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Caruso v. Washington State Bar Association

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

June 15, 2018

ROBERT E. CARUSO and SANDRA L. FERGUSON, Plaintiffs,
v.
WASHINGTON STATE BAR ASSOCIATION, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR PRE-FILING ORDER

          RICARDO S. MARTINEZ, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This matter comes before the Court on Defendants' Motion for a Pre-Filing Order against Plaintiff Robert E. Caruso's counsel, Stephen K. Eugster. Dkt. #61. For the reasons stated below, the Court GRANTS this Motion.

         II. BACKGROUND

         Mr. Eugster's legal battles against the Washington State Bar Association apparently began in 2009 after he was sanctioned for professional misconduct. See In re Disciplinary Proceeding Against Eugster, 166 Wn.2d 293, 298 (2009) (“Eugster I”).

         In December of that year, Mr. Eugster filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington (“Eastern District”), alleging Washington's lawyer discipline system violates due process. Dkt. #62-1, Appendix at 1-31 (“Eugster II”).[1] The court dismissed the case because Mr. Eugster lacked standing and because his claims were unripe. Id. at 68-75. He appealed and the Ninth Circuit affirmed. Id. at 78-79.

         In early 2015, Mr. Eugster filed suit here in the Western District, challenging bar membership, license fees, and the use of such fees. Id. at 80-97 (“Eugster III”). This Court found that Mr. Eugster altered and “grossly misstate[d]” language from a U.S. Supreme Court opinion to support his theory of the case. Id. at 130. This Court explained that the Supreme Court and Ninth Circuit have upheld mandatory bar membership and fees several times, “and in no uncertain terms.” Id. at 130-34. The Court dismissed Mr. Eugster's claims with prejudice; the Ninth Circuit affirmed. Id. at 139-42.

         In late 2015, soon after Eugster III was dismissed, Mr. Eugster filed complaints in Spokane County Superior Court and in federal court in the Eastern District, again claiming that Washington's lawyer discipline system violates due process requirements. See id. at 143-77 (“Eugster IV”), 289-325 (“Eugster V”). These cases were also dismissed with prejudice, on res judicata grounds, in part because Mr. Eugster could have raised such objections in his prior disciplinary proceedings. Id. at 225-28; 367-81. Division III of the Court of Appeals affirmed, and the Washington Supreme Court denied Mr. Eugster's petition for review in Eugster IV. Id. at 230-276. Eugster V remains pending before the Ninth Circuit, id. at 382-383; Dkt. #62 (“Flevaris Decl.”) at ¶21.

         In late 2016, Mr. Eugster filed suit again in this Court, again challenging bar membership, fees, and discipline procedures. Id. at 400-24 (“Eugster VI”). Mr. Eugster tried to distinguish the suit by arguing the WSBA's most recent bylaw amendments designating limited license practitioners as bar members transformed the WSBA into a new entity that lacked authority. Id. at 407-416, 421-23. Mr. Eugster voluntarily dismissed that suit, id. at 425-26, then immediately re-filed the same claims in the instant matter, on behalf of two other previously disciplined lawyers, initially as a class action but eventually abandoning the class claims. Id. at 427-76; 477-516. This Court rejected Mr. Eugster's arguments and dismissed his claims with prejudice. Id. at 517-25.

         In early 2017, around the same time he filed this case, Mr. Eugster also filed suit in Thurston County Superior Court, again challenging WSBA license fees. Id. at 668-692 (“Eugster VII”). Mr. Eugster argued that license fees constitute an improper “tax.” Id. at 704. Eugster asked that the WSBA be placed into a receivership and for an accounting of any WSBA expenditures. Id. at 706-07. After Defendants moved to dismiss, Mr. Eugster voluntarily dismissed the case. Flevaris Decl. ¶39; Appendix at 723-24.

         At one point the WSBA asked this Court to impose monetary sanctions against Mr. Eugster, to deter him from his escalating pattern of meritless litigation. This Court agreed, finding Mr. Eugster had filed a “legally and factually baseless” suit after being “on notice of the flaws” in his claims, especially given his prior suits. Appendix at 532. This Court ordered Mr. Eugster to pay $28, 385 to the WSBA for legal expenses incurred defending against the suit. Id. at 540. On appeal, Mr. Eugster argued the WSBA had defrauded this Court and that this Court was unduly biased. Id. at 570-88. The Ninth Circuit affirmed, rejecting those arguments as meritless and “unsupported by the record.” Id. at 615-18, 620. Mr. Eugster moved for rehearing en banc, and that request is pending. Id. at 626-40, 645-665; Flevaris Decl. ¶¶ 33-34.

         Mr. Eugster did not heed the sanction this Court imposed on him. In late 2017, Mr. Eugster filed another lawsuit in the Eastern District. Appendix at 737-47 (“Eugster VIII”). As before, Mr. Eugster's complaint asserted constitutional claims against bar membership, license fees, and discipline procedures, and argued that the WSBA lacks regulatory authority. Id. at 744-47. In response, the WSBA notified Mr. Eugster that his complaint was duplicative and frivolous, as before. Id. at 727. The WSBA also notified Mr. Eugster that it would seek a vexatious litigant order against him if he refused to withdraw the case. See id.

         Mr. Eugster did not withdraw. Instead, he requested that the assigned judge recuse himself based on the fact he had already dismissed one of Mr. Eugster's prior suits. See id. at 823-29. The court denied that request and the WSBA moved to dismiss. Id. at 830-34; 748-70. In response, Mr. Eugster filed an amended complaint with the same claims; also reasserting his challenge against the use of fees; and arguing as a new theory in support of those claims that the Washington Supreme Court and WSBA constitute a monopoly over the practice of law. Id. at 771-95. The WSBA again moved to dismiss, explaining that Mr. Eugster's claims were precluded by his past suits and meritless as a matter of law in any event. See id. at 796-822. That motion remains pending. Flevaris Decl. at ¶46.

         On February 12, 2018, Mr. Eugster filed another lawsuit in Spokane County, asserting defamation, invasion of privacy, and abuse of process claims against both the WSBA and its attorneys as named defendants, based on the WSBA's briefing in this case. Id. at 835-48 ...


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