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serial litigants

Upland, Calif.: “A California family is stumped about what to do with a live-in nanny they say refuses to work, refuses to be fired and refuses to leave. In fact, Marcella Bracamonte claims that the nanny, Diane Stretton, has threatened to sue the family for wrongful firing and elder abuse.” Stretton’s hiring agreement with the Bracamontes entitles her to room and board as part of her compensation, but she now indicates that she is suffering a disability and stays mostly in her room, the couple says. After the dispute arose the Bracamontes discovered that Stretton is on the state vexatious-litigants list and has been involved in at least 36 lawsuits; police say because Stretton is in residence it is a civil matter, but a judge threw out the couple’s initial eviction attempt, saying they had not filled out a quit notice correctly. [ABC News, auto-plays video ad; CBS Los Angeles] In September of last year, whether coincidentally or not, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law the so-called California Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights, affording domestic workers substantially more legal leverage in disputes with their employers. [SCPR] (& Scott Greenfield, with commenters)

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June 26 roundup

by Walter Olson on June 26, 2014

  • Court slaps “nightmare” Sacramento litigant Raj Singh with sanctions [KXTV, auto-plays, earlier]
  • Child overprotection: “I don’t think they even drink liquid soap, the gateway drug for sunscreen.” [Lenore Skenazy, Free-Range Kids]
  • Three-fer: personal injury, qui tam lawsuits against guardrail maker coordinated by disappointed patent litigant [Insurance Journal]
  • Donald Trump hit with sanctions in lawsuit for not disclosing insurance policy [South Florida Business Journal, our Trump coverage]
  • On AirBnB and sharing services, it’s lefty economist Dean Baker (con) vs. David Henderson (pro). Go David! [EconLib] London black cabs seek level playing field with Uber. Good idea, let’s deregulate ‘em both [Matthew Feeney, Cato]
  • Waffle House chairman claims attorneys committed extortion in ex-housekeeper’s sex lawsuit [Atlanta Journal-Constitution]
  • “Tenth Circuit Says No to ‘Death by Discovery’ in Dispute over Agreement to Arbitrate in Class Action” [Lars Fuller, Class Action Blawg on Howard v. Ferrellgas Partners LP]

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The defendant in the Duluth doctor-rating defamation case that we recounted here and here “told the Star Tribune he spent the equivalent of two years’ income, some of which he had to borrow from relatives who supplied the money by raiding their retirement funds.” The Minnesota Supreme Court eventually ruled that his comments were protected opinion. The doctor/plaintiff, for his part, spent $60,000 pursuing the suit. [Twin Cities Business]

The same article, a “Lawsuits of the Year 2013″ feature, also recounts how a couple under the influence of “sovereign citizen” teachings “filed more than $250 billion in liens, and other claims, against those they considered the cause of their problems, including [Hennepin County Sheriff Rich] Stanek, county attorneys and other court officials. The liens were filed against vehicles, houses and even mineral rights.” When Stanek went to refinance his property, he discovered he had been hit with $25 million in liens which took “several years” to remove entirely. The husband of the couple was sent to prison.

A big source of frivolous litigation these days, the “sovereign citizen” cult originated on the political right but has now spread more widely [Lorelei Laird, ABA Journal]:

When involved in any legal matter, from pet licensing to serious criminal charges, sovereigns are known for filing legal-sounding gibberish, usually pro se, learned from other sovereigns who sell lessons in “law” online. Frequently, they cite the Uniform Commercial Code, maritime law and the Bible.

They’re also known for the sheer volume of their filings, which can double the size of a normal docket. …

Some sovereigns hold trials in their own “common-law courts,” convicting public officials in absentia and sentencing them to death for “treason.” …Sovereigns sometimes say they are subject only to “God’s law” or to “common law,” meaning the U.S. legal system as they believe it existed before the conspiracy. They may declare themselves independent nations, join fictional American Indian tribes or attempt to create a replacement government within the sovereign community.

Don’t assume that public officials and public employees are the only ones swept in:

The Atta family locked up their Temecula, Calif., home and went on vacation in 2012. While they were gone, Victor Cheng moved in.

Cheng had owned the home before the Attas, but he lost it in foreclosure. Nonetheless, he filed a fraudulent deed with the county recorder’s office, transferred the utilities into his name and even tried to evict the Attas after their return. During his prosecution for burglary, trespassing and filing a false document, he insisted that he was not the person being prosecuted because the indictment spelled his name in all capital letters.

Full story here.

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Over “incessant filing of frivolous lawsuits.” [Lowering the Bar, opinion in Conrad v. AM Community Credit Union et al. (PDF)]

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Getting placed on the vexatious-litigants list might not actually slow you down all that much in the pace of your suit-filing. A frequent Sacramento litigant has been on the list since 2003 but nonetheless obtains fee waivers by pleading poverty even as property is held in trust or in his wife’s name, uses variations of his name that throw adversaries off the track, and, according to an opponent, gets around a ban on pro se filing by using a lawyer to file and then substituting himself as counsel. [KXTV (auto-plays), ABA Journal]

Meet the lawyer who sued the Fort Lauderdale Bridge Club in a dispute over its having ended his membership. The club proceeded to declare bankruptcy under his courtroom onslaught: “Since then there have been more than 600 docket entries in the bankruptcy case as Rosen pursued numerous motions and litigation.” [Joe Patrice/Above the Law, Daily Business Report]

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“The man who sued the Dominican Republic because it rained during his vacation has been labeled a ‘quarrelsome litigant’ by a Quebec judge. … Court of Quebec Justice Diane Quenneville ruled last month that ‘the court has no hesitation to conclude that Leduc is abusing the justice system.’” [QMI/Canoe.ca]

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“Mr. Smith says he is simply trying to get the truth out about New York’s powerful. … But I came to believe that his intent could well be to tell fanciful stories in hopes of drawing media attention to extract settlement payments in his lawsuits.” [Andrew Ross Sorkin, New York Times]

April 11 roundup

by Walter Olson on April 11, 2013

  • More on Maryland cyber-bullying law vs. First Amendment [Mike Masnick/TechDirt, and thanks for quote; earlier here, here]
  • Family of Trayvon Martin settles with homeowners’ association for an amount believed north of $1 million [Orlando Sentinel, earlier]
  • Best of the recent crop of commentaries on violent political terrorists of 1960s landing plum academic gigs [Michael Moynihan, Daily Beast, earlier]
  • First the New Mexico photographer case, now attorney general of Washington sues florist for not serving gay wedding [Seattle Times; earlier on Elane Photography v. Willock]
  • “‘Vexatious litigator’ is suspect in courthouse bomb threats in five states” [ABA Journal]
  • Cannon, meet moth: Ken instructs a guy at WorldNetDaily why hurt feelings don’t equal fascism [Popehat] “The Trick In Dealing With Government: Find The Grown-Up In The Room” [same]
  • A true gentleman and friend: R.I.P. veteran New York editor and publisher Truman Talley, “Mac,” who published many a standard author from Ian Fleming to Jack Kerouac to Rachel Carson to Isaac Asimov and late in his illustrious career took a flyer on a complete novice in the books that became The Litigation Explosion and The Rule of Lawyers [NYT/Legacy]

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Torts roundup

by Walter Olson on March 6, 2013

  • Despite sparseness of evidence, lawyers hope to pin liability on hotel for double murder of guests [Tennessean]
  • Celebrated repeat litigant Patricia Alice McColm sentenced after felony conviction for filing false documents in Trinity County, Calif. [Trinity Journal, more, Justia, earlier] Idaho woman challenges vexatious-litigant statute [KBOI]
  • “2 Florida Moms Sentenced for Staged Accident Insurance Fraud” [Insurance Journal, earlier]
  • With Arkansas high court intent on striking down liability changes, advocates consider going the constitutional amendment route [TortsProf] Fifth Circuit upholds Mississippi damages caps [PoL]
  • What states have been doing lately on litigation reform [Andrew Cook, Fed Soc] Illinois lawmakers’ proposals [Madison-St. Clair Record] Head of Florida Chamber argues for state legal changes [Tampa Tribune]
  • Crowd of defendants: “Ky. couple names 124 defendants in asbestos suit” [WV Record]
  • A bad habit of Louisiana courts: “permitting huge recoveries without proof of injury” [Eric Alexander, Drug and Device Law]

New York Post:

Wheelchair-riding Linda Slone, 64, is suing 39 shops in her neighborhood for not being handicapped-accessible.

The legal crusade is netting her thousands, but Slone, who cannot walk because of polio, insists she is simply championing the rights of the disabled.

“If you think this is a money-making scheme, you’re dead wrong,” said Slone, a speech pathologist.

The Florida-based Weitz Law Firm, which represents Slone, “also represents Zoltan Hirsch, a Brooklyn double amputee who The Post revealed last year filed 147 suits citing the Americans with Disabilities Act.”

Scott Greenfield wonders what the brownstones of Columbus Avenue will look like by the time the shopowners and landlords somehow manage to completely ADA-proof them.

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Canada: “It started with a car crash in 1988 that sparked a court case and, last month, three judges suggested it was time to end; in between, Ural Direk launched more than 120 lawsuits, filed thousands of pages of documents, filled a trailer full of evidence, sought secret hearings to unveil dark campaigns against him, and linked the outcome of his cases to a Jewish conspiracy.” Mr. Direk prevailed in his original lawsuit, but considered the $34,984 damages awarded unsatisfactory and filed a losing appeal whose ramifications have continued to this day. A judicial panel has now recommended that he be declared a vexatious litigant. [National Post]

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Durable as a matter of folk law though carrying no weight at all within most courts as actually constituted, various widely circulated theories (“free man,” “sovereign citizen,” etc.) purport to establish a right of litigants to escape courts’ ordinary jurisdiction; sometimes it’s also alleged that tax laws and other longstanding enactments are flawed and of no binding effect. Last month a Canadian jurist by the name of J.D. Rooke handed down an opinion anatomizing different varieties of “Organized Pseudolegal Commercial Argument” ["OPCA"] seized on as a basis for vexatious litigation [Meads vs. Meads, Court of Queen's Bench of Alberta, Sept. 18]

P.S. A glimpse of the “sovereign citizen” scene in the U.S., h/t Lowering the Bar.

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Free speech roundup

by Walter Olson on May 25, 2012

  • Boilermaker union president resorts to litigation against satirical site [Levy; another case on demands for disclosure of anonymous commenters] More on ghastly NY bill to strip protection from anonymous online speech [David Kravets/Wired, Daily Caller, my take]
  • Defending people like Aaron Worthing and Patterico shouldn’t be a left-right matter [Popehat, Tapscott/Examiner, earlier] Maryland and indeed all states need stronger statutory protection against vexatious litigants [Ace of Spades] And as a longtime Charles Schwab customer I was at first distressed to find the Schwab Charitable Fund on this list, but since the fund is billed as “donor-advised” I take it some Schwab customer rather than the company itself got to choose the beneficiary;
  • “Indonesia Prosecution for Posting ‘God Doesn’t Exist’ on Facebook” [Volokh] Curious to see an argument for Euro-style hate speech laws appearing on the Liberty and Law site [David Conway]
  • “Cyberbullying and Bullying Used As Pretexts for Censorship” [Bader]
  • “EEOC: Wearing Confederate Flag T-Shirts May Be ‘Hostile Work Environment Harassment’” [Volokh, more, Bader]
  • Video on new freedom of assembly book [FedSoc]
  • Maybe Citizens United turned out so badly for the speech-suppressive side because a government lawyer was imprudently candid before the Court [Jacob Sullum, earlier on Toobin New Yorker piece]

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May 18 roundup

by Walter Olson on May 18, 2012

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March 23 roundup

by Walter Olson on March 23, 2012

  • Tips for those facing vexatious-litigant proceedings [Lowering the Bar; U.K.]
  • Credit card arbitration: “Plaintiffs’ lawyers protect their cartel by bringing antitrust suit” [Ted Frank, PoL]
  • Just what European business needs: gender quotas for corporate boards [Bader, CEI]
  • “Food sovereignty” movement: next, rediscovering freedom of contract? [Alex Beam, Ira Stoll]
  • Much-assailed group for state legislators: “ALEC Enjoys A New Wave of Influence and Criticism” [Alan Greenblatt, Governing]
  • Symposium on David Bernstein’s Rehabilitating Lochner [Law and Liberty, earlier here and here]
  • Because rent control is all about fairness [Damon Root]

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In southern California’s sprawling Orange County (population 3 million), 77 people have been placed on the courts’ vexatious litigant list, but it’s not an easy matter to get someone on. “A Huntington Beach woman recently filed 47 lawsuits in a matter of months against various agencies including the city, the District Attorney’s Office and the Orange County Sheriff’s Department…. She sued Huntington Beach saying she wants more plants near parking lots.” [Orange County Register]