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U.S. Bank National Association v. Poblete

United States District Court, District of Columbia

October 19, 2017

U.S. BANK NATIONAL ASSOCIATION, Plaintiff,
v.
LUIS IVAN POBLETE, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          BERYL A. HOWELL, CHIEF JUDGE.

         The defendant, Luis Ivan Poblete, lost his title to commercial real property located at 1921 Rosedale Street N.E., Washington, D.C. (the “Property”), through a foreclosure action in 2010 by the plaintiff, U.S. Bank National Association, but Poblete has continued to engage in actions designed to cloud title to his former property, in violation of a clear and unambiguous order entered in this case to cease such activity. See Order, dated Feb. 14, 2017, at 2, ECF No. 51 (“Feb. 2017 Order”) (enjoining “Poblete and any persons or entities acting at his behest” from, inter alia, “(1) recording or attempting to record any documents relating to the real property located at 1921 Rosedale Street N.E., Washington, D.C. (the ‘Property') with the District of Columbia Recorder of Deeds or any other governmental body that would accept such documents, (2) making any claim whatsoever to any right, title or interest in the Property, including any claim to possession, (3) entering the Property, and (4) interfering with the right of the plaintiff and/or its successors in interest to quiet enjoyment of the Property”). The plaintiff now moves to hold Poblete in civil contempt, Pl.'s Mot. Civ. Contempt (“Mot. Contempt”), ECF No. 63, which sanction is expressly authorized for a “disobedient party” under Rule 70(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Upon consideration of the plaintiff's motion and accompanying exhibits, Poblete's persistent history over a period of years of challenging plaintiff's title to the Property, see U.S. Bank N.A. v. Poblete, No. 15-cv-312 (BAH), 2016 WL 1089217, at **1-4 (D.D.C. Mar. 18, 2016) (describing Poblete's actions prompting multiple lawsuits to clear title to the Property), as well as the Poblete's obfuscating response to the instant motion, and the record as a whole, the motion is granted.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The factual and procedural background of Poblete's efforts to retain title to the Property has been exhaustively summarized in prior decisions and will not be repeated here. See generally U.S. Bank N.A. v. Poblete, No. 15-cv-312 (BAH), 2017 WL 598471 (D.D.C. Feb. 14, 2017); Poblete, 2016 WL 1089217. Pertinent to the instant motion, the order entered on February 14, 2017, against all defendants became final on April 6, 2017. See Order, dated Apr. 6, 2017, ECF No. 58. As noted, this February 2017 Order enjoined the defendants from recording documents with the District of Columbia Recorder of Deeds relating to the Property or from making a claim of any interest in the Property. Feb. 2017 Order at 2.

         Notwithstanding the Court's February 2017 Order, on April 12, 2017, Poblete caused a document styled as a “UCC Financing Statement” bearing “Doc. # 2017040352” to be recorded with the Recorder of Deeds. Mot. Contempt, Ex. 1, UCC Financing Statement (“Financing Statement”), ECF No. 63-1. The Financing Statement purported to provide “public notice by Grantor [that] he is the FREE and CLEAR owner and holder of all rights, title, [and] interest” in the property, identifying the “Grantor” as a “he” and asserting that “LUIS IVAN POBLETE TRUST EIN#98-6084XX has COLLATERAL INVERSTMENT [sic] OF $300, 000.00” in the property and was a secured creditor with respect to the property. Id. at 1.

         On April 13, 2017, the plaintiff's counsel, Aaron D. Neal, contacted Poblete via mail and email to remind Poblete of his obligations under the February 2017 Order and demand that Poblete terminate the Financing Statement. Mot. Contempt, Ex. 2, Letter from Plaintiff's Counsel to Poblete (Apr. 13, 2017) at 1, ECF No. 63-2; Mot. Contempt, Ex. 3, Email Exchange Between Plaintiff's Counsel and Poblete at 2-3, ECF No. 63-3. On May 16, 2017, the plaintiff's counsel contacted Poblete by email once again to demand that Poblete terminate the Financing Statement. Id. at 1. The plaintiff's counsel received a response, sent from Poblete's email address, from a person purporting to be Poblete's assistant, indicating that Poblete would respond by certified mail. Id.

         On May 23, 2017, the plaintiff moved for an order to show cause why the defendants should not be held in civil contempt, Mot. Contempt, which motion was granted on June 1, 2017, Minute Order, dated June 1, 2017 (“Show-Cause Order”). On June 12, 2017, Poblete filed a “Response to Order Dated 1 June 2017, ” stating the following two sentences: “COMES NOW, Poblete, Luis Ivan, a Private American National citizen of the united [sic] States of America who privately resides in a privately domicile outside of a Federal District in a non-military private estate located outside a Federal District not subject to the jurisdiction of the ‘United States'. I am an American and not a Corporation.” Defs.' Resp. Show-Cause Order at 1 (“Defs.' Resp.”), ECF No. 64. This filing had two attachments purporting to be a claim against the plaintiff's counsel for “Denial of Rights Under Color of Law, ” id., Ex. A, ECF No. 64, and a “Sworn Affidavit of Fact Conditional Acceptance of Proof of Claim, ” id., Ex. B, ECF No. 64, neither of which addressed the Show-Cause Order.[1]

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         To enforce a judgment for a specific act, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 70(e) provides that a court may hold a disobedient party in contempt. Fed.R.Civ.P. 70(e). “In addition to sanctions contemplated by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, courts have an inherent power at common law . . . to ‘protect their institutional integrity and to guard against abuses of the judicial process with contempt citations, fines, awards of attorneys' fees, and such other orders and sanctions as they find necessary, including even dismissals and default judgments.'” Parsi v. Daioleslam, 778 F.3d 116, 130 (D.C. Cir. 2015) (quoting Shepherd v. Am. Broadcasting Cos., Inc., 62 F.3d 1469, 1472 (D.C. Cir. 1995) and citing Chambers v. NASCO, Inc., 501 U.S. 32, 44 (1991)); see also Armstrong v. Exec. Office of the President, Office of Admin., 1 F.3d 1274, 1289 (D.C. Cir. 1993) (“[C]ourts have inherent power to enforce compliance with their lawful orders through civil contempt.” (quoting Shillitani v. United States, 384 U.S. 364, 370 (1966))).

         “Civil contempt will lie only if the putative contemnor has violated an order that is clear and unambiguous, and the violation must be proved by clear and convincing evidence.” Broderick v. Donaldson, 437 F.3d 1226, 1234 (D.C. Cir. 2006) (quoting Armstrong, 1 F.3d at 1289) (alterations omitted); Salazar v. District of Columbia, 602 F.3d 431, 442 (D.C. Cir. 2010) (noting that “‘judicial contempt power is a potent weapon'” and, consequently, “[c]ivil contempt may be imposed only when the underlying order is clear and unambiguous.” (quoting Int'l Longshoremen's Ass'n v. Phila. Marine Trade Ass'n, 389 U.S. 64, 76 (1967))). “In the context of civil contempt, the clear and convincing standard requires a quantum of proof adequate to demonstrate a ‘reasonable certainty' that a violation occurred.” Breen v. Tucker, 821 F.Supp.2d 375, 383 (D.D.C. 2011) (quoting SEC v. Bilzerian, 729 F.Supp.2d 1, 4 (D.D.C. 2010) (quoting Levin v. Tiber Holding Corp., 277 F.3d 243, 250 (2d Cir. 2002))). The “party seeking to hold another in contempt faces a heavy burden . . . .” United States v. Volvo Powertrain Corp., 758 F.3d 330, 338 (D.C. Cir. 2014) (quotations and citations omitted).

         III. DISCUSSION

         To carry the burden of showing that the defendants should be held in contempt, the plaintiff must show, by clear and convincing evidence, that the defendants violated an order that was clear and unambiguous. The plaintiff here has met this burden.

         First, the February 2017 Order was clear and unambiguous. This order expressly enjoined “Poblete . . . from (1) recording or attempting to record any documents relating to [the Property] with the District of Columbia Recorder of Deeds or any other governmental body that would accept such documents, (2) making any claim whatsoever to any right, title or interest in the Property, including any claim to possession.” Feb. 2017 Order at 2. Second, the plaintiff has presented clear and convincing evidence that Poblete violated this order by recording the Financing Statement, which identified the “Luis Ivan Poblete Trust” as secured party with respect to the Property, Financing Statement at 1, with the District of Columbia Recorder of Deeds.

         When given an opportunity and ample time to explain this violation of and noncompliance with the February 2017 Order, Poblete provided no excuse or justification but instead chose to obfuscate. See SEC v. Bilzerian, 112 F.Supp.2d 12, 16 (D.D.C. 2000) (“Once the [movant] has made a prima facie showing that [the contemnor] did not comply with the Court's orders, the burden shifts to [the contemnor] to produce evidence justifying his noncompliance.”). Poblete thus acted in blatant contempt of the February 2017 Order, thereby compounding his actions ...


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