Vexatious Litigation

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Vexatious Litigation

A legal action or proceeding initiated maliciously and without Probable Cause by an individual who is not acting in Good Faith for the purpose of annoying or embarrassing an opponent.

The U.S. legal system permits persons to file civil lawsuits to seek redress for injuries committed by a defendant. However, a legal action that is not likely to lead to any practical result is classified as vexatious litigation. Such litigation is regarded as frivolous and will result in the dismissal of the action by the court. A person who has been subjected to vexatious litigation may sue the plaintiff for Malicious Prosecution, seeking damages for any costs and injuries associated with the original lawsuit.

Litigation is typically classified as vexatious when an attorney or a pro se litigant (a person representing himself without an attorney) repeatedly files groundless lawsuits and repeatedly loses. Under the Common Law, the frequent incitement of lawsuits by an attorney constituted the crime of Barratry. In modern law, however, barratry is viewed as an archaic crime and is rarely enforced. Attorneys who encourage vexatious litigation are subject to discipline for violating rules of professional conduct and may be suspended from the Practice of Law or disbarred.

Sometimes pro se litigants who have lost their initial lawsuits file new actions based on the dispute contained in the original suit. Because the judgment of the original case is dispositive, a court will ultimately dismiss these new actions. To avoid the expenditure of court resources, as well as the costs associated with the defendant's defense of repeated frivolous claims, a court may issue an order forbidding the pro se litigant to file any new actions without permission of the court.

Vexatious litigation is a type of malicious prosecution that enables the defendant to file a tort action against the plaintiff. A plaintiff in a malicious prosecution must prove that a legal proceeding (or multiple proceedings) was instituted by the defendant, that the original proceeding was terminated in favor of the plaintiff, that there was no probable cause for the original proceeding, and that malice, or a primary purpose other than that of bringing the original action, motivated the defendant. A plaintiff in such an action may recover, for example, the expenses incurred in defending the original suit or suits, as well as resulting financial loss or injury. A plaintiff may also recover damages for mental suffering of a kind that would normally be expected to follow from the original action.

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

vexatious litigation

n. filing a lawsuit with the knowledge that it has no legal basis, with its purpose to bother, annoy, embarrass and cause legal expenses to the defendant. Vexatious litigation includes continuing a lawsuit after discovery of the facts shows it has absolutely no merit. Upon judgment for the defendant, he/she has the right to file a suit for "malicious prosecution" against the original vexatious plaintiff. Moreover, most states allow a judge to penalize a plaintiff and his/her attorney for filing or continuing a "frivolous" legal action with sanctions (money award to the defendant for the trouble and/or attorney fees). (See: malicious prosecution, sanction)

Copyright © 1981-2005 by Gerald N. Hill and Kathleen T. Hill. All Right reserved.
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