Monday, May 14, 2018
Court of Appeal
Judges Have Inherent Power to Dismiss Far-Fetched Cases
In What Appears to Be a Case of First Impression, the Third District Says Trial Courts May Summarily Reject Actions That Are ‘Fantastic,’ ‘Delusional,’ or ‘Fanciful’
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A court has the inherent power to torpedo actions based on bizarre and implausible claims, the Third District Court of Appeal has declared.
It affirmed on ThurdayThursday the denial with prejudice of Han Jing Huang’s request in 31 separate cases for a civil harassment restraining order. Defendants in those cases weare former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the dalai lama, Facebook founder/CEO Mark Zuckerberg, and former White House aide and presidential playmate Monica Lewinsky, along with 27 show business figures.
Huang’s allegations include the asserted use by the defendants of mind-reading equipment at the “mental department in Texas,” with which they cause an attack on his brain with “nano probes.”
“In denying appellant’s requests for civil harassment restraining orders,” Presiding Justice Vance Raye wrote, “the trial court did not cite or make reference to any statute or other legal premise for those decisions other than to describe the requests as ‘patently frivolous.’ ”
‘Fantastic,’ ‘Delusional,’ ‘Fanciful.’
However, just as it is established that appellate courts possess the inherent power to dismiss frivolous appeals, he said, trial courts must necessarily have the power likewise to extricate themselves “from the monetary expense and other costs of responding to appellant’s frivolous claims that cannot avoid being categorized as ‘fantastic,’ ‘delusional,’ or ‘fanciful.’ ”
Raye declared that “the pleadings submitted to the trial court by appellant were subject to dismissal as frivolous.”
While the opinion indicates that Sacramento Superior Court Judge David F. De Alba could have summarily dismissed all 31 actions based on inherent powers to purge such actions, it appears that he did not do so, but simply denied relief, although in three of the cases, he declined to receive evidence.
Lack of Precedents
The case appears to be one of first impression, though Raye drew attention to a 2007 decision from this district’s Div. Four in Stephen Slesinger, Inc. v. Walt Disney Co. which pointed to a trial court’s inherent power to dismiss an action, in a different context. There, Acting Presiding Justice Thomas L. Willhite Jr. said:
“In this case of first impression in California, we hold that when a plaintiff’s deliberate and egregious misconduct makes any sanction other than dismissal inadequate to ensure a fair trial, the trial court has inherent power to impose a terminating sanction.”
The case decided Thursday, with which the other 30 cases were consolidated on appeal, is Huang v. Tom Hanks, C084702.
Huang represented himself. There were appearances only for defendants/respondents Zuckerberg, filmmaker Steven Spielberg, and singer/songwriter/actress Robyn Rihanna Fenty.
Federal Courts’ Authority
Federal district courts, by contrast, have express statutory authority—under 28 USC §1915(e)(2)(B)(i)—to dismiss, at any time, an action filed by a pro per that “is frivolous or malicious.” That section was invoked by the U.S. District Court for the West District of Texas after Huang on Jan. 18, 2012, filed an action against actor Charlie Sheen and others accusing them of having arranged an accident in Austin which he was involved.
He asserted that the defendants affected his treatment by “putting items in plaintiff’s body” and, in particular, his brain.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrew W. Austin wrote:
“A complaint lacks an arguable basis in fact and is factually frivolous when the allegations are fanciful, fantastic, and delusional….Plaintiff’s allegations in this case clearly fall into the ‘fanciful,’ ‘fantastic’ and ‘delusional’ categories.”
Words in Alternative
Raye’s opinion authorizes dismissal of actions which are “‘fantastic,’ ‘delusional,’ or ‘fanciful’ ”—in the alternative—thus including actions that are far-fetched without necessarily being the product of a delusion. Some federal decisions also use the word “or.”
Others, like Austin’s, require all three elements, using the conjunction “and.”
The U.S. Supreme Court in its 1992 decision in Denton v. Hernandez, quoting from its 1989 decision in Neitzke v. Williams, used the word “and.” It said that “a court may dismiss a claim as factually frivolous only if the facts alleged are ‘clearly baseless,’…a category encompassing allegations that are ‘fanciful,’…‘fantastic,’…and delusional.’”
The opinion in Neitzke alludes to “claims describing fantastic or delusional scenarios” and also says that “frivolous” claims include “the fanciful factual allegation.”
Raye cited Denton and Neitzke before setting forth the California standard.
Copyright 2018, Metropolitan News Company