Thursday, July 13, 2006
Man Unsuccessfully Sues Entire Ninth Circuit Bench for Conspiracy
By TINA BAY, Staff Writer
The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday affirmed the dismissal of a Nevada man’s lawsuit accusing all of the Ninth Circuit judges of criminal conspiracy.
Tevis R. Ignacio failed to establish subject matter jurisdiction, the panel ruled.
Ignacio filed suit in 2003 in the District of Nevada, naming as defendants “Judges of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in their capacity as judges,” specifically identifying a number of individual judges, including Chief Judge Mary M. Schroeder, both personally and in their official capacities.
Representing himself, Ignacio alleged that the circuit judges—along with various federal and California state judges, other government officials, and certain private individuals—conspired to dismiss the state and federal lawsuits he filed in the wake of his California divorce proceedings.
The divorce action ended in 1999 with a superior court judge denying him access to his minor son, on the grounds that Ignacio was bipolar with paranoid-psychophrenic tendencies. The judge also designated him as a “vexatious litigant,” which placed restrictions on his ability to file claims and appeals in California state court.
Ignacio’s post-divorce lawsuits began with a federal court action, filed in the Northern District of California, in which he attacked the vexatious litigant determination. After the district court’s 2002 dismissal of the suit for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, Ignacio moved to Nevada and there filed a similar state court action, which also failed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.
The 2003 lawsuit against the Ninth Circuit judges followed.
U.S. District Judge Philip M. Pro dismissed Ignacio’s complaint, which contained a long list of grievances regarding the California court’s determinations in his domestic dispute, on the basis that the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction.
The Ninth Circuit agreed, holding that the panel—comprised of the chief judge and Judges Stephen S. Trott and Andrew J. Kleinfeld—could decide the appeal even though all three judges were parties to Ignacio’s lawsuit.
Writing for the panel, Trott explained that the “rule of necessity,” which allows a disqualified judge to hear a case when it cannot be heard otherwise, applies where a litigant has indiscriminately sues all of the circuit’s judges.
“[A]n underlying legal maxim for the rule of necessity is that ‘where all are disqualified, none are disqualified,” Trott said.
“If all the judges of the Ninth Circuit are disqualified as a result of Ignacio’s complaint, he has eliminated the proper legal forum charged with reviewing the dismissal of his action,” the judge wrote, adding that a ruling disqualifying all circuit judges would encourage plaintiffs to sue wholesale all judges in a district or circuit until their cases get transferred.
Trott concluded that Ignacio’s suit amounted to a collateral attack on the California superior court’s divorce determinations, noting that the majority of his briefs focused on attacking individuals who were involved in the state court divorce action.
“The only plausible interpretation of [Ignacio’s] complaint,” Trott said, “is that he wishes for the dismissed cases—all having to do with what he perceives as problems with his [California] domestic dispute—to be reinstated.”
The case is Ignacio v. Armstrong, 03-17181 03-17181.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company