Vexatious litigation is legal action which is brought, regardless of its merits, solely to harass or subdue an adversary. It may take the form of a primary frivolous lawsuit or may be the repetitive, burdensome, and unwarranted filing of meritless motions in a matter which is otherwise a meritorious cause of action. Filing vexatious litigation is considered an abuse of the judicial process and may result in sanctions against the offender.
A single action, even a frivolous one, is usually not enough to raise a litigant to the level of being declared vexatious. Repeated and severe instances by a single lawyer or firm can result in eventual disbarment.
Some jurisdictions have a list of vexatious litigants: people who have repeatedly abused the legal system. Because lawyers could be disbarred for participating in the abuse, vexatious litigants are often unable to retain legal counsel, and such litigants therefore represent themselves in court. Those on the list are usually either forbidden from any further legal action or are required to obtain prior permission from a senior judge before taking any legal action. The process by which a person is added to the list varies among jurisdictions. In liberal democratic jurisdictions, declaring someone a vexatious litigant is considered to be a serious measure and rarely occurs, as judges and officials are reluctant to curtail a person's access to the courts.
These legal actions are occurring in some countries of the former British empire, where the Common Law System still remains: Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, UK, and US, which are specified below. The Civil (Codified/Continental) Law does not provide this kind of gate to limit equal access of citizens to the justice system.
- 1 History of legislation against vexatious litigation
- 2 Laws by country
- 2.1 Australia
- 2.2 United Kingdom
- 2.3 Canada
- 2.4 Ireland
- 2.5 New Zealand
- 2.6 United States
- 3 Notable vexatious litigants
- 4 See also
- 5 Notes
History of legislation against vexatious litigation
The concept of vexatious litigation entered into law in 1896 with the Vexatious Actions Act, enacted in England and soon extended to Scotland and Ireland. This was a response primarily to the actions of Alexander Chaffers, a lawyer who filed numerous actions against leading members of Victorian society. When costs were awarded against him he failed to pay.
The first law outside Britain was passed in Australia in 1927, the Supreme Court Act, 1927. This too was prompted by the behaviour of an individual, Rupert Millane. The first Vexatious Litigant law in the United States was enacted in California in 1963. By 2007 five US states states had passed similar legislation: California, Florida, Hawaii, Ohio, and Texas.
Laws by country
Only three people have ever been declared vexatious litigants in the High Court of Australia, the first in 1976. Then, in 1992, Justice John Toohey ran out of patience with Alan Skyring and Patrick Cusack's repeated attempts to obtain a re-hearing on their argument that the Commonwealth did not have the power to issue paper money.
New South Wales
In New South Wales, seventeen people are on the New South Wales Supreme Court's vexatious litigants register. They include Drago Jambrecina, who took a building society to court 44 times, Dominic Wy Kanak of the Waverley Council, who launched 40 proceedings against an Olympic beach volleyball stadium at Bondi, Pranay Bhattacharya and Con Tsekouras.
In Queensland, the process for having someone declared a vexatious litigant is governed by the Vexatious Proceedings Act 2005, which supplanted an earlier Act. Importantly, the Act defines a vexatious proceeding to include a proceeding brought without merit or any prospect of success, with the consequence that it is not necessary to prove the existence of any improper motive in order to obtain relief under the Act. In recent years, Milton Conde, John Labaj, Russell Mathews and Dayal Mansukhani have had their rights to litigate restricted by the Supreme Court of Queensland.
In South Australia, vexatious litigation laws were enacted in the mid-1930s with the Supreme Court Act 1935-1936, following similar laws enacted in Victoria. In 2010 the Rann government acted to strengthen the ability of the courts to act against vexatious litigants by "increasing the range of courts and tribunals that can declare people as vexatious". Prior to that date, few people had been banned from bringing litigation to South Australian courts – by 2005, only two people were listed as having been declared as vexatious litigants, the first in 1997 and the second declared during that year. Subsequently, at least two other South Australians have been found to be vexatious litigants.
Notable SA Vexatious Litigants
Ranjit Rana was declared to be a vexatious litigant by the Federal Magistrates Court on 20 July 2012 noting that Mr Rana had litigated 77 decisions of various Courts being unsuccessful in each and every one.
Mr. Kazimir Kowalski was declared to be a vexatious litigant against Mitsubishi Motors Australia Ltd by Bleby J of the Supreme Court of South Australia on 19 April 2005. On 22 November 2005 that decision that Bleby J decision was unanimously upheld on appeal to the Full Bench of the Supreme Court. Those 2005 orders didn't apply to State court litigation against parties that were not related to Mitsubishi Motors Australia Ltd, or the Federal Court. Mr. Kowalski continued to litigate in the Federal Court without restraint until 2010 when Mitsubishi Motors Australia Ltd and the Registrar of the Federal Court of Australia applied for orders stopping him again. He was declared to be a vexatious litigant by Stone J of the Federal Court of Australia on 7 April 2011. On 8 December 2011 the Full Bench of the Federal Court unanimously refused to allow Mr Kowalski to appeal the decision of Stone J.
During 2010 Mr. Kowalski also started lodging complaints against legal practitioners in the Legal Practitioners Conduct Board. This number of complaints against legal practitioners grew to more than 30 and included Robyn Layton QC, Frances Nelson QC, Ralph Bönig, Terry Forrest, Tim Bourne, Russell John Cole, Andrew Sim and Jay Weatherill. During 2011 the complaints against legal practitioners escalated to private Criminal prosecutions against Tim Bourne, Russell Cole and Others and then an attempt at Jay Weatherill. On 7 October 2011 Dr A.J. Cannon DCM ordered that the Criminal information proposed to be laid by Mr Kowalski against Jay Weatherill not be accepted at any South Australian registry.
Legislation has existed since 1930, but is under review as of limited use.
England and Wales
- Limited civil restraint order (formerly a Grepe v. Loam Order) where two or more applications totally without merit are made in a single proceedings. No further application may be made in the proceedings without the permission of the court.
- Extended civil restraint order for "persistently vexatious behaviour" lasts for a specified period of no more than two years for "applications touching upon instant matters" and can only be granted by a judge of the Court of Appeal, High Court or a designated civil judge.
- General civil restraint order for a maximum of two years for all proceedings in the High Court or specified county courts.
Further applications totally without merit can lead to withdrawal of the right of appeal. Harassment of the court and court officials can lead to a penal prohibition notice, prohibiting the litigant from contacting or approaching the court without permission.
Under the Vexatious Actions (Scotland) Act 1898 the Lord Advocate can apply for an order to prevent any person accused of vexatious litigation from raising any and all legal proceedings "unless he obtains the leave of a judge sitting in the Outer House on the Bills in the Court of Session, having satisfied the judge that such legal proceeding is not vexatious." A list of people who have had such an order brought against them is published on the Scottish Courts website. As of December 2012 there are eight names on this list.
In Canada, Section 40 of the Federal Court Act and in Ontario Section 140 of the Courts of Justice Act, restrict the ability to introduce or continue proceedings for those who have instituted vexatious proceedings or conducted proceedings in a vexatious manner.
In Quebec, the Code of Civil Procedure is the principal legislation that sets rules related to civil procedure.
Under section 46 of the Code of Civil Procedure, all judicial courts and judges in Quebec are vested with "...all the powers necessary for the exercise of their jurisdiction". Furthermore, they may:
"…at any time and in all matters, whether in first instance or in appeal, issue orders to safeguard the rights of the parties, for such time and on such conditions as they may determine. As well, they may, in the matters brought before them, even on their own initiative, issue injunctions or reprimands, suppress writings or declare them libellous, and make such orders as are appropriate to deal with cases for which no specific remedy is provided by law."
Section 46 vests a very broad power on judicial courts and judges to ensure that the administration of justice is conducted according to decorum and according to the remedial nature of justice. As the courts's decisions have shown it, the authority to declare a litigant as vexatious is directly tributary to the power conferred by section 46.
Cases illustrating the application of section 46 are numerous. Among them, there are: Nguiagain v. Commission de la fonction publique, in which the judge rejected the plaintiff's motion for a mandamus to enjoin his union to revise the grievance that he had filed on the grounds that the motion was groundless and abusive; De Niverville c. Descôteaux, where an injunction was rendered declaring the respondent, disbarred lawyer Descôteaux, as a vexatious litigant due to the multiple unfounded and frivolous actions that he had sought against the plaintiff De Niverville; and in Fabrikant v. Corbin, a motion to declare the plaintiff Valery Fabrikant as a vexatious litigant was granted to the defendant, Dr. Corbin. In all of the above cited cases, a litigant was only declared vexatious following a proceeding instated by the opposite party.
Moreover, section 46’s scope is limited to judicial courts and judges. Administrative tribunals are legislative creations and they can only exist and function within the limits that are imposed by law. Administrative tribunals in Quebec cannot declare a person a vexatious litigant.
As per section 90 of the Rules of Practice of the Superior Court of Québec in Civil Matters, such litigants are now indexed in a registry kept by the Chief Justice in the judiciary district of Montreal. Lawyer and author Claude Duchesnay has reported in May 2003 that a document on the Quebec attorney general’s intranet contains the name of 58 persons who must obtain permission prior to instating proceedings before the courts.
In Ireland, a court may, of its own motion or on application, order that no proceedings, either of a certain type or at all, may be issued by a certain person without leave of that court or some other court, for a specified time, or indefinitely. Such an order is referred to in legal circles as an Isaac Wunder order after Isaac Wunder who made several claims against the Hospitals Trust claiming sweepstakes prizes, but the claims were found to be groundless and the case deemed frivolous or vexatious. He was prohibited from taking further High Court proceedings in the action without leave of the court.
In New Zealand a person may be declared a vexatious litigant by a High Court Judge on the application of the Attorney-General. A vexatious litigant must then apply to a High Court Judge for leave to commence any action. A decision by the High Court whether or not to grant leave cannot be appealed.
David Stanley Heenan, an adjudicated bankrupt of Queenstown, was declared a vexatious litigant in August 2009 and unsuccessfully appealed to the Court of Appeal. He subsequently had applications declined by the High Court.
James Reid of Woodville became the "eighth person in 50 years" to be declared a vexatious litigant, mainly for litigation against the Tararua District Council and the New Zealand Fire Service Commission.
- In the immediately preceding seven-year period has commenced, prosecuted, or maintained in propria persona at least five litigations other than in a small claims court that have been (i) finally determined adversely to the person or (ii) unjustifiably permitted to remain pending at least two years without having been brought to trial or hearing.
- After a litigation has been finally determined against the person, repeatedly relitigates or attempts to relitigate, in propria persona, either (i) the validity of the determination against the same defendant or defendants as to whom the litigation was finally determined or (ii) the cause of action, claim, controversy, or any of the issues of fact or law, determined or concluded by the final determination against the same defendant or defendants as to whom the litigation was finally determined.
- In any litigation while acting in propria persona, repeatedly files unmeritorious motions, pleadings, or other papers, conducts unnecessary discovery, or engages in other tactics that are frivolous or solely intended to cause unnecessary delay.
- Has previously been declared to be a vexatious litigant by any state or federal court of record in any action or proceeding based upon the same or substantially similar facts, transaction, or occurrence.
Appeals of an existing action do not count as “final determinations”. Appeals and writs that are related to a current action do not count as “final determinations” or additional determinations, because until all avenues of appeal have been exhausted the determinations cannot be construed as “final”. A judgment is final for all purposes when all avenues for direct review have been exhausted. Interlocutory decisions before a judgment cannot be considered “final determinations”. Docket lists show nothing about qualifying merit of interim motions (Id.)
To meet the unspecified criteria for "repeated" motions or litigations, the number must be much more than two, and the rule based on case law seems to be around 12. "While there is no bright line rule as to what constitutes “repeatedly,” most cases affirming the vexatious litigant designation involve situations where litigants have filed dozens of motions either during the pendency of an action or relating to the same judgment." 
Repeated motions must be "so devoid of merit and be so frivolous that they can be described as a flagrant abuse of the system, have no reasonable probability of success, lack reasonable or probable cause or excuse, and are clearly meant to abuse the processes of the courts and to harass the adverse party than other litigants." Evidence that a litigant is a frequent plaintiff or defendant alone is insufficient to support a vexatious litigant designation. The moving party, in addition to demonstrating that the plaintiff is vexatious, must make an affirmative showing based on evidence that the case has little chance of prevailing on the merits. If the plaintiff is so determined, a bond may be required, and if the bond requirement is not met within a specified time period, a judgment of dismissal is ordered. A finding of vexatiousness is not an appealable order, but a dismissal for failure to post a bond requirement based on a judgment of vexatiousness is appealable.
Notable vexatious litigants
- Lawrence Bittaker, who together with his partner Roy Norris was convicted of torturing and murdering five young women in 1979, has filed 40 separate frivolous lawsuits against the state of California, including one claiming "cruel and unusual punishment" after being served a broken cookie. In 1993, he was declared a vexatious litigant and is forbidden from filing lawsuits without the permission of a lawyer or a judge.
- Alexander Chaffers, a solicitor whose actions led to the first British law against vexatious litigation, the Vexatious Actions Act, 1896. Chaffers became notorious after accusing the wife of Travers Twiss of being a prostitute. He subsequently issued 48 proceedings against leading members of Victorian society in the 1890s. Costs awarded against Chaffers were never paid. After the act was passed he became the first person to be declared a habitually vexatious litigant and barred from future litigation without judicial permission.
- David Eastman convicted of the murder of Australian Federal Police Assistant Commissioner Colin Winchester whom he shot twice in the head at point blank range in the driveway of Winchester's home in Deakin, ACT. He was found guilty and was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole for the murder. Eastman was tried in 1995, a process lasting 85 days. During the trial, Eastman repeatedly sacked his attorneys and eventually chose to represent himself. Eastman also abused the judge during his trial, and during later legal proceedings and appeals. Subsequent to his conviction, Eastman continuously appealed against his conviction, attempting to win a retrial on the basis that he was mentally unfit during his original trial. On 27 May 2009, Eastman was transferred from a NSW prison to the ACT's Alexander Maconochie Centre to see out his sentence. However in 2014 a judicial inquiry recommended that Eastman's sentence should be quashed and he should be pardoned. On 22 August of the same year, the Supreme Court of the Australian Capital Territory quashed his conviction, and ordered a retrial.
- Valery Fabrikant, a former Concordia University professor serving a life sentence for the murders of four colleagues in 1992.
- Julian Knight, convicted of the Hoddle Street massacre in Melbourne, Australia. Numerous actions, primarily seeking injunctions against the prison incarcerating him, cost the Victoria government over A$250,000 directly, plus some A$128,000 in outside legal costs.
- David James "Indian Chief" Lindsey, a Melbourne man so declared after repeatedly suing doctors, insurance firms and companies such as Carlton & United Breweries for smoking-related damages. On February 21, 2006, the Supreme Court of Appeal gave him leave to sue Philip Morris, demonstrating that a vexatious litigant is not completely blocked from launching further court action.
- Richard Mack, after whom the Mack Bar is named, an order barring a litigant from making substantially any non-criminal filings within the court's jurisdiction. In the course of his litigation, which began in Wisconsin state courts, Mack made numerous frivolous petitions and motions, resulting in monetary sanctions. Mack initially failed to pay the sanctions. At one point, Mack set up his own corporation having the same name as the defendant against whom he was litigating, made payments to that corporation, and then represented to the court that he had complied with the duty to pay. After the sanctions escalated from $100 to $5500 and remained unpaid, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals issued an order, now referred to as a Mack Bar, preventing any further filings from being accepted by the court.
- Andy Martin (Anthony Martin-Tragona), who has been barred since 1983 from filing any legal action in a United States federal court without permission. He is banned from seeking indigent status in Florida courts due to his history of filing abusive petitions. Martin is also prohibited from filing lawsuits in New York, unless represented by an attorney or with the court's prior approval.
- Roy L. Pearson, Jr., who filed a civil case demanding US$67 million in 2005, following a dispute with a dry cleaning company over a lost pair of trousers, which later become known as the "pants lawsuit". When it went to trial in 2007, the case was held up as an example of vexatious and frivolous litigation, and as an example of the need for tort reform in the United States. Previously, during his divorce proceedings, Pearson was sanctioned $12,000 by the trial court for "creating unnecessary litigation and threatening both [his ex-wife Rhonda] VanLowe and her lawyer with disbarment."
- Jonathan Lee Riches former prisoner who filed over 2,600 lawsuits over the course of six years.
- The Church of Scientology. "Plaintiffs (Scientologists) have abused the federal court system by using it, inter alia, to destroy their opponents, rather than to resolve an actual dispute over trademark law or any other legal matter. This constitutes 'extraordinary, malicious, wanton and oppressive conduct.' As such, this case qualifies as an 'exceptional case' and fees should be awarded pursuant to the Lanham Act... It is abundantly clear that plaintiffs sought to harass the individual defendants and destroy the church defendants through massive over-litigation and other highly questionable litigation tactics. The Special Master has never seen a more glaring example of bad faith litigation than this." (s:Religious Technology Center v. Scott (1996), U. S. District Court, Central District of California, No. 85-711-JMI (Bx) 85-7197-JMI (Bx), January 20, 1993, Memorandum of Decision).
- Francis "Coyote" Shivers, former husband of Bebe Buell and Pauley Perrette, deemed a Vexatious Litigant on August 27, 2008 by The Superior Court of Los Angeles County during a long ongoing trial between himself and Perrette.
- Dorothy Squires, singer and former wife of Roger Moore, who was declared a vexatious litigant in 1987. Her legal fees led to her bankruptcy.
- Diane Stretton aka Diane Gall, the so-called "Squatter Nanny", who refused to leave the home of her employers (Marcella and Ralph Bracamonte) in Upland, California. Ms. Stretton has at least 37 cases listed just in California.
- Jack Thompson, Barred by the Florida Supreme Court from filing anything without it being signed by another member of the Florida Bar.
- Isaac Wunder, who gave his name to the Isaac Wunder order which may be issued in Ireland to vexatious litigants.
- Alvin Stauber, "Litigious Paranoia: Confronting And Controlling Abusive Litigation In The United States, The United Kingdom", International Review of Business Research Papers, Vol.5 No. 1 January 2009, pp.11- 27.
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- Rana v Deakin University  FMCA 575
- MITSUBISHI MOTORS AUSTRALIA LTD v KOWALSKI  SASC 154
- KOWALSKI v MITSUBISHI MOTORS AUSTRALIA LTD  SASC 433
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- Federal Court of Australia Annual Report 2010-2011
- Soden v Kowalski  FCA 31
- Kowalski v Mitsubishi Motors Australia Ltd  FCAFC 159
- Kowalski v Bourne  SASC 6
- Kowalski v Cole & Ors  SASC 20
- Attorney-General of SA v Kowalski (NO 1)  SASC 231
- Attorney-General of SA v Kowalski (NO 2)  SASC 99
- Attorney-General of SA v Kowalski (NO 3) SASC 100
- Attorney-General of SA v Kowalski (NO 4) SASC 101
- Attorney-General of SA v Kowalski (NO 5)  SASC 169
- Attorney-General of SA v Kowalski (NO 6)  SASC 198
- The Advertiser November 06, 2010
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- Martin-Trigona v. Capital Cities/ABC, Inc. 546 N.Y.S.2d 910 (N.Y. Sup., 1989)
- Paul Courson "Judge in pants lawsuit sues to get job back". CNN. 2008-05-02. Retrieved 2011-04-12.
- American Tort Reform Association, press release, 2007-06-25
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- Roy L. Pearson, Jr. v. Rhonda S. Vanlowe
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