Wolfe v. George

Decision Date22 August 2005
Docket NumberNo. 285.,No. C 00-1047 SBA.,No. 264.,No. 276.,C 00-1047 SBA.,264.,276.,285.
Citation385 F.Supp.2d 1004
PartiesBurton H. WOLFE, Plaintiff, v. Ronald M. GEORGE, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of California

Burton H. Wolfe, San Francisco, CA, pro se.

David M. Verhey, Sacramento, CA, Tom Blake, CA State Attorney General's Office, Thomas A. Blake, Jonathan U. Lee, City Attorney's Office, San Francisco, CA, for Defendants.


ARMSTRONG, District Judge.

This matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings [Docket No. 264] and Defendants' Cross-Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings [Docket No. 276]. Having read and considered the arguments presented by the parties in the papers submitted to the Court, and having heard the argument of Plaintiff and Defendants' counsel at the June 28, 2005 hearing, the Court hereby DENIES Plaintiff's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings and GRANTS Defendants' Cross-Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings.

A. Procedural Background.

On March 27, 2000, Plaintiff Burton Wolfe ("Plaintiff"), filed a Complaint, in propria persona, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, challenging the constitutionality of California's Vexatious Litigant Statute. He named as defendants: (1) Justice Gary Strankman, Chief Justice Ronald George, Deborah Silva, the Judicial Council of California, and State of California (collectively known as the "State Defendants"); and (2) Judge Alfred Chiantelli, Judge David Garcia, and Judge Ronald Quidachay (collectively known as the "Judge Defendants").

On March 29, 2002, this Court dismissed Plaintiff's Complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to the Rooker-Feldman doctrine after finding that Plaintiff's action appeared to be a de facto appeal of prior state court decisions. See Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413, 415-16, 44 S.Ct. 149, 68 L.Ed. 362 (1923); District of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462, 482-86, 103 S.Ct. 1303, 75 L.Ed.2d 206 (1983). The Court also dismissed the State Defendants and the Judge Defendants from the lawsuit. Plaintiff subsequently appealed.

On December 14, 2004, the Ninth Circuit held that this Court erred by dismissing the suit under Rooker-Feldman. See Wolfe v. Strankman, 392 F.3d 358, 364 (9th Cir.2004). Specifically, the Ninth Circuit found that Plaintiff's references to his involvement in prior state court actions went to show that Plaintiff had standing, and were not de facto appeals from the decisions in those prior actions. Id. However, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the State of California and the Judicial Council of California on the grounds that they are not "persons" subject to suit under § 1983. Id. at 361. The court further affirmed the dismissal of the Judge Defendants, Justice Strankman, and Chief Justice George in his judicial capacity. Id. Finally, the court reversed the dismissal of Chief Justice George, in his administrative capacity, and Ms. Silva, and remanded to this Court for further proceedings. Id.

On February 8, 2005, Plaintiff filed a First Amended Complaint, in propria persona, on behalf of himself and on behalf of all persons appearing in the courts of California without representation, for Declaratory and Prospective Injunctive Relief. In the First Amended Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that California's Vexatious Litigant Statute, California Code of Civil Procedure §§ 391 et seq., is unconstitutional. On February 23, 2005, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings or, in the alternative, for Declaratory Judgment. On May 6, 2005, Defendants filed a Cross-Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings.

B. Statutory Background.

California's Vexatious Litigant Statute (the "statute") is codified at California Code of Civil Procedure §§ 391 et seq. The statute defines a vexatious litigant as a person who:

(1) In 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 (i) finally determined adversely to the person or (ii) unjustifiably permitted to remain pending at least two years without having been brought to trial or hearing.

(2) After a litigation has been finally determined against the person, repeatedly relitigates or attempts to relitigate, in propria persona, either (i) the validity of the determination against the same defendant or defendants as to whom the litigation was finally determined or (ii) the cause of action, claim, controversy, or any of the issues of fact or law, determined or concluded by the final determination against the same defendant or defendants as to whom the litigation was finally determined.

(3) In any litigation while 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.

(4) Has previously been declared to be a vexatious litigant by any state or federal court of record in any action or proceeding based upon the same or substantially similar facts, transaction, or occurrence.

Cal.Code of Civ. Proc. § 391(b)(1)-(4). Pursuant to the statute, a defendant may move the court to require the pro se plaintiff to provide security if the defendant can make a showing that the plaintiff is a vexatious litigant and that there is not a reasonable probability that the plaintiff will prevail in the litigation against the moving party. See Cal.Code of Civ. Proc. § 391.1. Upon making the requisite findings, the court may then order the plaintiff to provide a security1 that compensates for the reasonable costs and attorney fees of defending the suit. Cal.Code Civ. Proc. §§ 391.1, 391.3. If the plaintiff fails to post the security, the action may be dismissed. Cal.Code Civ. Proc. § 391.4.

Once a plaintiff has been declared a "vexatious litigant" within the meaning of the statute, the court may also enter an order prohibiting that plaintiff from filing new state court litigation absent leave of the presiding judge where the litigation is proposed to be filed. Cal.Code Civ. Proc. § 391.7. This order is referred to as a "prefiling" order. Cal.Code Civ. Proc. § 391.7. After the prefiling order is issued, the presiding judge shall permit the filing of further litigation if it appears that the litigation has merit and has not been filed for the purposes of harassment or delay. Cal.Code of Civ. Proc. § 391.7(b).

A. Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings.

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c), any party may move for judgment on the pleadings at any time after the pleadings are closed but within such time as not to delay the trial. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). "For the purposes of the motion, the allegations of the non-moving party must be accepted as true, while the allegations of the moving party which have been denied are assumed to be false." Hal Roach Studios, Inc. v. Richard Feiner and Co., Inc., 896 F.2d 1542, 1550 (9th Cir.1990). Judgment on the pleadings is proper when the moving party clearly establishes on the face of the pleadings that no material issue of fact remains to be resolved and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Id. When brought by the defendant, a motion for judgment on the pleadings under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) is a "means to challenge the sufficiency of the complaint after an answer has been filed." New.Net, Inc. v. Lavasoft, 356 F.Supp.2d 1090, 1115 (C.D.Cal.2004). A motion for judgment on the pleadings is therefore similar to a motion to dismiss. Id. When the district court must go beyond the pleadings to resolve an issue on a motion for judgment on the pleadings, the proceeding is properly treated as a motion for summary judgment. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c); Bonilla v. Oakland Scavenger Co., 697 F.2d 1297, 1301 (9th Cir.1982).

B. Declaratory Judgment.

28 U.S.C. § 2201 provides that "[i]n a case of actual controversy within its jurisdiction ... any court of the United States, upon the filing of an appropriate pleading, may declare the rights and other legal relations of any interested party seeking such declaration, whether or not further relief is or could be sought. Any such declaration shall have the force and effect of a final judgment or decree and shall be reviewable as such." 28 U.S.C. § 2201.

Declaratory judgment is appropriate where, as here, an injunction is not available because there are no pending state court proceedings. Steffel v. Thompson, 415 U.S. 452, 463, 94 S.Ct. 1209, 39 L.Ed.2d 505 (1974) ("When no state prosecution is pending and the only question is whether declaratory relief is appropriate, the congressional scheme that makes the federal courts the primary guardians of constitutional rights, and the express congressional authorization of declaratory relief, afforded because it is a less harsh and abrasive remedy than the injunction, become the factors of primary significance.")


A. Plaintiff's and Defendants' Cross-Motions for Judgment on the Pleadings.

In his Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, Plaintiff seeks a declaratory judgment from this Court that California's Vexatious Litigant Statute, California Code Civil Procedure §§ 391 et seq., is unconstitutional.2 Plaintiff asserts the following bases for a finding that the Vexatious Litigant Statute is unconstitutional: (1) it violates the First Amendment; (2) it is overbroad; (3) it is vague; (4) it violates the due process clause of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments3; (5) it violates the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment; (6) it violates the double jeopardy clause of the Fifth Amendment; (7) it violates the excessive fines clause of the Eighth Amendment; (8) it is an impermissible ex post facto law or bill of attainder; and (9) it generally conflicts with federal law and violates 42...

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