Monday, August 04, 2014

Ringgold-Lockhart v. County of Los Angeles (9th Cir. - Aug. 4, 2014)

With all due respect to Judge Berzon, my personal view is that this opinion substantially understates the necessity of prefiling orders as a means of combating vexatious litigation.

Nina Ringgold is an attorney.  She's also been declared a vexatious litigant in California state courts.  A finding that's more than well-established given her history.  (I'll not link to the plethora of findings that concern Ms. Ringgold's conduct in state court.  But if you want to get a flavor for Ms. Ringgold, just google "Ringgold Vexatious Litigant" and read the results.  Wow.)

Ms. Ringgold extends her litigation to federal court, and the federal district court reviews her history and declares her a vexatious litigant and imposes a similar prefiling requirement.

The Ninth Circuit reverses.

Judge Berzon's opinion clearly reflects a legitimate concern with generally keeping courts open to litigants.  But we probably differ a bit on how that (entirely proper) interest is balanced against the harassment, and resulting harm to third party interests, that results from vexatious litigation.  And Judge Berzon's belief that the availability of Rule 11 sanctions may substantially solve the problem of vexatious litigation both overstates the utility of Rule 11, IMHO, and is particularly inapt with respect to Ms. Ringgold, as this opinion -- which describes Ms. Ringgold's conduct in paying prior sanctions that were imposed upon her in state court -- amply demonstrates.

One difference between Judge Berzon's view and mine may result from one of us being a little bit more intimately familiar with the consequences of vexatious litigation.  I also can't help but wonder whether the source of the particular order at issue here -- which was entered by Judge Real -- didn't come into play here.

I know that Judge Berzon remanded the case, and that it's possible that a more narrowly tailored (or factually supported) order might survive on remand.  I hope that's in fact what happens.

But in the meantime, more harm transpires.  Harm that I'd take at least a bit more seriously than I think is reflected in this opinion.

P.S. - I have a much greater problem with the State Bar of California. Which has apparently seen fit to keep Ms. Ringgold's disciplinary record spotless notwithstanding the numerous opinions with respect to her conduct.  Seriously?