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Vexatious litigation

The meaning of «vexatious litigation»

Vexatious litigation is legal action which is brought 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. Rather, a pattern of frivolous legal actions is typically required to rise to the level of 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 this abuse of the legal process, vexatious litigants are often unable to retain legal counsel, and such litigants, therefore, represent themselves in court. Those on the vexatious litigant 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 occur 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 have such a prohibition.

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 primarily a response to the actions of Alexander Chaffers, a solicitor who filed numerous actions against leading members of Victorian society.[1] When costs were awarded against him, he failed to pay.[2][3]

The first such law outside the British Isles, the Supreme Court Act, 1927 was passed in Australia nearly thirty years later. This too was prompted by the behaviour of an individual, Rupert Millane.[4] The first vexatious litigant law in the United States was enacted in California in 1963. By 2007 four more US states had passed similar legislation: Florida, Hawaii, Ohio, and Texas.[2]

The High Court of Australia has declared only four people to be vexatious litigants in its century-old existence, as of June 2019[update],[5][6] whereas the Australian Federal Court system, established in 1976, has at least 49 names on its barred registry.[5]

In New South Wales, as of June 2019[update] there were 43 people on the New South Wales Supreme Court's vexatious litigants register.[5][7]

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