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Tangwall v. Bankruptcy Trustee Larry Compton

United States District Court, D. Alaska

October 3, 2018




         Before the Court at Docket 5 and Docket 7 are Defendant Bankruptcy Trustee Larry Compton's (“Trustee”) Motions to Declare Donald Tangwall a Vexatious Litigant and Require Pre-Filing Order for Him to File Any Pleadings and to Dismiss Case.[1] Plaintiff Donald Tangwall opposed the motions at Docket 10 and Docket 12. Trustee replied at Docket 11. Oral argument was held on June 29, 2018, at Fairbanks, Alaska.[2]

         The Court has jurisdiction over this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1334(a).


         Mr. Tangwall has an extensive litigation history in the courts that began more than twenty years ago and spans across the United States. The record in this case demonstrates that Mr. Tangwall has filed multiple motions, cases, and appeals on the same issue to different courts.[3] The current action was initiated by Mr. Tangwall in March, 2018. Mr. Tangwall filed a petition seeking for the district court “to take control” of two cases in the Alaska Bankruptcy Court, case number 11-00939 and case number 12-00501.[4] The long history of the bankruptcy proceedings is not set out here; it is set forth in an order entered by this Court in a prior case concerning the same bankruptcy proceedings, which summary the Court adopts herein by reference.[5]

         The history of the bankruptcy proceedings is also set out in a Memorandum Decision entered by the Bankruptcy Court on May 3, 2017. On that same day, the Bankruptcy Court issued an order declaring Donald A. Tangwall a vexatious litigant and denying Mr. Tangwall's motion to find all judgments, orders, and memorandum void ab initio.[6] Mr. Tangwall appealed both orders to the Bankruptcy Appellate Panel, which affirmed them both on April 6, 2018.[7]

         On March 5, 2018, Mr. Tangwall initiated this case by filing a Petition for Superintending Control.[8] Mr. Tangwall alleges that the actions of numerous judges and lawyers involved in the bankruptcy proceedings “smacked of collusion” and he states that “this Court needs to take control of the two bankruptcy estates referenced above and order an investigation or such other remedy as this Court deems just.”[9] On March 21, 2018, the Trustee filed the two instant motions. One motion recounts Mr. Tangwall's extensive litigation history and requests that the Court declare Mr. Tangwall a vexatious litigant.[10] The other motion requests that the Petition for Superintending Control be dismissed with prejudice.[11]


         I. The Court has Authority to Impose Filing Restrictions on Litigants

          Under the All Writs Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1651(a), the Court has the authority to impose filing restrictions, such as a pre-filing order, on abusive litigants.[12] Because such orders constrain a litigant's fundamental right of access to the courts, however, they should rarely be used and only if courts comply with certain procedural and substantive requirements.[13] Before imposing pre-filing restrictions, a court must:

(1) give litigants notice and an opportunity to oppose the order before it is entered; (2) compile an adequate record for appellate review, including a listing of all the cases and motions that led the district court to conclude that a vexatious litigant order was needed; (3) make substantive findings of frivolousness or harassment; and (4) tailor the order narrowly so as to closely fit the specific vice encountered.[14]

         The first two requirements are procedural. The latter two requirements are substantive; they are designed to help a court define “who is, in fact, a ‘vexatious litigant' and construct a remedy that will stop the litigant's abusive behavior while not unduly infringing the litigant's right to access the courts.”[15] The Court addresses each in turn as follows:

         A. Notice and the Opportunity to Oppose the Order

         In this case, the first requirement-notice and an opportunity to oppose-has been provided to Mr. Tangwall. Mr. Tangwall responded to the Trustee's motion with a number of filings, all of which the Court has considered.[16] Mr. Tangwall also had the opportunity to oppose the motion at the oral argument on June 29, 2018.[17]

         B. Adequate Record of Cases and Motions

         The second requirement directs a Court to compile an adequate record for appellate review, including a listing of the cases and motions that led it to conclude that a vexatious litigant order is needed. The record “needs to show . . . that the litigant's activities were numerous or abusive.”[18] The Trustee's motion and exhibits thoroughly document Mr. Tangwall's litigation activities in various other proceedings at various federal and state venues, including Michigan, Illinois, Tennessee, Montana, and the Northern Mariana Islands.[19] Indeed, Mr. Tangwall has been declared to be a vexatious litigant by at least three other courts.[20] Mr. Tangwall does not dispute the accuracy of these court filings.

         Several of Mr. Tangwall's cases involve him being found to have fraudulently conveyed assets to other entities (frequently to a trust to which he is the trustee) and then attempting to protect the fraudulent transfers by filing countless documents and appeals that lack merit and legal or factual support.[21] Other cases involve Mr. Tangwall's representing trusts or corporate entities without a license to practice law.[22] The Court adopts the Trustee's listing of the cases and the orders entered therein and concludes from that listing that a vexatious litigant order is needed.[23]

         C. Substantive Findings of Frivolousness or Harassment

         The third requirement directs the Court to examine both the number and content of the litigant's filings to determine whether they are frivolous and/or harassing. The Court finds that Montana State Court Judge David Cybulski succinctly and accurately described Mr. Tangwall's vexatious litigation history as follows:

Mr. Tangwall's litigation history . . . demonstrates his twenty-plus-year history of filing frivolous and patently meritless lawsuits, and demonstrates that he has no intention of refraining from such practices without intervention of the Court. . . .
Mr. Tangwall's history in other jurisdictions . . . demonstrates that he has a long and storied history of vexatious ligation practice and procedure. He has been notified on numerous occasions that he is not allowed to represent corporate entities or other parties, but he continues to do so. Courts lament his lack of clarity, or his filings' lack of any basis in law or fact, or his bad faith, and yet such actions continue. In all practicality, the only way to rein in Mr. Tangwall's vexatious litigation is to require that he submit all proposed filings to the Court for preapproval, in order to avoid needlessly dragging innocent would-be defendants into the court system, and thereby wasting large amounts of the Court's time-time that would be better served on real cases.[24]

         Even if the Court were to consider solely the cases in the Alaska Bankruptcy Court and in this Court, there is ample evidence to support findings of frivolousness and harassment. Mr. Tangwall has made numerous and redundant filings, nearly all of which lack any basis in the fact or law.[25] Yet each of Mr. Tangwall's motions were duly heard by the Alaska Bankruptcy Court or this Court or the Bankruptcy Appellate Panel or the Ninth Circuit, and they have required numerous responsive filings from the Trustee. The Court does not dispute that Mr. Tangwall had the right to seek redress with the courts as to ownership of the Montana Property. A litigant is entitled to his or her day in court. But Mr. Tangwall has had many days in many courts, yet he steadfastly refuses to accept the courts' decisions.

         The following is a glimpse of trial cases and appeals that are related to the Montana Property:

• Case No. F11-00939-HAR
• Adv. No. F14-90016-HAR
• Adv. No. F14-90020-HAR
• Case No. 4:16-cv-00022-SLG
• Case No. ...

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