Michael James HANNA, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. LITTLE LEAGUE BASEBALL, INC., Defendant and Respondent.
The trial court declared plaintiff Michael James Hanna to be a vexatious litigant under several subparts of Code of Civil Procedure section 391, subdivision (b).1 As a result of that determination and the trial court's additional finding that Hanna was not reasonably likely to succeed on the merits of this action, Hanna was ordered to furnish a $100,000 security bond. The trial court also imposed a prefiling restriction on Hanna in future litigation, requiring Hanna to seek permission from the presiding justice or presiding judge of the court if he brings a civil action as a pro se litigant.
In these consolidated appeals, Hanna challenges the vexatious litigant determination and the determination that he was not likely to succeed on the merits of the action. We conclude that his challenges are not meritorious. We therefore affirm the prefiling restriction placed on Hanna's filing of future actions as a pro se litigant.
Hanna further contends that the trial court lacked authority to rule on discovery motions and to impose discovery sanctions after the filing of the motion under section 391.1 to declare Hanna a vexatious litigant and to have him furnish security. In the published portion of this opinion, we agree that the trial court was without authority to rule on the discovery motions or to impose sanctions. Under the plain language of section 391.6, all further proceedings in the action should have been stayed once the vexatious litigant motion under section 391.1 was filed. We therefore reverse the orders imposing discovery sanctions. We affirm the judgment in all other respects.
A. Present Litigation
In October 2017, Hanna filed an amended complaint against Little League Baseball, Inc. (Little League), alleging trade libel and two claims for unfair and fraudulent business practices in violation of the unfair competition law (UCL; Bus. & Prof. Code, § 17200, et seq.). Hanna alleged that he was the president of a youth sports organization known as Team Hemet Baseball and Softball (Team Hemet). He alleged that in his capacity as president of Team Hemet, in January 2017 he “executed an agreement” with Little League “for the individual ‘․ right to conduct a baseball and softball program under the name “Little League” ’ ” for one year. In July 2017, Little League “purportedly” placed Team Hemet on a regional hold, which “prevent[ed] any operations by [Team Hemet] until satisfied.” For the UCL causes of action, Hanna alleged that Little League “ha[d] improperly obtained money from [Hanna], and continue[d] to improperly obtain money from the general public.” The trial court dismissed the trade libel claim on demurrer.
B. Vexatious Litigant Determination and Discovery Rulings
In May 2018, Little League moved for an order finding Hanna to be a vexatious litigant and requiring him to furnish security because he was not reasonably likely to succeed on the merits. Little League requested that the court judicially notice 14 different civil actions filed from 2009 through 2018 involving Hanna as a pro se plaintiff and a defendant. The only evidence that Hanna submitted in opposition was a declaration from himself in which he attached several screenshots of purported social media posts.
On June 7, 2018, the trial court found Hanna to be a vexatious litigant under subdivision (b)(1)-(3) of section 391. The trial court further concluded that Hanna did not have a reasonable likelihood of succeeding on the UCL claims. The trial court also issued a prefiling order prohibiting Hanna, “unless represented by an attorney,” “from filing any new litigation in the courts of California without approval of the presiding justice or presiding judge of the court in which the action is filed.” At the same hearing, the trial court also granted Little League's pending discovery motions and imposed a total of $1,200 in discovery sanctions ($400 for each of the three motions) against Hanna.
On July 26, 2018, the trial court ordered Hanna to furnish a $100,000 security bond pursuant to section 391.7 by the end of the next month. On the same day, Hanna filed a notice of appeal in which he purported to appeal from both the “June 7, 2018,” order and the July 26, 2018, order.
We stayed the appeal pursuant to section 391.7, subdivision (c), pending Hanna's compliance with the prefiling order's requirement that he seek permission from the presiding justice to file the appeal. Hanna filed that request in August 2018, and we partially granted it on October 23, 2018. We lifted the stay only as to Hanna's “appeal from the June 7, 2018 order declaring [Hanna] to be a vexatious litigant subject to a prefiling order.”
In the meantime, in September 2018, the trial court dismissed the action in its entirety for Hanna's failure to furnish the requisite security bond. Hanna appealed from the judgment. We granted permission for him to proceed with the appeal. We consolidated the appeals.
A.-E.** [NOT CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION]
F. Litigation Stay
Hanna contends that the trial court was without authority to rule on Little League's pending discovery motions, which included requests for sanctions, because the litigation should have been stayed after Little League filed its motion to declare Hanna a vexatious litigant and to require him to furnish security.6 We agree.
We independently review questions of statutory interpretation. (Reid v. Google, Inc. (2010) 50 Cal.4th 512, 527, 113 Cal.Rptr.3d 327, 235 P.3d 988; Bravo v. Ismaj (2002) 99 Cal.App.4th 211, 219, 120 Cal.Rptr.2d 879.) “ ‘Under settled canons of statutory construction, in construing a statute we ascertain the Legislature's intent in order to effectuate the law's purpose. [Citation.] We must look to the statute's words and give them “their usual and ordinary meaning.” [Citation.] “The statute's plain meaning controls the court's interpretation unless its words are ambiguous.” [Citations.] “If the statutory language permits more than one reasonable interpretation, courts may consider other aids, such as the statute's purpose, legislative history, and public policy.” ’ ” (Reid, supra, 50 Cal.4th at p. 527, 113 Cal.Rptr.3d 327, 235 P.3d 988.)
Section 391.6 provides: “Except as provided in subdivision (b) of Section 391.3, when a motion [to furnish security] pursuant to Section 391.1 is filed prior to trial the litigation is stayed, and the moving defendant need not plead, until 10 days after the motion shall have been denied, or if granted, until 10 days after the required security has been furnished and the moving defendant given written notice thereof.” (§ 391.6.) No published cases have interpreted the scope of the litigation stay under section 391.6.
Black's Law Dictionary defines a “stay” as “[t]he postponement or halting of a proceeding, judgment, or the like.” (Black's Law Dict. (11th ed. 2019) p. 1709.) Under the plain language of section 391.6, the entirety of the litigation is stayed once the defendant files a motion to determine that the plaintiff is a vexatious litigant who should be required to furnish security in that action. Furthermore, the stay shall remain effective until 10 days after the motion is denied or 10 days after the security is furnished. (§ 391.6.) Section 391.6 does not carve out any exception for proceedings that may continue during that period except for the dismissal of the action under section 391.3, subdivision (b). That exception does not apply here.
Little League filed its motion to declare Hanna a vexatious litigant under section 391.1 and to have him furnish security on May 14, 2018. At that time, Little League had several pending discovery motions, all requesting the imposition of discovery sanctions. At the same June 7, 2018, hearing at which the trial court granted Little League's vexatious litigant motion, the trial court also granted Little League's discovery motions and imposed a total of $1,200 in discovery sanctions ($400 for each of the three motions) against Hanna. The trial court did not have authority to rule on the discovery motions once Little League filed its motion under section 391.1. Consequently, we reverse the June 7, 2018, orders imposing a total of $1,200 in discovery sanctions against Hanna.
The June 7, 2018, orders imposing a total of $1,200 in discovery sanctions against Hanna are reversed. The June 7, 2018, order imposing a prefiling restriction on Hanna as a pro se litigant is affirmed. In all other respects, the judgment is affirmed. The parties shall bear their own costs of appeal.
Appellant's petition for review by the Supreme Court was denied November 18, 2020, S264586.
1. Unlabeled statutory references are to the Code of Civil Procedure.
6. Little League's appellate brief does not address this argument on the merits. Instead, it maintains that Hanna failed in his opening brief “to show whether a final judgment is being appealed and how the discovery addressed in the appeal could relate to such a judgment.” Little League's argument is based on this court's order limiting Hanna's initial appeal to the vexatious litigant prefiling order and denying his request to appeal from the interlocutory discovery orders, which were not appealable. (Doe v. United States Swimming, Inc (2011) 200 Cal.App.4th 1424, 1432, 133 Cal.Rptr.3d 465 [“There is no statutory provision for appeal from an order compelling compliance with a discovery order”].) Little League's argument fails because Hanna also appealed from the final judgment. As Little League acknowledges, discovery orders are reviewable on appeal from a final judgment. (§ 906; County of Nevada v. Kinicki (1980) 106 Cal.App.3d 357, 363, 165 Cal.Rptr. 57.)
McKinster, Acting P. J., and Miller, J., concurred.
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