, (1) "the litigant must be given notice and a chance to be heard," (2) "the district court must compile an adequate record for review," (3) "the district court must make substantive findings about the frivolous or harassing nature of the plaintiff's litigation," and (4) "the vexatious litigant order must be narrowly tailored to closely fit the specific vice encountered." See Molski v. Evergreen Dynasty Corp., 500 F.3d 1047, 1057 (9th Cir. 2007) (internal quotations and citation omitted).

         DISCUSSION

         A. Notice

         In the instant case, the motions to dismiss filed by Carey and the County Defendants provide ample notice to Wood of the civil actions and other conduct on which they base their respective requests that she be declared a vexatious litigant, and, as noted, Wood has responded to those requests. The Court next summarizes the civil actions on which defendants rely, specifically, five cases filed in this district and one case filed in state court.

         B. Summary of Wood's Civil Actions

         Each of the cases on which defendants rely arises from a decision made by a state court judge assigned to child dependency proceedings instituted by the County, namely, the decision to remove three minor children from Wood's custody.

         In Wood v. Carey, C19-00363, filed February 28, 2019 (hereinafter "Wood 1"), the one case filed in state court, and chronologically the first filed, Wood, appearing by counsel, asserted, against Carey and Carey's law firm, claims of professional negligence pertaining to decisions allegedly made by Carey in the course of representing Wood in the child dependency proceedings. On August 19, 2019, the state court judge assigned to Wood 1 dismissed the operative complaint "without prejudice as premature and without leave to amend." (See Carey's Req. for Judicial Notice, Exs. 2, 3.)[2]

         While Wood I was pending in state court, Wood, now and henceforth appearing pro se, filed the first of the five cases brought in this district, Wood v. County of Contra Costa, Civil Case No. 19-2678 JD, filed May 17, 2019 (hereinafter, "Wood 2"), in which action Wood, asserting claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the First Amendment, the Fourteenth Amendment, and the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, alleged that an "enterprise," consisting of social workers employed by the County, a deputy county counsel, an attorney who represented Wood, an attorney who represented one of Wood's children, two California superior court judges, and one of Wood's neighbors, conspired to deprive Wood of the custody of her children. After motions to dismiss had been filed, and after said motions had been fully briefed but before the district judge assigned to the matter had made any ruling thereon, Wood voluntarily dismissed the case without prejudice. As the moving defendants correctly point out, the factual and legal claims asserted in Wood 2 are essentially indistinguishable from those alleged in the above-titled action, the sole substantive difference being the addition of Cecelia Gutierrez as a named defendant.

         The second of the five cases brought in this district, Wood v. County of Contra Costa, Civil Case No. 19-3885 EJD, filed July 5, 2019, (hereinafter, "Wood 3"), is a petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. §§ 2241 and 2243, based on the theory that two of Wood's children are unlawfully being held in custody, and brought against the County, a juvenile court judge, and three individuals whom Wood appears to assert presently have custody of her children. To date, no substantive rulings have been issued by the district court judge assigned to the case.

         In Wood v. Chidi, Civil Case No. 19-4202, filed July 22, 2019 (hereinafter "Wood 4"), the third of the five cases brought in this district, Wood asserts, under § 1983 and the Fourteenth Amendment, claims against the County and two, or possibly three, social workers assigned to "HP," one of her children, [3] and primarily challenges decisions made by said social workers, e.g., a "fail[ure] to arrange visitations." (See Compl., Wood 4, ¶ 21.) To date, no substantive rulings have been issued by the district court assigned to the case.

         Next, in Wood v. Williams, Civil Case No. 19-4247, filed July 24, 2019 (hereinafter, "Wood 5"), the fourth of the five cases brought in this district, Wood asserts, under § 1983, the Fourteenth Amendment, and state law, claims against the County and a social worker assigned to "KP," another of Wood's children, and primarily challenges decisions made by said social worker, e.g., the "fail[ure] to ensure KP was taken to school." (See Compl., Wood 5, ΒΆ ...


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