Garrity Traina: Dealing with Vexatious Litigants in California

The High Cost and Frustration of Litigation

Litigation expenses in the United States can quickly escalate, leaving even victorious defendants with significant losses in terms of time and money. Even a seemingly straightforward civil case can easily rack up hundreds of thousands of dollars in defense costs.

Unfortunately, some individuals repeatedly target the same party, filing numerous lawsuits in a seemingly never-ending cycle. These litigants may represent themselves, often due to financial constraints, and frequently secure waivers for filing fees on the basis of indigence. Meanwhile, defendants are forced to bear the brunt of mounting defense costs with no control over the situation.

Recognizing the potential for abuse and the strain on court resources, the California legislature has enacted laws aimed at curbing the actions of these vexatious litigants. While citizens have the right to access the legal system, certain safeguards and restrictions are in place to ensure fair and reasonable usage.

What Defines a Vexatious Litigant

According to Code Civ. Proc. § 391(b), a vexatious litigant is an individual who meets one or more of the following criteria:

  1. Within the past seven years, they have initiated, pursued, or maintained at least five litigations (excluding small claims court) in propria persona (without legal counsel). Either those cases have been finally decided against the person or they have unnecessarily lingered for at least two years without going to trial or hearing.

  2. Following an unfavorable judgment, they pursue or attempt to relitigate, in propria persona, either the legitimacy of the initial decision regarding the same defendant(s), or the cause of action, claim, controversy, or any relevant issues determined or concluded by the prior judgment.

  3. While representing themselves in any litigation, they repeatedly file meritless motions, pleadings, papers, or engage in frivolous tactics intended solely to cause delays.

  4. They have previously been declared a vexatious litigant by any state or federal court based on substantially similar facts, transactions, or occurrences.

See also  Garrity Traina: The Atlanta Real Estate Litigation Experts

Protective Measures: Prefiling Orders and Defendant’s Motions

Code Civ. Proc. § 391.7 allows the court, upon its own motion or at the request of any party, to issue a prefiling order prohibiting a vexatious litigant from initiating new litigations in California without obtaining prior permission from the presiding justice or judge. Failure to adhere to such an order may lead to contempt of court charges. The court should only grant permission if the litigation appears to have merit and is not intended to harass or cause unwarranted delays.

Additionally, the court may request the litigant to provide security for the defendant’s benefit, as outlined in Code Civ. Proc. § 391.3. However, there is an avenue for vexatious litigants subject to a prefiling order to apply for its removal from the Judicial Council’s list. A court can vacate the order and remove their name from the list upon establishing a material change in the relevant facts and determining that justice would be served by lifting the order.

During ongoing litigation, defendants have the right to motion the court for either a security requirement from the plaintiff or dismissal of the case under Code Civ. Proc. § 391.1(b). This motion must demonstrate that the plaintiff is a vexatious litigant and that there is no reasonable probability of their prevailing in the proceedings against the moving defendant.

At the hearing, the court considers all relevant evidence, oral or written, including witnesses’ testimonies or affidavits. It is important to note that any determination made by the court in relation to the motion does not constitute a judgment on the overall issues or merits of the case.

See also  The Importance of Hiring a Civil Litigation Lawyer

The Effects and Challenges of Vexatious Litigant Classification

The ramifications of being designated as a vexatious litigant can be severe. While access to the courts is a fundamental right, judges rarely classify a party as such unless the evidence is undeniable. Critics argue that the current criteria for classification place an unfair burden on defendants, who often have to endure significant defense costs before the courts entertain such motions.

However, achieving relief from vexatious litigation is possible. Our firm has successfully obtained such classifications in previous cases within the state courts. Once designated, the litigant faces formidable obstacles in pursuing further legal action. As an interesting anecdote, one of the parties we classified as a vexatious litigant later attempted to sue the California Superior Court and the California Supreme Court, alleging a conspiracy against her. Unfortunately for her, being a vexatious litigant prevented this action from moving forward.

For more information on dealing with vexatious litigants and other legal matters, visit Garrity Traina.

Vexatious Litigant