Patricia petitioned for the dissolution of her marriage to Thomas in 2001. A dissolution judgment entered in 2002; a judgment on reserved issues entered in 2008.
In 2005, trial court Commissioner Oleon determined, based Thomas’s conduct in the dissolution proceedings and two separate civil actions, that Thomas was a vexatious litigant, and issued an order, prohibiting him from filing any new litigation or motion in propria persona without obtaining leave of the presiding judge. Thomas was also ordered to cover Patricia’s attorney fees.
In 2006, Thomas unsuccessfully moved (Code of Civil Procedure 170.1) to have Oleon disqualified. Weeks later, Thomas filed another section 170.1 challenge; the court failed to timely respond. Months later, notwithstanding his disqualification, Oleon reentered his previous vexatious litigant orders, effective from 7/29/05 because, when entering his original orders, he neglected to file a mandatory form.
In 2018, Thomas complained to the presiding judge regarding Oleon’s post-disqualification involvement. The court issued an order to show cause, then reaffirmed that Thomas qualifies as a vexatious litigant and reimposed the pre-filing order.
Following the hearings, the trial court issued the orders under challenge in this appeal—the first reaffirming the finding that Thomas qualifies as a vexatious litigant (vexatious litigant order) and the second imposing a prefiling order with respect to his filing of any new motion or litigation in propria persona in this matter (prefiling order). Thomas has timely appealed.
Quote by the California Curt of Appeal:
“We do not take lightly Thomas’s use of the appellate process to threaten, however implicitly, our state’s lawyers and judges. Thomas clearly considers himself aggrieved by our judicial process. That is no excuse, however, for resorting to this sort of menacing language, which has no place in our courthouses or communities. It degrades our institution while also wasting its valuable resources. For this reason, we hereby warn Thomas any further abuse of our process will result in an order of sanctions against him. (See Flores v. Georgeson (2011) 191 Cal.App.4th 881, 887 [a “court has inherent power, upon a sufficient factual showing, to dismiss an action ‘ “shown to be sham, fictitious or without merit,” ’ ” and to impose sanctions, “ ‘ “in order to prevent abuse of the judicial process” ’ ”]; Kinney v. Clark (2017) 12 Cal.App.5th 724, 740.
“The vexatious litigant statute (§ 391 et seq.) was enacted ‘ “to curb misuse of the court system” ’ by ‘ “persistent and obsessive” litigants.’ [Citation.]” (Thompson v. Ioane (2017) 11 Cal.App.5th 1180, 1198.)
Relevant here, a “ ‘[v]exatious litigant’ ” is one who, proceeding in propria persona, “repeatedly relitigates or attempts to relitigate” matters already finally determined against them or “repeatedly files unmeritorious motions, pleadings, or other papers, conducts unnecessary discovery, or engages in other tactics that are frivolous or solely intended to cause unnecessary delay” (inter alia). (§ 391, subd. (b)(2), (3).) “ ‘Litigation’ ” for purposes of section 391 means “any civil action or proceeding, commenced, maintained or pending in any state or federal court.” (§ 391, subd. (a).)
A vexatious litigant may be prohibited from filing new litigation unless he or she obtains leave to do so from the presiding justice or judge of the court where he or she intends to file. (Wolfgram v. Wells Fargo Bank (1997) 53 Cal.App.4th 43, 48–49; § 391.7, subd. (a).) This prefiling requirement “does not deny the vexatious litigant access to the courts, but operates solely to preclude the initiation of meritless lawsuits and their attendant expenditures of time and costs.” (Bravo v. Ismaj (2002) 99 Cal.App.4th 211, 221–222.)
Thomas next contends that as a matter of law he cannot be designated a vexatious litigant because he has never been the “plaintiff” or the “petitioner” in these proceedings; he has been only the respondent to Patricia’s dissolution-of-marriage petition and the appellant on appeal. His argument hinges on our interpretation of the vexatious litigant statute, section 391.
The California Court of Appeal followed the plain meaning of a statute where its language is clear and unambiguous unless “ ‘to do so would “frustrate the manifest purposes of the legislation as a whole or [lead] to absurd results.” ’ [Citation.]” (Thompson, supra, 11 Cal.App.5th at p. 1199.) “Section 391 defines ‘vexatious litigant’ as ‘a person,’ not a plaintiff, whose litigation history contains particular behaviors (e.g., repeated attempts to relitigate (subd. (b)(2))). . . . [¶] . . . Section 391, subdivision (b)(3) applies to any litigant—plaintiff or defendant—who, ‘acting in propria persona, repeatedly files unmeritorious motions, pleadings, or other papers, conducts unnecessary discovery, or engages in other tactics that are frivolous or solely intended to cause unnecessary delay.’ (See John [v. Superior Court], (2016) 63 Cal.4th 91, 99 [appellate courts have the authority to declare a defendant appellant or writ petitioner to be a vexatious litigant in the first instance during the course of an appeal from litigation the defendant or writ petitioner did not file under § 391, subd. (b)(3)].)
Applying section 391, subdivision (b)(3) to both plaintiffs and defendants advances the purpose of the statute—curbing abuse of the judicial system. Likewise, applying section 391, subdivision (b)(2) to any litigant, whether plaintiff or defendant, who repeatedly litigates prior determinations is consistent with the statutory purpose.” (Id. at p. 1200, italics added.)
The California Court of Appeal affirmed, noting that “Thomas appears to have used the opportunity … to make implicit threats against various members of the California judiciary and State Bar.” The court upheld the 2018 orders as supported by substantial evidence and rejected an argument that a nonplaintiff litigant cannot be designated a vexatious litigant.
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