United States District Court, District of Columbia
STEVEN H. HALL, Plaintiff,
KEVIN MCALEENAN, et al., Defendants.
E. BOASBERG UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Steven Hall has filed a flood of pro se suits
against Defendant Rosemary Dettling - his former attorney -
as well as other parties, all arising from an employment
dispute he had with the Department of Homeland Security.
Undeterred by repeated dismissals of his claims, as well as
warnings that sanctions would ensue should he continue filing
suits, Hall has persisted in initiating claims against
Dettling and others. She now seeks a pre-filing injunction
against him, arguing that his suits are harassing and
frivolous. Agreeing, the Court will issue such an injunction,
barring Plaintiff from filing further actions about this
issue without prior leave of this Court.
has filed approximately nine cases in this Court and four in
the D.C. Superior Court regarding his dispute with DHS and
Dettling. See Hall v. Nielsen (Nielsen V),
No. 19-1013; Hall v. Nielsen (Nielsen IV),
No. 18-1548; Hall v. Nielsen (Nielsen III),
No. 18-1283; Hall v. Nielsen (Nielsen II),
the current suit, No. 18-461; Hall v. Nielsen
(Nielsen I), No. 18-444; Hall v. EEOC
(EEOC), 17-1469; Hall v. DOC
(DOC), No. 16-1619; Hall v. DHS
(DHS), No. 16-1471; Hall v. DOL
(DOL), No. 16-846; Hall v. Pohlman
(Pohlman), Super. Ct. No. 19-1102; Hall v.
Dettling (Dettling III), Super. Ct. No. 19-965;
Hall v. Dettling (Dettling II), Super. Ct.
No. 19-791; Hall v. Dettling (Dettling I),
Super. Ct. No. 16-9316. Hall himself estimates that he has
filed 40 suits and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
complaints regarding these same basic facts. See Nielsen
V, ECF No. 1 (Compl.) at 20.
vendetta against Dettling began in 2015. He retained her to
represent him in his employment-discrimination dispute, which
arose out of his suspension and ultimate termination by DHS.
See Nielsen II, ECF No. 20 (Mot. to Dismiss), Exh. 1
(Dettling I (Sup. Ct. Op. Mar. 20, 2017));
Nielsen II, 2019 WL 1116911, at *1 (D.D.C. Mar. 11,
2019). Hall, with Dettling as counsel, initially contested
his DHS termination in front of the Merit Systems Protection
Board. During that process, Dettling advised him to accept a
settlement agreement with DHS, and Hall did so on November
23, 2015. DHS, ECF No. 1 (Compl.), Exh. D (Misc.
Papers) at 51-55; Dettling I at 2. After settling,
however, he promptly got cold feet and revoked the settlement
the next day. Dettling I at 2. A few days later, he
fired Defendant as counsel. See DHS, Compl., Exh. J
(Email Messages) at 120. Plaintiff, however, then had another
change of heart, telling the MSPB Judge that he intended to
rescind the revocation and that he would like to accept the
settlement after all. See Dettling I at 2. As a
result, Plaintiff was permitted to enter into the settlement
agreement on December 1, 2015, and he thereby received a
total of $55, 000. See Nielsen II, 2019 WL 250972,
at *1 (D.D.C. Jan. 17, 2019).
later, he again reversed course and decided he wanted out. On
January 2, 2016, Hall petitioned the MSPB to review the
settlement, arguing that Dettling and the MSPB Judge had
coerced him into accepting the agreement. See DHS,
Compl. at 16, 39, 41 (attaching Hall v. Nielsen,
U.S. MSPB Docket No. 0752-14-0243-I-1). The MSPB rejected
Plaintiff's petition for review on June 23, 2016,
pronouncing that Hall “was not misled” and that
he “knowingly and voluntarily signed the settlement
agreement, he waived further Board appeal rights concerning
his removal, and the waiver is enforceable.”
Id. at 19-20. This would be the first of many
findings that Plaintiff's claims against Defendant
arising out of the DHS negotiations lacked merit.
resolutely forged ahead, initiating more complaints and
investigations. He next complained about Dettling to the
District of Columbia Bar's Office of Disciplinary Counsel
on October 12, 2016, and again on November 29, 2016. See
Nielsen II, ECF No. 28 (Resp. MTD), Attach. 2 (Misc.
Papers) at 19, 21, 23; Dettling I at 3. Hall also
filed a complaint against her regarding her representation
with the D.C. Bar's Attorney/Client Arbitration Board
(ACAB) in 2017. The ACAB and the D.C. Bar's Office of
Disciplinary Counsel found in Defendant's favor. See
Nielsen II, MTD, Exh. 2 (ACAB Papers); Nielsen
II, Resp. MTD, Attach. 2 (Misc. Papers) at 22, 38.
by these findings, Hall then filed suit against Dettling (as
well as others) in U.S. District Court, alleging fraud,
collusion, and malpractice, as well as other claims. See
DHS, Compl. at 2. In that case, he again accused her of
“entic[ing]” and “coerc[ing]” him
into signing the settlement agreement. See DHS,
Compl. at 10. In an Order issued on December 1, 2016, this
Court rejected Plaintiff's theory of coercion, finding
that he “eventually decided to proceed with the
settlement after he had terminated Dettling's
representation.” DHS, 219 F.Supp.3d 112, 115
(D.D.C. 2016), aff'd sub nom. Hall v. Dettling,
No. 17-7008, 2017 WL 2348158 (D.C. Cir. May 17, 2017).
of accepting the conclusions of the MSPB or this Court, Hall
looked for a more sympathetic ear. He thus filed suit in the
D.C. Superior Court, restating his claims that Dettling had
committed fraud and misrepresentation, as well as other
torts. See Dettling I at 5-9. Judge Jennifer A. Di
Toro rejected Plaintiff's arguments and granted
Defendant's motion to dismiss these claims against her on
March 20, 2017. Id. at 9.
business still unfinished, Plaintiff next filed suit against
Dettling in this Court on February 27, 2018, again alleging
the same torts he had previously raised - namely, malpractice
and misrepresentation. See Nielsen II, 2018 WL
5840663, at *4 (D.D.C. Nov. 8, 2018). On November 8, 2018,
this Court granted Dettling's motion to dismiss and
cautioned Hall that it would “consider a pre-filing
injunction” should he continue to file suits against
Dettling. Id. at *6.
has not heeded this warning. After receiving this Court's
admonition, he set in motion three more suits against
Dettling in the Superior Court. She responded by filing the
current Motion for a Pre-Filing Injunction. Nielsen
II, 2019 WL 1116911, at *1-2. This Court initially
refused to enjoin the proceedings in Superior Court,
explaining that the stringent standards set by the
Anti-Injunction Act had not been met. Id. at *2-4.
Regarding an injunction in this Court, however, the
Court deferred a decision in order to give Plaintiff an
opportunity to respond. Id. at *2. Hall then replied
in his “Show Cause” memorandum of April 2.
See Nielsen II, ECF No. 59 (Resp. Mem. Op.). This
memorandum primarily reiterated his list of grievances
against Dettling. Id. The pre-filing injunction
issue is now ripe for decision.
this confluence of actions, largely against an individual,
the Court must decide whether a pre-filing injunction is
warranted to finally terminate Hall's conduct. Such
injunctions are an extreme sanction and are a limited
exception to the “general rule of free access to the
courts.” In re Powell, 851 F.2d 427, 431 (D.C.
Cir. 1988) (quoting Pavilonis v. King, 626 F.2d
1075, 1079 (1st Cir. 1980)). Pre-filing injunctions should be
used sparingly, especially against pro se
plaintiffs. Id. (citing Pavilonis, 626 F.2d
at 1079). The court, however, has the duty and authority to
issue injunctions “to protect the integrity of the
courts and the orderly and expeditious administration of
justice.” Urban v. United Nations, 768 F.2d
1497, 1500 (D.C. Cir. 1985). Because courts have “the
inherent power and the constitutional obligation to protect
their jurisdiction from conduct that impairs their ability to
carry out Article III functions, ” they can impose
pre-filing injunctions both in response to the filings of a
party or sua sponte. See Baum v. Blue Moon
Ventures, LLC, 513 F.3d 181, 189 (5th Cir. 2008)
(quoting In re Martin-Trigona, 737 F.2d 1254, 1261
(2d Cir. 1984)).
considering an injunction, a court must first ensure that the
plaintiff has “notice and an opportunity to be
heard.” Unitronics (1989) (R''G) Ltd. v.
Gharb, 85 F.Supp.3d 118, 130 (D.D.C. 2015) (quoting
In re Powell, 851 F.2d at 431). Once that has been
accomplished, courts should assess the volume of a
plaintiff's filings and the extent to which they are
harassing or ...