392 F.3d 358 (9th Cir. 2004), 02-15720, Wolfe v. Strankman

Docket Nº:02-15720.
Citation:392 F.3d 358
Party Name:Burton H. WOLFE, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Gary E. STRANKMAN; Alfred G. Chiantelli; David A. Garcia; Ronald E. Quidachay; Ronald M. George; Deborah Silva; Judicial Council of California; State of California, Defendants-Appellees.
Case Date:December 14, 2004
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

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392 F.3d 358 (9th Cir. 2004)

Burton H. WOLFE, Plaintiff-Appellant,


Gary E. STRANKMAN; Alfred G. Chiantelli; David A. Garcia; Ronald E. Quidachay; Ronald M. George; Deborah Silva; Judicial Council of California; State of California, Defendants-Appellees.

No. 02-15720.

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

December 14, 2004

Argued and Submitted April 14, 2004

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Brian J. Murray, Jones Day, Washington, D.C.; Burton H. Wolfe, San Francisco, CA, for the plaintiff-appellant.

Jill Theresa Bowers, Office of the California Attorney General, Sacramento, CA; Jonathan U. Lee, City Attorney's Office of San Francisco, San Francisco, California, for the defendants-appellees.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of California; Saundra B. Armstrong, District Judge, Presiding. D.C. No. CV-00-01047-SBA.

Before: T.G. NELSON, W. FLETCHER, and BERZON, Circuit Judges.



Plaintiff-Appellant Burton Wolfe seeks a declaratory judgment that California's Vexatious Litigant Statute, Cal.Civ.Proc.Code §§ 391-391.7, is unconstitutional. He also seeks injunctive relief barring enforcement of the statute. The named defendants in this case are the State of California; California's Judicial Council; California Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald M. George, who is Chair of the Judicial Council; Justice Gary E. Strankman, Presiding Justice of the First Appellate District of the California Court of Appeal; Superior Court Law and Motions Judges David A. Garcia and Ronald E. Quidachay; Judge Alfred Chiantelli, Presiding Judge of the San Francisco Superior Court; and Ms. Deborah Silva, a court services analyst employed by the Judicial Council.1 The district court dismissed the suit for want of subject matter jurisdiction under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine.

We hold that Rooker-Feldman does not deprive the district court of subject matter jurisdiction. Nevertheless, we affirm the district court's dismissal of the State of California and the Judicial Council because neither is a proper party to an action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. We also affirm the district court's dismissal of Justice Strankman, Judge Garcia, Judge Quidachay, and Judge Chiantelli, who, having been sued in their judicial capacities, are not proper parties to a § 1983 action.2 We reverse the district court's dismissal of Chief Justice George and Ms. Silva, as both are proper parties at this stage of the proceedings.

I. Background

The California legislature adopted the Vexatious Litigant Statute in 1963 to ease the "unreasonable burden placed upon the courts by groundless litigation." Wolfgram v. Wells Fargo Bank, 53 Cal.App.4th 43, 61 Cal.Rptr.2d 694, 698 (1997). The statute provides that a defendant in

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any state court may move the court to require a pro se plaintiff who qualifies as a "vexatious litigant"3 to post a security bond before proceeding. Cal.Civ.Proc.Code § 391.1. The statute also allows a judge to enter a prefiling order prohibiting a vexatious litigant from filing any new pro se litigation without the permission of the presiding judge of the court where the litigant seeks to file. Id. § 391.7(a). Parties subject to prefiling orders are placed on a statewide list--"the Vexatious Litigant List"--maintained by the Judicial Council of California and disseminated to clerks of the state courts. Id. § 391.7(e). The Vexatious Litigant Statute has survived several constitutional challenges in California courts. See, e.g., Wolfgram, 61 Cal.Rptr.2d at 699-706; Childs v. PaineWebber Inc., 29 Cal.App.4th 982, 35 Cal.Rptr.2d 93, 99 (1994); In re Whitaker, 6 Cal.App.4th 54, 8 Cal.Rptr.2d 249, 250-51 (1992).

In April 1992, the Superior Court for the County of San Francisco labeled Wolfe a vexatious litigant and issued a prefiling order against him. Wolfe had filed a series of unsuccessful pro se lawsuits challenging the business practices of San Francisco taxicab companies. Wolfe remained on the vexatious litigant list for seven years. On April 19, 1999, Wolfe's name was removed from the list, and the prefiling order against him was rescinded. Between November 1999 and February 2000, Wolfe filed six pro se lawsuits in state courts.

On March 27, 2000, Wolfe brought this action in federal district court under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, challenging the constitutionality of the Vexatious Litigant Statute. He named as defendants the State of California, the Judicial Council of California, Chief Justice George, Justice Strankman, and Ms. Silva (collectively, but somewhat imprecisely, the "State Defendants"). He also named Judges Garcia, Quidachay, and Chiantelli (collectively the "Superior Court Judge Defendants"). Wolfe sued each of the individual defendants in both their individual and official capacities.

On July 27, 2001, the Superior Court Judge Defendants moved to dismiss Wolfe's complaint. They argued that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine barred jurisdiction, that Wolfe lacked Article III standing, that judicial immunity and/or the Eleventh Amendment barred suit against them, and that the district court should abstain under Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 91 S.Ct. 746, 27 L.Ed.2d 669 (1971).

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On October 26, 2001, the State Defendants also moved for dismissal, raising similar arguments.

On March 29, 2002, the district court granted both motions to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b) (1) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, pursuant to Rooker-Feldman. The court also indicated that, in the alternative, if Wolfe was involved in ongoing state court proceedings, it would abstain under Younger. Finally, the court expressed "profound doubts" as to whether Wolfe's claims could be brought against the State of California and the Judicial Council in light of state sovereign immunity.

Wolfe timely appeals. We review the district court's dismissal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Rooker-Feldman de novo. Noel v. Hall, 341 F.3d 1148, 1154(9th Cir. 2003). We may affirm the district court's dismissal on any ground supported by the record. Ecological Rights Found. v. Pac. Lumber Co., 230 F.3d 1141, 1153 (9th Cir. 2000).

II. Facial and Factual Attacks on Jurisdiction

As a preliminary matter, we note that in reviewing a Rule 12(b) (1) motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction, we take the allegations in the plaintiff's complaint as true. Bollard v. Cal. Province of the Soc'y of Jesus, 196 F.3d 940, 944-45 (9th Cir. 1999). Citing Trentacosta v. Frontier Pacific Aircraft Industries, Inc., 813 F.2d 1553, 1558 (9th Cir. 1987), the State Defendants ask us to affirm the district court's dismissal on the ground that Wolfe failed to provide evidence outside the pleadings in response to their motion...

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