Ringgold-Lockhart v. County of Los Angeles

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Civil Procedure
  • Date Filed: 08-04-2014
  • Case #: 11-57231
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Berzon for the Court; Circuit Judges Pregerson and Christen
  • Full Text Opinion

A district court errors in imposing pre-filing restrictions when it only relies on an individual’s actions in two lawsuits and fails to consider less restrictive sanctions.

Nina Ringgold and her son Justin Ringgold-Lockhart appealed a vexatious litigant order. Ringgold was a trustee of the Aubry Family Trust (the "Trust") until the Los Angeles Probate Court "replaced her with a new trustee." Ringgold-Lockhart is an alleged beneficiary of the Trust. "Ringgold challenged her removal in state court, lost, and was declared a vexatious litigant by the state courts." Ringgold and Ringgold-Lockhart (together, "the Ringgolds") then filed suit in district court. The district court dismissed their claims and entered a tentative vexatious litigant order. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit reviewed the order for abuse of discretion. The panel recognized that federal courts can impose restrictive orders on abusive litigants, but "only if courts comply with certain procedural and substantive requirements." To impose pre-filing restrictions, district courts must: (1) "provide notice and an opportunity to be heard"; (2) "compile an adequate record for review" that includes "a listing of all the cases and motions" that conclude a vexatious litigant order was necessary; (3) "make substantive findings of frivolousness or harassment"; and (4) narrowly tailor the order to fit the wrongful behavior. The panel found the district court fulfilled the first and second requirements because the tentative order provided the Ringgolds "two weeks to argue against a final order and set the matter for a hearing," and the district court "discussed and explained the litigation history leading to its order." However, the panel found the district court primarily based its order on Nina Ringgolds’ actions in only two federal lawsuits to establish a pattern of frivolousness, and broadly worded the order, thus failing to fulfill the third and fourth requirements. The panel therefore vacated the vexatious litigant order and remanded for further proceedings. VACATED and REMANDED.

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