Wallace v. Law Offices of Bruce M. Spencer, PLLC, DA 20-0611

Docket NºDA 20-0611
Citation495 P.3d 1047
Case DateSeptember 28, 2021
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Montana

495 P.3d 1047

Terry WALLACE, Plaintiff and Appellant,
LAW OFFICES OF BRUCE M. SPENCER, PLLC, LPH, Inc., a Montana Corporation, Geiszler Steele, PC, and John Does 1-5, Defendants and Appellees.

DA 20-0611

Supreme Court of Montana.

Submitted on Briefs: August 11, 2021
Decided: September 28, 2021

For Appellant: Terry A. Wallace, Self-represented, Missoula, Montana

For Appellees: Mikel L. Moore, Moore, Cockrell, Goicoechea & Johnson, P.C., Kalispell, Montana (for Law Offices of Bruce M. Spencer, PLLC), Jon A. Wilson, Brown Law Firm, P.C., Billings, Montana (for LPH, Inc.), David J. Steele, II, Timothy D. Geiszler, Geiszler Steele, PC, Missoula, Montana (for Geiszler Steele, PC)

Justice Jim Rice delivered the Opinion and Order of the Court.

495 P.3d 1048

¶1 In this appeal, Appellant Terry Wallace (Wallace) challenged a summary judgment order entered by the First Judicial District Court dismissing his claims against Appellees LPH, Inc., Law Offices of Bruce M. Spencer, PLLC, and Geiszler Steele, PC (Appellees), as well as the District Court's order declaring Wallace to be a vexatious litigant subject to a pre-filing requirement in the First Judicial District. In an Opinion entered in conjunction herewith, we affirmed the District Court's summary judgment order, as well as its order declaring Wallace a vexatious litigant for purposes of the First Judicial District. Wallace v. Law Offices of Bruce M. Spencer , 2021 MT 252N, ––– Mont. ––––, ––– P.3d ––––, 2021 Mont. LEXIS ––––, DA 20-0611.

¶2 Appellees’ briefing also requested an order declaring Wallace to be a vexatious litigant on a statewide basis, arguing that "Mr. Wallace's vexatious conduct has not been limited to the Montana First Judicial District Court, and a pre-filing [o]rder by this Court is necessary to protect courts around the state." In his reply brief, Wallace continues to contest the District Court's vexatious litigant determination, but he does not directly address the merits of Appellees’ request for a statewide order.

¶3 Every person is guaranteed access to the courts of Montana by the Montana State Constitution. Mont. Const. art. II, § 16 ("Courts of justice shall be open to every person, and speedy remedy afforded for every injury of person, property, or character. ... Right and justice shall be administered without sale, denial, or delay."). However, we have also recognized that the right to access the courts is not absolute and may be limited for purposes bearing a rational relationship to legitimate state interests, including "protecting other parties from the unnecessary expense of litigating" against a vexatious litigant and "protecting the courts from the unnecessary expenditure of judicial resources" in such cases. Stokes v. First Am. Title Co. of Mont., Inc. , 2017 MT 275, ¶¶ 3, 13, 389 Mont. 245, 406 P.3d 439 (citing Peterson v. Great Falls Sch. Dist. No. 1 & A , 237 Mont. 376, 380, 773 P.2d 316, 318 (1989) ). Every court has the power to "provide for the orderly conduct of proceedings before it," § 3-1-111(3), MCA, and the "discretion to meet the circumstances" caused by disruptive litigants. Illinois v. Allen , 397 U.S. 337, 343, 90 S. Ct. 1057, 1061, 25 L.Ed.2d 353 (1970) ; accord State v. Hartsoe , 2011 MT 188, ¶ 25, 361 Mont. 305, 258 P.3d 428. The Montana State Constitution grants this Court "general supervisory control over all other courts," Mont. Const. art. VII, § 2, and the Montana Rules of Appellate Procedure afford this Court discretion, whether upon "a motion to dismiss, a request included in a brief, or sua sponte," to sanction frivolous or vexatious conduct by imposing a "penalty as the supreme court deems proper under the circumstances." M. R. App. P. 19(5). Pursuant to this Rule, "[t]his Court may sanction a litigant, including [with] the imposition of a pre-filing order, for vexatious litigation conduct." McCann v. McCann , 2018 MT 207, ¶ 38, 392 Mont. 385, 425 P.3d 682 ; see, Stokes , ¶ 4.

¶4 We utilize a five-factor test to consider whether a pre-filing order is justified:

(1) the litigant's history of litigation and, in particular, whether it has entailed vexatious, harassing, or duplicative lawsuits; (2) the litigant's motive in pursuing the

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