Commercial Litigation and Arbitration

Inherent Power Sanctions: Bad Faith Required in 5th Circuit — Raising Patently Frivolous Legal Argument and Threatening Further Meritless Litigation = Bad Faith — Pro Se Litigant — Vexatious Litigant Injunction Must Be Tailored

Terra Partners v. Rabo Agrifinance, Inc., 2012 U.S. App. LEXIS 26291 (5th Cir. Dec. 21, 2012):

On September 20, 2012, Steve Veigel sought to file a pro se amicus brief in support of Terra Partners. Steve Veigel has an obvious interest in this case. He is an authorized managing agent for Terra Partners, is a corporate officer for all four of the corporate partners that form Terra Partners, owns all shares in one of the corporate partners, and half of the shares in another. In his amicus brief, Steve Veigel asserts that prior decisions of this court "are legal nullities that are void ab initio." We have previously rejected his argument. See Rabo Agrifinance, Inc. v. Veigel Farm Partners, 328 F. App'x 942, 943 (5th Cir. May 15, 2009). The brief thus is frivolous. ***

Rabo Agrifinance, Inc. and Ag Acceptance Corporation moved for sanctions against both Steve Veigel and Terra Partners. Although we do not impose monetary sanctions against Terra Partners, we find that Steve Veigel acted in bad faith and impose sanctions. See Farguson v. MBank Houston, N.A., 808 F.2d 358, 360 (5th Cir. 1986) ("We may impose sanctions on appeal . . . if necessary.").

Federal courts have an inherent power "to sanction a party or attorney when necessary to achieve the orderly and expeditious disposition of their dockets." Scaife v. Associated Air Ctr. Inc., 100 F.3d 406, 411 (5th Cir. 1996); see also Chambers v. NASCO, Inc., 501 U.S. 32, 44-45 (1991) ("A primary aspect of that discretion is the ability to fashion an appropriate sanction for conduct which abuses the judicial process."). The threshold for using our inherent powers is high, and we "must make a specific finding that the sanctioned party acted in 'bad faith,'" before imposing sanctions. Maguire Oil Co. v. City of Houston, 143 F.3d 205, 209 (5th Cir. 1998) (quoting Matta v. May, 118 F.3d 410, 413 (5th Cir. 1997)) (emphasis omitted). Steve Veigel's void ab initio argument was affirmatively rejected by this court, and his brief threatens future litigation premised on the same argument. See Newby v. Enron Corp., 302 F.3d 295, 302 (5th Cir. 2002) ("[F]ederal courts also have the inherent power to impose sanctions against vexatious litigants."). Raising a patently frivolous legal argument and threatening continued meritless litigation is the definition of bad faith. Steve Veigel, therefore, is sanctioned in the amount of $3,000. ***

In order to prevent Steve Veigel from continuing to raise the frivolous void ab initio argument, Rabo Agrifinance, Inc. and Ag Acceptance Corporation requested an injunction to prevent the filing of future litigation collaterally attacking this court's judgments.

Footnote 3. Steve Veigel has apparently already raised the argument again in an October 9, 2012 letter submitted to a New Mexico state court, claiming that the case of Rabo Agrifinance v. Terra XXI, 257 F. App'x 732 (5th Cir. Dec. 7, 2007), was a legal nullity, void ab initio.

We agree that an injunction is appropriate in this instance.

As previously stated, we have the inherent power to impose sanctions, including an injunction, against litigants who use the legal system to harass their opponents through vexatious litigation. See Newby, 302 F.3d at 302; see also Farguson, 808 F.2d at 359 ("That his filings are pro se offers . . . no impenetrable shield, for one acting pro se has no license to harass others, clog the judicial machinery with meritless litigation, and abuse already overloaded court dockets."). We recognize, however, that "injunction[s] against future filings must be tailored to protect the courts and innocent parties, while preserving the legitimate rights of litigants." Farguson, 808 F.2d at 360.

In this case, Steve Veigel stated that he intends to raise the same void ab initio argument in future Rule 60(b) motions; petitions for writs of mandamus in state or federal court; motions to reopen bankruptcy cases for consideration of motions for contempt; bills of review in state court; and other collateral attacks on the prior judgments of this court. His position is not supported in existing law and is not a reasonable argument to extend or modify the law, given that this court has already ruled on his argument. The future litigation he threatens would be repetitive, vexatious, previously resolved, and meritless. A narrowly-tailored injunction is an appropriate sanction to protect this court's judgments and to prevent the continued filing of vexatious litigation.

It is therefore ORDERED:

No pleading, lawsuit, or other document in any federal court shall be filed by, or on behalf of, Steve Veigel, his affiliates or related entities, including Terra Partners, without first presenting the filing to the district court below to determine whether the issues contained in the filing have been previously decided. Furthermore, it is ORDERED that said Steve Veigel shall pay into the registry of this court the sum of three thousand dollars ($3,000) by and no later than January 4, 2013.

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