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Hook v. State

United States District Court, D. Idaho

September 19, 2019

RONALD VAN HOOK; GABRIEL VAN HOOK; and NATHAN VAN HOOK Plaintiffs,
v.
STATE OF IDAHO; IDAHO STATE BAR; STEVEN FISHER; FISHER LAW FIRM; MARY GRANT; KIMBERLI STRETCH; IDAHO LEGAL AID; VIRGINIA BOND; BOND LAW CHARTERED; CHRISTOPHER D. BOYD; ADAMS COUNTY, IDAHO; JOHN DOES 1-100; and UNKNOWN AGENTS of the IDAHO THIRD JUDICIAL DISTRICT, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

          B. LYNN WINMILL U.S. DISTRICT COURT JUDGE.

         INTRODUCTION

         Pending before the Court are six motions: Virginia Bond’s and Bond Law Chartered’s Motion to Quash (Dkt 3); Adams County Idaho and Christopher D. Boyd’s Motion to Dismiss or Motion to Quash (Dkt. 6); Mary Grant’s, Kimberli Stretch’s and Idaho Legal Aid Services Inc.’s Motion to Dismiss (Dkt. 9); Virginia Bond’s and Bond Law Chartered’s Motion to Dismiss (Dkt. 12); Adams County’s and Christopher D. Boyd’s Motion to Dismiss (Dkt. 14); and Steven Fisher and Fisher Law Firm’s Motion to Dismiss. (Dkt. 22.) These motions are decided without a hearing because the facts and legal arguments are adequately presented in the moving and opposing papers, and the decisional process would not be significantly aided by oral argument. For the following reasons the Court will grant the motions to dismiss, and will find the motions to quash moot.

         BACKGROUND

         This case is about the actions of a collection of individuals who, in some way, interacted with Ronald Van Hook during his divorce and child custody proceedings.

         In August 2014, Ronald Van Hook filed a pro se complaint in Canyon County for custody visitation rights for his three children and to seek a decree of legal separation from his wife, Dawn Van Hook (Dawn Renee Cannon). Dkt. 22-2 at 9; Canyon County Case No. CV-2014-7409-C. In September 2014, Van Hook retained attorney Steven Fisher to represent him in the case. Id. Fisher filed a motion for entry of default, which was granted-resulting in a custody visitation award for Van Hook. Id. However, in October 2014, Cannon, through her attorney, Mary Grant of Idaho Legal Aid Services, Inc., moved to set aside the order of default, asserting she had never been served with notice of the action. Id. Meanwhile, Cannon filed an action for child protection in Adams County.[1] Id.; Adams County Case No. cv-2014-3311. That filing resulted in the issuance of a civil protection order for Cannon. Id. at 10.

         In November 2014, the entry of default judgment in Van Hook’s Canyon County case was set aside and the judge in the case set the matter for trial in August 2015. Id. However, in March 2015, Fisher filed a motion for leave to withdraw as counsel due to Van Hook’s failure to pay his legal bills or follow the attorney’s advice. Id. at 12. The motion was granted. Id. Also in March 2015, Cannon filed for and received a temporary ex parte restraining order to prevent Van Hook from having any contact with one of his three children. Id. Then, in April 2015, Cannon filed a motion to consolidate the Canyon County case with the case she filed in Adams County. Id. Van Hook filed a notice of non-objection and the cases were consolidated in May 2015. Id. at 13.

         In August 2015, the state court judge conducted a bench trial, which resulted in an order awarding Cannon sole legal custody of the three children. Id. at 14. The award was finalized on September 9, 2015, when the court filed a written judgment and decree of divorce. Id. A few weeks later, attorney Virginia Bond appeared on behalf of Van Hook, and filed motions for a new trial and for reconsideration. Id. at 15. The motions were eventually withdrawn by Van Hook. Id. In March 2016, attorney Bond filed a motion to withdraw because Van Hook did not trust her and also believed she was acting to somehow protect the judge presiding over the case. Id. Bond’s motion to withdraw was granted.

         Van Hook continued to represent himself in the matter, filing a motion for an order of recusal of the judge, which asserted the judge had improper discussions with Cannon and her counsel. Id. After a hearing, the motion was denied. Id. at 16. However, Van Hook continued to file motions in the case, including motions arguing Cannon should be held in criminal contempt, motions for a change in venue, and motions for new orders regarding the child custody decision. Id.

         In addition to the consolidated Adams County case, Van Hook filed at least seven (7) similar complaints in Canyon and Owyhee counties. Id. at 18-19. Notably, in a civil case filed in 2016, Van Hook sought damages related to the actions of attorneys and judges involved in his divorce and child custody proceedings. In that case, he claimed his lawyers and the lawyer for his ex-wife conspired to deprive him of the custody of his children and his civil rights. The defendants listed in Van Hook’s state court complaint were Kimberli Stretch of Idaho Legal Aid, Mary Grant formerly of Idaho Legal Aid, Virginia Bond, and Steven Fisher. Dkt. 9-2 at 49.

         As a result of such activities in the courts of Idaho, Van Hook was deemed a “vexatious litigant” pursuant to Idaho Court Administrative Rule 59. Dkt. 22-2 at 16; see I.C.A.R. 59. Of particular interest, the order found that Van Hook’s repeated attempts to “re-litigate” the September 9, 2015 judgment qualified him as a vexatious litigant. Id. at 27. The reviewing court’s September 2017 order required that Van Hook obtain leave of court prior to any pro se filing of new litigation in the state of Idaho. Id. at 31.

         This background brings us to the present complaint-filed pro se by Van Hook in May 2019.[2] Dkt. 1. Van Hook’s Complaint is filed on behalf of himself and his minor sons, Gabriel Van Hook and Nathan Van Hook. Id. It names as Defendants the State of Idaho, the Idaho Bar Association, Steven Fisher and the Fisher Law Firm, Mary Grant, Kimberli Stretch, Idaho Legal Aid, Virginia Bond, Bond Law Chartered, Christopher D. Boyd and/or Adams County, Idaho, Does, and “Unknown Agents” of Idaho’s Third Judicial District. Id.

         Therein, Van Hook alleges that Defendants violated and conspired to violate the civil rights of himself and his children, that certain Defendants engaged in fraudulent activities in violation of federal anti-racketeering laws, and that the Idaho State Bar is an unlawful monopoly. Id. He alleges also that the Idaho State Bar unlawfully failed to take action on complaints lodged by Van Hook against attorney Defendants and various judicial officers. Id.

         To support his Complaint, as exhibits to an unsigned declaration, Van Hook attached the complaint in the civil case he filed in 2016, in which he likewise sought damages related to the actions of individuals involved in his divorce and child custody proceedings. Van Hook asserts that all facts and arguments contained in the state court pleading, are facts and arguments he intends to make in this case. Id.

         By way of various answers and motions, Defendants seek dismissal of each of Van Hook’s claims. Defendants assert that many of the claims are barred by the doctrines of res judicata and collateral estoppel due to the 2016 state court action. Defendants assert also that Van Hook’s claims should be dismissed for implausibility and inadequacies in pleading under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). The Court will analyze these arguments below.

         DISCUSSION

         1. Van Hook can not appear pro se on behalf of his minor children.

         As an initial matter the Court notes Ronald Van Hook’s Complaint alleges all claims on behalf of his minor children. A pro se litigant can not file litigation on behalf of third parties, including minor children, unless the pro se litigant is licensed to practice law. Johns v. Cty. of San Diego, 114 F.3d 874, 877 (9th Cir. 1997); Smogonovich v. City of Boise, No. CV09-011-S-EJL, 2009 WL 3229371, at *2 (D. Idaho Oct. 2, 2009) (“a non-lawyer, may represent his own interests but may not represent those of his children.”). As such, the Court will dismiss the minor children from this action and will consider the legal and factual sufficiency of the claims as to Ronald Van Hook only.

         2. Res Judicata and collateral estoppel apply to bar certain claims against seven of the defendants.

         Res judicata and collateral estoppel are affirmative defenses used in federal court to give preclusive effect to prior state court judgments. See 28 U.S.C. § 1738 (federal courts must afford full faith and credit to state judicial proceedings). Federal courts apply state rules governing preclusion to determine whether a state judgment should have preclusive effect in a federal action. See Migra v. Warren City Sch. Dist. Bd. of Educ., 465 U.S. 75 at 83-85, 104 (1984)

         The doctrine of res judicata, or claim preclusion, applies “when there is (1) an identity of claims; (2) a final judgment on the merits; and (3) identity or privity between the parties.” Owens v. Kaiser Found. Health Plan, Inc., 244 F.3d 708, 713 (9th Cir. 2001). Idaho law provides that the party asserting res judicata as an affirmative defense bears the burden of establishing all of the essential elements by a preponderance of the evidence. Foster v. City of St. Anthony, 841 P.2d 413, 419 (Idaho 1992).

         On the other hand, a party seeking to apply collateral estoppel, or issue preclusion, must show: (1) the party against whom an earlier decision was asserted had a full and fair opportunity to litigate the issue decided in the earlier case; (2) the issue decided in the prior litigation was identical to the issue presented in the present action; (3) the issue sought to be precluded was actually decided in the prior litigation; (4) there was a final judgment on the merits in the prior litigation; and (5) the party against whom the issue is asserted was a party or in privity with a party to the litigation. Ticor Title Co. v. Stanion, 157 P.3d 613, 618 (Idaho 2007).

         In this matter, Defendants Grant, Stretch, Idaho Legal Aid services, Inc., Virginia Bond, Bond Law Chartered, Steven Fisher and Fisher Law Offices, PLLC, each assert many of the claims Van Hook alleges against them are barred by res judicata, collateral estoppel, or both. Defendants’ arguments are based on the fact that, in the 2016 state court complaint, Van Hook alleged the same complaints against them.

         As set forth above, the state court complaint listed as defendants Kimberli Stretch of Idaho Legal Aid, Mary Grant formerly of Idaho Legal Aid, Steven Fisher, and Virginia Bond. Dkt. 9-2 at 49. The statement of claims alleged against the defendants included that they: (1) made false allegations and statements about or concerning Van Hook; (2) were grossly and contributorily negligent; (3) breached contractual duties owed to Van Hook; (3) failed to comply with the Idaho Rules of Professional ...


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