By a MetNews Staff Writer
Petitioning activity, protected under California’s anti-SLAPP statute, includes efforts through the courts to collect on judgments, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has held in an opinion affirming an order granting a special motion to strike a cross-complaint brought by the widow of decorated Air Force General Charles “Chuck” Yeager, believed to be the first pilot to break the sound barrier, and declaring her to be a vexatious litigant.
Yeager, who died Dec. 7, 2020 at the age of 97, had spent the last years of his life embroiled in litigation with multiple parties, including his children, who claimed that his new wife, Victoria Yeager, 35 years or more his junior, was unduly influencing him. Chuck and Victoria Yeager had both been declared to be vexatious litigants in California courts.
Thursday’s memorandum opinion upholds an order by District Court Judge Kimberly J. Mueller of the Eastern District of California who applied the state’s anti-SLAPP statute in dismissing the cross complaint that Victoria Yeager filed in an interpleader action. The former general had obtained a judgment against AT&T Mobility, LLC and there were competing claims to proceeds from that litigation.
Among those making claims were aviators Ed and Connie Bowlin and their company. Charles Yeager had sued them in 2009 for breach of the common law right of privacy and under various other theories; the defendants obtained a summary judgment in 2010; they were awarded $5,214.22 in costs and $275,596.58 in attorneys’ fees; they filed a notice of judgment lien on June 25, 2010.
Ed Bowlin died on March 7, 2014 and his estate was substituted as a party.
Victoria Yeager contended that her cross-action did not come under the first prong of the statute, Code of Civil Procedure §425.16, requiring that the challenged action implicates protected conduct. She argued that the “true gravamen” of her cross-complaint relates not to the defendants’ petitioning activity, but to a “simple accounting of all sums collected” by them pursuant to their judgment.
She did not address the second prong—whether it was probable that she could prevail on the merits—and the Ninth Circuit deemed any contention that could make such a showing waived.
A three-judge panel said in a memorandum opinion that the Bowlin parties (which it referred to, collectively, as “Bowlin”) collected monies pursuant to their judgment “exclusively through judicial channels” and declared:
“That Bowlin satisfied the judgment exclusively through the courts necessarily means that Yeager’s cross-complaint arises from Bowlin’s protected activity….The district court thus did not err in granting Bowlin’s motion to strike.”
Victoria Yeager was declared by Mueller on March 30, 2018, to be a vexatious litigant, thus imposing on her pre-filing restrictions on the bringing of future lawsuits. The judge explained:
“Mrs. Yeager, often jointly with her husband General Charles Yeager, has repeatedly filed in pro per pleadings, motions and papers in other cases, as well as the instant case, that are either unmeritorious or the cause of unnecessary delay such that Mrs. Yeager meets the definition of a vexatious litigant under California Code of Civil Procedure section 391(b)(3).”
The Ninth Circuit opinion declares:
“[T]he district court took judicial notice of Yeager’s frivolous pro se filings in the case in which Bowlin secured the original judgment, which Yeager does not challenge. Although the district court took care to compile materials in addition to those contained in the interpleader action, we note that the record in the interpleader action considered alone provides a sufficient basis for the district court’s pre-filing restrictions.”
The case is AT&T Mobility, LLC v. Yeager, 20-17253.
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