United States District Court, District of Columbia
ROBERT V. JUSTICE, Plaintiff,
RANDOLPH D. MOSS, District Judge.
On April 24, 2015, Plaintiff Robert V. Justice, acting pro se, filed this suit against the Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service ("IRS") and the Secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation ("CDCR") in their official capacities, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief and a tax refund of $159, 487.00. See Dkt. 1, ¶¶ 1, 2, 3. On April 29, 2015, the Court denied Plaintiff's ex parte motion for a temporary restraining order (Dkt. 2) and granted Plaintiff's motion for an order to show cause why a preliminary injunction should not issue. See Dkt. 3 (Order to Show Cause). The Court also ordered Plaintiff to show cause why this action should not be dismissed for failure to comply with the terms of an order entered by the United States District Court for the Southern District of California in Robert Volney; Justice v. Superior Court of San Diego County, North County Division, Case No. CV 03-1036-J, Dkt. 69 (S.D. Cal. July 22, 2003) (hereinafter "Vexatious Litigant Order"). That order concluded that, in light of Plaintiff's "pattern of behavior... of burdening the courts and litigants with a deluge of frivolous filings, " id. at 8, and his harassment of "public officials and private individuals and corporations involved with [prior] lawsuits, " id. at 10, Plaintiff should be "enjoined from filing any new civil actions in... any... federal court... without first obtaining leave of that court, " id. at 1.
Plaintiff and Defendant United States have now filed their responses (Dkts. 5, 9). Given the nature of the issues presented for decision, the Court finds in the exercise of its discretion that the pending motions can and should be decided on the papers without hearing live testimony or oral argument. See LCvR 65.1(d). For the reasons stated below, the Court further concludes that the Vexatious Litigant Order applies to this action and that Plaintiff has failed to comply with its clear terms. Although there is a strong policy in favor of affording pro se litigants access to the courts, see In re Powell, 851 F.2d 427, 430 (D.C. Cir. 1988), pro se parties, like all litigants, must comply with binding court orders. Here, requiring compliance with the Vexatious Litigant Order will not deprive Plaintiff of access to the courts; he remains free, with leave of the court, to pursue any non-frivolous claim in accordance with the terms of the Vexatious Litigant Order, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and the court's local rules. The action is, accordingly, DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE, and the motion for a preliminary injunction is DENIED AS MOOT.
A. The Vexatious Litigant Order
For well over a decade, Plaintiff has been an active pro se litigant in the state and federal courts. On July 22, 2003, a district court in the Southern District of California deemed Plaintiff a vexatious litigant. See Vexatious Litigant Order at 1. As that court explained, Plaintiff had been involved in multiple state court actions related to the probate of his mother's estate. Id. at 8-10. In the course of those actions, Plaintiff made frivolous and harassing filings, including multiple meritless requests for temporary or preliminary injunctive relief. Id. For example, he "brazenly attached copies of liens to the residential property of two public officials, " id. at 10, and he brought an action in which he "alleged but did not effect personal service of process, " id. at 9, thereby obtaining a default judgment and writ of possession, which were later vacated, id.
The district court determined that Plaintiff "exhibited a pattern of behavior in state court and now in federal court of burdening the courts and litigants with a deluge of frivolous filings in multiple actions." Id. at 8. It found that his claims were frivolous, id. at 10, and that his behavior evinced an "intent to harass the public officials involved in the probate case as well as the private individuals and corporations involved in carrying out the court's orders, " id. at 10. Accordingly, it declared Plaintiff a vexatious litigant and enjoined him "from filing any new civil actions in this or any other federal court of the United States without first obtaining leave of that court pursuant to the terms of... this Order, " id. at 1, 10-12. The terms of the Vexatious Litigant Order include, inter alia, the requirement that Plaintiff submit a sworn affidavit or declaration that his complaint raises a new issue not previously raised by Plaintiff in a state or federal court, that his claim is well-grounded in fact and law and not frivolous, and that he will comply with applicable rules in prosecuting his complaint. Id. at 10-12.
The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed. See Volney v. Superior Court of San Diego, 114 Fed.App'x 944 (2004) (per curiam) (nonprecedential). It held that "[t]he district court did not abuse its discretion by entering the vexatious litigant order against [Plaintiff] because the court provided [him] notice and an opportunity to be heard before entering the order, identified numerous frivolous filings by [Plaintiff], and the district court's order is narrowly tailored to prevent infringement on [his] right of access to the courts." Id. at 945.
Four years later, Plaintiff filed a Rule 60(b)(5) motion seeking to dissolve the vexatious litigant order. See 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 69289 (S.D. Cal. Sept. 19, 2007). Plaintiff argued that he had complied with the order's terms and had refrained from filing "unmeritorious motions or actions." Id. at *5-6. The district court denied his motion, id. at *10-12, citing Plaintiff's continued "litigious activities" in the California state courts, where he had similarly been declared a vexatious litigant, and his failure to disclose those activities to the district court, see id. The district court also observed that "the terms of the injunction do not deny Plaintiff access to the federal courts, so long as he abides by the procedures detailed in the injunction, " and concluded that, since "Plaintiff asserts that he has mended his ways and will no longer file frivolous actions, Plaintiff should have no difficulty satisfying the injunction's requirements that he seek leave of the Court before filing new actions and certify that such actions are not frivolous." Id. at *11-12.
The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit again affirmed. See Justice v. Superior Court of Cal., 341 Fed.App'x 294, 295 (July 7, 2009) (per curiam) ("[Plaintiff] has not demonstrated any significant change either in factual conditions or in law, nor has he demonstrated that any changed circumstances have made his compliance substantially more onerous, unworkable because of unforeseen obstacles, detrimental to the public interest, or legally impermissible.").
B. The Present Action
This action arises out of a dispute over Plaintiff's federal taxes. Plaintiff alleges that the IRS failed to pay him a refund of $159, 487.00 for tax year 2011 because Plaintiff's employer, CDCR, failed to turn over $57, 840.00 in payroll taxes. See Dkt. 2 at 4, 6. Subsequently, CDCR informed Plaintiff that the IRS sought to levy an amount totaling $116, 456.54 from Plaintiff's salary for deficiencies relating to the 1999, 2001, and 2010 tax years. See Dkt. 2 at 4 & Ex. D (Jan. 30, 2015, letter). Pursuant to the notice of levy, CDCR allegedly withheld $15, 678.85 from each of Plaintiff's February and March paychecks and will continue to withhold a similar amount until the total amount due is paid. See Dkt. 2 at 7. According to Plaintiff, the IRS levy leaves him a monthly salary of $522.94, which he contends is insufficient to meet basic living expenses. See Declaration of Robert V. Justice ¶ 10 ("I need my full salary or I am on the street and this case is over before it even gets started").
On April 24, 2015, Plaintiff filed his complaint (Dkt. 1) and Ex Parte Application for Temporary Restraining Order and Issuance of Order to Show Cause Regarding Preliminary Injunction (Dkt. 2). Plaintiff did not notify the Court of the Vexatious Litigant Order entered in the Southern District of California or comply with its terms prior to filing the complaint.
Plaintiff seeks declaratory, injunctive, and monetary relief, including a declaration that the levy relating to the pre-2011 tax years is "illegal, invalid, void and unenforceable, " Compl. ¶ 1, and an order directing the IRS to pay him a "tax refund for 2011 in the amount of $159, 487.00, " Compl. ¶ 2, barring the IRS "from collecting any taxes for 2011 and prior years... because those years have been closed out and are no longer an issue due to estoppel, " Compl. ¶ 3, requiring CDCR and IRS to return the amounts levied against his salary in 2015, Compl. ¶¶ 4-6, and requiring CDCR to "immediately turnover" to the IRS the $57, 840.00 in "unpaid federal payroll taxes for 2011, " Compl. ¶ 8. Finally, Plaintiff seeks a temporary, preliminary and permanent injunction restraining Defendants "from collecting or attempting to collect from ...