Thursday, May 03, 2007

Canatella v. Van de Kamp (9th Cir. - May 3, 2007)

It's always neat when an opinion is both doctrinally as well as intellectually interesting. As is this one.

Doctrine first. It's a statute of limitations case regarding when a cause of action persists (and accrues) under Section 1983. For that reason, there's a large Erie component, and Judge Bybee does an excellent job parsing out the various areas in which federal law governs and in which, by contrast, the federal courts will follow California law. It's smart. It seems exactly right. And in an area that's hardly a cakewalk. The lawsuit's dismissed on statute of limitations grounds by the district court, and Judge Bybee rightly affirms. Good job.

Atmospherics second (though they assuredly relate to the merits). It's a case brought by a California lawyer, Richard A. Canatella. That is essentially all about precisely the link I just inserted. Cantanella's suing the State Bar of California over putting his disciplinary record, and a summary of the underlying offenses, online. He says that this violates his rights to privacy, due process, equal protection, green cheese, and a variety of other critical constitutional liberties. (You get a sense, by the way, of my view of the merits of this action.)

Why, you might ask, would Canatella be sufficiently excited about the matter to file such a suit? Listen to what the summary says (according to Judge Bybee) and you'll see why: "Canatella stipulated to filing numerous frivolous actions in courts in San Mateo, San Francisco, and Santa Clara county courts, as well as in the California Court of Appeal and federal district and appeals courts. . . . Sanctions were ordered against him or his clients 37 times. Courts repeatedly found him responsible for frivolous, meritless and vexatious actions. Sanctions totaled more than $18,000 in one matter, and the opposing parties were granted all fees and costs in another. In one case, a federal judge said, 'This complaint is a paradigm for "frivolous."' Wrote another federal jurist: 'Plaintiff’s repeated attempt to challenge the sanctions and judgments . . . in the face of clear authority that his claim is frivolous evidences his bad faith and wrongful purpose.'"

You'd probably freak out too if that's what they said about you. Mind you, Cantanella offers the following defense (?) of his conduct in his second amended complaint, and alleges that he was not actually sanctioned 37 times, but was instead "investigated" for 47 "purported sanction orders" over a nine year period and was sanctioned on at least 26 "separate" occasions by federal and state courts between 1989 and 1998. Once you hear that, by the way, do you think the judges have a pretty good sense regarding whether Cantanella's a particularly sympathetic figure? Or, perhaps, think -- shockingly -- that a person sanctioned this pervasively is precisely the type of person who would file the present action?

What's perhaps even more shocking about this lawsuit is not that Cantanella lost (as he should), but rather that he felt it a good idea to file the thing in the first place. Totally ignore transaction costs (and, in my view, the very real risk of being sanctioned yet again). What's he thinking he will accomplish? He ain't going to win; in my view, that's pretty clear. The only thing he's going to do is precisely what transpired: create a published opinion that disseminates still further his disciplinary record, and that ensures that the description of his stellar performance is forever enshrined in the Federal Reporter. That way anyone who does a search on Lexis and Westlaw gets to see the same stuff that he's trying to bury -- just in case they missed it in either a Google search or in the monthly disciplinary reports.

Great idea. Totally worked. Brilliant.

Admittedly, given his history, perhaps it's not too suprising to see Cantanella make a decision in civil litigation that some might view as, well, let's just say, less than rational. I'm quite certain it wasn't his first ill-considered move, nor will it likely be his last. Which any client who's thinking about hiring the guy might well be advised to seriously consider.

P.S. - This isn't the only Ninth Circuit appeal involving Cantanella. Read this post, which I published back in 2005, which related to Cantanella's continuing fights against the State Bar. Or the Ninth Circuit opinion back in 2002 (referred to in this case) involving Cantanella, the State Bar, and Younger abstention. Classy.