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Rath v. Rath

Supreme Court of North Dakota

June 2, 2016

Kayla Rath, Plaintiff
v.
Mark Rath, Defendant and Appellant

         Appeal from the District Court of Burleigh County, South Central Judicial District, the Honorable James S. Hill, Judge.

          Mark Rath (on brief), self-represented, defendant and appellant.

          Kayla Rath, plaintiff; no appearance.

          OPINION

          Carol Ronning Kapsner, Justice.

         [¶ 1] Mark Rath appeals from a district court order denying his motion for an order to show cause and denying his motion for relief. We affirm.

         I

         [¶ 2] Mark Rath and Kayla Rath were divorced in January 2013. Kayla Rath was awarded primary residential responsibility of the couple's children. Mark Rath was awarded supervised parenting time. The divorce judgment permits Mark Rath to call the children each Monday and every other Friday and Sunday between 7:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. This Court has decided various appeals in this case. See Rath v. Rath, 2016 ND 46 (affirming orders denying motion for order to show cause, motion to modify judgment, and motion for recusal); Rath v. Rath, 2015 ND 22, 861 N.W.2d 172 (summarily affirming district court's denial of Mark Rath's motion to vacate the judgment and grant relief); Rath v. Rath, 2014 ND 171, 852 N.W.2d 377 (affirming order denying motion to hold Kayla Rath in contempt; reversing district court's amendment to judgment on due process and notice grounds); Rath v. Rath, 2013 ND 243, 840 N.W.2d 656 (affirming order denying motion to hold Kayla Rath in contempt and denial of request for district court judge to recuse himself).

         [¶ 3] In the present action, Mark Rath has filed a motion for an order to show cause and a motion for relief from the original divorce judgment. He argued both motions in one brief. In support of his motions, Mark Rath asserted Kayla Rath violated his due process and First Amendment rights by monitoring his phone calls with the children. He also argued Kayla Rath violated the terms of the divorce judgment by making the children unavailable for scheduled calls, ending calls prematurely, and refusing to allow one of the children to accept a cell phone he sent as a gift. Last, Mark Rath asserted the district court judge presiding over his case has failed to remain impartial and must recuse himself.

         [¶ 4] The district court denied both of Mark Rath's motions in one order. The court found Mark Rath's motions were repetitive and without merit. The court warned: "the most recent Motions by Mark are frivolous under the language of N.D.R.Civ.P. Rule 11. While [the court] does not sanction Mark at this time, Defendant Mark Rath is expressly advised that this Court will sanction a continued clear pattern of frivolous repetitive litigation." Mark Rath appealed.

         II

         [¶ 5] We treat motions for relief the same as a motion for reconsideration. Greywind v. State, 2015 ND 231, ¶ 11, 869 N.W.2d 746. A district court's denial of a motion for reconsideration will not be reversed "absent a manifest abuse of discretion." Waslaski v. State, 2013 ND 70, ¶ 10, 830 N.W.2d 228. "A court abuses its discretion when it acts in an arbitrary, unreasonable, or unconscionable manner, or when it misinterprets or misapplies the law, or when its decision is not the product of a rational mental process leading to a reasoned determination." Riak v. State, 2015 ND 120, ¶ 14, 863 N.W.2d 894.

         A

         [¶ 6] Mark Rath argues the district court erred when it found his motion frivolous. Although the court refrained from levying sanctions against him, it warned that if Mark Rath continues to file similar motions, it would sanction him in the future.

The district court has authority to stem abuses of the judicial process, which comes not only from applicable rules and statutes, such as N.D.R.Civ.P. 11, but "from the court's inherent power to control its docket and to protect its jurisdiction and judgments, the integrity of the court, and the orderly and expeditious administration of justice." Federal Land Bank v. Ziebarth, 520 N.W.2d 51, 58 (N.D.1994). A district court has discretion under N.D.C.C. § 28-26-01(2) to decide whether a claim is frivolous and the amount and reasonableness of an award of attorney fees, but when the court decides a claim is frivolous, the court must award attorney fees. See Strand v. Cass Cnty.,2008 ND 149, ¶¶ 12-13, 753 N.W.2d 872. "A claim for relief is frivolous under N.D.C.C. § 28-26-01(2) only if there is such a complete ...

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