Who’s a Vexatious Litigant?

Who’s a Vexatious Litigant?

Lawsuits are already stressful by themselves. Litigation in the US can be taxing and costly. Even if you win, you often incur significant damages from all that time spent in court or with your attorney, as well as all the expenses involved. And then some people take the time to bring people to court again and again for ridiculous or even malicious purposes!

The US legal system values justice. It lets people file lawsuits to compensate and redress any harm done by another person. However, if a person sues without any practical result coming from this legal action, then it counts as vexatious litigation. Litigation can also be counted as vexatious when a person files groundless lawsuits over and over despite losing repeatedly.

A vexatious litigant is a person who starts a lawsuit maliciously with no probable cause. This person probably isn’t acting in good faith and seeks to cause annoyance or embarrassment for you.

In this article, we’ll elaborate on what vexatious litigation is according to California law. If you’ve been sued by a vexatious litigant, you may sue them for malicious prosecution, making them pay damages for injuries and expenses that occurred from the original lawsuit. If you need legal assistance, call our experienced Orange County attorneys to learn more! 

How Does California State Law Define Vexatious Litigation?

 Vexatious LitigantVexatious litigants come in many forms. Maybe they’re just addicted to litigation. It could be that they’ve truly convinced themselves that they’re in the right in their disputes and will use any excuse to sue their opponent. Whatever the case, the people defending themselves from these repeated lawsuits don’t have a choice but to take them on and lose time and money over these cases. 

The legislature does recognize this abuse of process, making both the court and the defendants waste resources. With that, certain laws were put in place and upheld to make cases involving vexatious litigants more difficult.

The right to use the legal system is a treasure. Even if a person is treated as a vexatious litigant, they can still make use of our court system, under strict court rules and restrictions.

Vexatious Litigant Defined:

Code Civ. Proc. § 391(b) defines what a vexatious litigant is. Take note that most of these assume that they are litigating in propria persona, meaning they represent themselves. Other legal terms you may encounter include “pro se litigant,” which simply means they’re not represented by a legal professional. Self-representation is possible in the practice of law, after all.

Below is how California defines a vexatious litigant. We’ve included a paraphrased version with less legalese immediately after. 

Under Code of Civil Procedure section 391(b), a vexatious litigant is a person who does any of the following: 

  1. 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 has 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.
  2. After 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Layman definition

In other words, you can call someone a vexatious litigant if:

  1. In the past seven years, they’ve had at least five litigation cases that were 
    1. Determined adversely to them; or
    2. Remained pending for two years for no good reason.  
  2. If they keep relitigating after their case was determined against them either to
    1. Dispute the validity of the decision of that case; or
    2. Dispute any fact or issue of law determined in their webcast.
  3. They utilize proper court processes and procedures to cause unnecessary delay. 
  4. They’ve been declared as a vexatious litigant by another state or by the federal court. 

Note that the Judicial Council of California keeps a list of those deemed vexatious litigants.

What’s a Prefiling Order?

A prefiling order makes suing difficult for a vexatious litigant in the California courts without permission from a judge. If a vexatious litigant would violate a prefiling order against them, they may be punished for contempt of court. If you’re facing harassment from a vexatious litigant, your best bet is to have the court make a prefiling order that they have to comply with.

Of course, if their litigation does have merit, the presiding judge or justice should still allow it to proceed. The judge can also order that the plaintiff furnish security for the defendant. 

Is a Prefiling Order Permanent?

A vexatious litigant can apply to have the prefiling orders lifted and to have his name removed from the list of those subject to prefiling orders. A court can grant this if evidence shows that there has been enough change that the prefiling order is no longer needed. 

What can a Defendant do against a Vexatious Litigator?

During any pending litigation in any California Court, a defendant can make a motion for an order to require the plaintiff to furnish security. To do this, the defendant must show that the plaintiff is a vexatious litigant and there’s no reasonable chance that the plaintiff will be the prevailing party in the litigation. Once you’ve set the hearing, the litigation is halted. 

If the court does determine that they are a vexatious litigant and that they have no chance to prevail in their case against the defendant, then the court will order the plaintiff to furnish security for the defendant. 

If the court determines that the litigation was only filed to delay or harass, then the case would be dismissed. This only applies if the plaintiff originally had legal counsel when the case was filed, but their attorney had withdrawn afterward. 

Final Thoughts

Access to courts is access to justice. It is a right that Americans enjoy and is not easily restricted. Some people abuse this right, using any opportunity to litigate a person to the point of harassment. It takes clear evidence to classify a person as a vexatious litigant who abuses legal proceedings, making a defendant suffer to briefs and hearings over and over and costing them thousands of dollars. 

The courtroom is a battleground and rules of court are the rules of engagement. A legal professional is the best person to make sure that a civil case filed against you by a vexatious litigant doe not prosper. If you’re a resident of Orange County and need legal advice in the matters of family law, it’s best to talk to our attorneys at Treviño Law, Inc. Our attorneys are experienced in the issues of child support, custody, transmutation, or property division

Call our Orange County family law office now for a free consultation!

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