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Houston v. Gonzalez

United States District Court, W.D. Texas, Austin Division

June 19, 2017





         Before the Court is Plaintiff Sam Houston's Response to Order to Show Cause (Dkt. No. 86).

         The District Court referred the above case to the undersigned Magistrate Judge for report and recommendation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Rule 1(c) of Appendix C of the Local Rules.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff George Sam Houston has a long history of litigiousness in the Western District of Texas. The instant action is one of ten cases Houston has brought since 2012. Acknowledging this history, the Court issued a Show Cause Order to Houston following the dismissal of all of the claims in his most recent case, to address whether he should be sanctioned for his continued frivolous filings. A brief history of his past cases is warranted here.

         Houston began his foray into the federal courts when he complained of the care provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) medical centers. Houston v. Seneski, No. 1:15-CV-015, Dkt. No. 1-1 at 1 (W.D. Tex. Jan. 6, 2012). Here, Houston appeared to argue that Eric Seneski, then Secretary of the Veteran's Administration, was responsible for the allegedly inadequate mental heath treatment he received at one of the clinics for his post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Houston further claimed that his veterans disability payments were incorrect. This first suit was dismissed as frivolous, but even after dismissal, Houston continued to file a number of motions in the case, including a Motion to Amend, Motion for Recusal of Judge Yeakel for bias, Motion to Respond, and a Motion for New Trial, all of which were denied. Rather than accepting the court's determination, Houston filed a second case against Seneski making similar-though not identical-arguments. Houston v. Seneski (Seneski II), No. 1:13-CV-097, Dkt. No. 4 at 4 (W.D. Tex. Apr. 8, 2013). In addition to adding a number of other defendants, Houston once again complained of the medical care he received at the VA centers, but this time couched his claims as various constitutional and statutory violations. Once again, the Court found Houston's claims to be frivolous and the lawsuit was dismissed.

         At this point, Houston turned his attention to other matters. It appears that Houston's home had been foreclosed on and sold to a new owner; this set of facts was at the heart of Houston's next five lawsuits. Houston first sued the Bank of America (among other defendants) for torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, wrongful taking of property, and infliction of emotional distress-all based on claims that the bank allegedly wrongfully foreclosed on and sold his property. Houston v. Bank of America, N.A. (I), No. 1:13-CV-299-LY, Dkt. No. 39 (W.D. Tex. July 16, 2013). Houston had originally filed suit in state court, but the defendants removed to federal court. Upon motion by the defendants, Houston's suit was dismissed for failure to state a claim. Shortly after, Houston joined his wife, Meera Singh, as they attempted to remove a case to federal court in which they were the plaintiffs. This suit sought to relitigate Bank of America's authority to enforce a lien on the property. Singh v. Bank of America, N.A., No. 2:13-CV-0030-AM, Dkt. No. 12 (W.D. Tex. Aug. 27, 2013). As Houston and Singh had improperly removed the case, it was remanded to state court.

         This did not deter Houston, as he once again joined his wife in filing a suit for declaratory and injunctive relief challenging the foreclosure of his property. Singh v. Perry, No. 5:14-CV-199-FB, Dkt. No. 9 (W.D. Tex. Apr. 23, 2014). However, as the court in that case noted, Singh had previously brought three prior suits-solely on her own behalf-on the exact same claims, all of which had been dismissed as frivolous. Id. at 2-3; see Singh v. Bank of America, N.A., 1:12-CV-0388-LY; In re Meera Singh, No. 1:13-CV-266-LY; Singh v. Bank of America, 1:12-CV-389-LY. The Court accordingly dismissed Houston's fifth action. Failing to succeed in that case, Houston and Singh attempted to remove a state court action in which the plaintiffs sought a forcible detainer-ostensibly for the property recently foreclosed upon. Houston v. Perry, No. 5:14-CV-549-DAE, Dkt. No. 5 (W.D. Tex. July 31, 2014).[1] The Court once again remanded, finding no federal jurisdiction. To complete this line of cases, Houston again sued the Bank of America for the fraudulent sale of his home. Houston v. Bank of America, N.A. (II), No. 1:15-CV-570-RP, Dkt. No. 4 (W.D. Tex. Aug. 4, 2015). As with all of the above cases, Houston's claims were dismissed as frivolous. In that case, however, the court went one step further, warning Houston that his continued filing of frivolous actions could result in his being barred from filing further suits without judicial permission. Id., Dkt. No. 11 at 4.

         It appears that Houston, possibly after the warning, took a short recess from federal court. However, in the fall of 2016, Houston returned with two new suits in federal court. Houston v. Gonzalez, No 1:16-CV-986-LY; Nuckols Crossing, Ltd.v. Houston, 1:16-CV-1064-LY. Houston brought the instant suit alleging that the defendants conspired to violate his rights. Specifically, he argued that the VA-conspiring with the Housing Authority of the City of Austin-improperly included his veterans disability income when calculating the amount of rent assistance he should receive from a voucher program funded by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). When his rent assistance was decreased-thus increasing Houston's share of the rent-Houston was unable to make his monthly rent payments and was evicted. He then filed suit alleging a variety of claims against the defendants. Houston originally filed suit in the Justice of the Peace Court in Travis County, Texas, but following the addition of VA employees, the United States removed the case to federal court. At that time, Houston also attempted to remove a related case-his appeal of the apartment management company's suit to evict him-also from the Justice of the Peace Court. Nuckols Crossing, Ltd., No. 1:16-CV-1064-LY. Houston attempted to consolidate the two cases, but the second suit was remanded for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, id., Dkt. No. 21, and this case was dismissed for lack of jurisdiction and failure to state a claim.

         In the Court's recommendation to remand in Nuckols Crossing, Ltd., Houston was once again warned of the consequences of his continued pursuit of frivolous claims. Rather than heeding this warning, Houston continued to file a number of motions and advisories in both lawsuits. As such, in the Court's recommendation to dismiss the instant suit, it requested the District Court re-refer the case after adopting the Report and Recommendation so that the Court could address sanctions against Houston. Dkt. No. 75. The Report and Recommendation was adopted on February 17, 2017, and this Court issued an order to Houston to show cause why he should not be sanctioned. Dkt. No. 85. In his response, Houston once again addressed the merits of his claims, focusing particularly on his claims of bias by Judge Yeakel, whom he had previously attempted to recuse on multiple occasions. Dkt. No. 86. In addition, he filed a report completed by a VA vocational expert describing Houston's post-traumatic stress disorder and the effect it has on his ability to maintain work. The Court has considered the response and attached exhibits and issues the following recommendation.

         II. ANALYSIS

         A court may, on its own initiative, impose sanctions under Fed.R.Civ.P. 11(c)(3). Rule 11 sanctions may be appropriate when a pro se litigant has a history of submitting multiple frivolous claims. See Mendoza v. Lynaugh, 989 F.2d 191, 195-97 (5th Cir. 1993). Pro se litigants have no “license to harass others, clog the judicial machinery with meritless litigation, and abuse already overloaded court dockets.” Farguson, 808 F.2d at 359. The first inquiry in this determination is “how much havoc has this litigant wreaked on the judicial system relative to the harm inflicted by other litigants who have been sanctioned.” Birdo v. Carl, 32 F.3d 565, *2 (5th Cir. 1994) (citing Mendoza, 989 F.2dat 195-97). However, “[t]he imposition of a sanction without a prior warning is generally to be avoided.” Moody v. Baker, 857 F.2d 256, 258 (5th Cir. 1988). Before imposing sanctions, the court must issue a show cause order describing the offending conduct and giving both notice and an opportunity for the party to be heard. Elliott v. Tilton, 64 F.3d 213, 216 (5th Cir. 1994).

         Rule 11 gives courts broad discretion in determining which sanctions are appropriate in any given case. See Thomas v. Capital Servs., Inc., 836 F.2d 866, 877 (5th Cir. 1988). The sanctions imposed should be the “least severe sanction adequate to serve the purpose.” Id. at 878. One of the well-settled appropriate exercises of a court's power to sanction is issuing pre-filing injunctions against vexatious litigants. Baum v. Blue Moon Ventures, LLC, 513 F.3d 181, 187 (5th Cir. 2008) (citing Farguson v. M Bank Houson, N.A., 808 F.2d 358, 360 (5th Cir. 1986)). Any injunction issued “must be tailored to protect the courts and innocent parties, while preserving ...

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