In law, frivolous litigation is the practice of starting or carrying on lawsuits that, due to their lack of legal merit, have little to no chance of being won. The term does not include cases that may be lost due to other matters not related to legal merit. While colloquially, a person may term a lawsuit to be frivolous if he or she personally finds a claim to be absurd, in legal usage “frivolous litigation” consists of a claim or defense that is presented where the party (or the party’s legal counsel) had reason to know that the claim or defense was manifestly insufficient or futile. The fact that a claim is lost does not imply that it was frivolous.
Frivolous litigation may be based on absurd legal theories, may involve a superabundance or repetition of motions or additional suits, may be uncivil or harassing to the court, or may claim extreme remedies. A claim or defense may be frivolous because it had no underlying justification in fact, or because it was not presented with an argument for a reasonable extension or reinterpretation of the law. A claim may be deemed frivolous because existing laws unequivocally prohibit such a claim, such as a so-called Good Samaritan law.
A frivolous lawsuit is any lawsuit that is filed with the intention of harassing, annoying, or disturbing the opposite party. It may also be defined as any lawsuit in which the plaintiff knows that there is little or no chance of the lawsuit succeeding if pursued in court.
Every year, many frivolous lawsuits are filed under personal injury laws, which may lead to a waste of time and money for courts and private individuals. The practice of filing frivolous lawsuits is also known as “frivolous litigation.”
Why Are Frivolous Lawsuits Filed?
An example of a frivolous lawsuit is where a person files a false product liability claim against a company. This can cause a tremendous amount of waste for the company, as it will then have to conduct investigations into the claim and report their findings. Frivolous lawsuits are often filed for petty reasons, such as the person being unsatisfied with a product, or a person holding a personal grudge against another citizen.
Another reason why frivolous lawsuits may be filed is to delay another type of legal proceeding. For instance, some real estate actions cannot proceed if the person is involved in a lawsuit at the time. Thus, the person might file a frivolous lawsuit simply for the purpose of delaying the upcoming real estate proceeding.
Other common frivolous lawsuits include harassment lawsuits and false sexual harassment claims.
In the United States, Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and similar state rules require that an attorney perform a due diligence investigation concerning the factual basis for any claim or defense. Jurisdictions differ on whether a claim or defense can be frivolous if the attorney acted in good faith. Because such a defense or claim wastes the court’s and the other parties’ time, resources and legal fees, sanctions may be imposed by a court upon the party or the lawyer who presents the frivolous defense or claim. The law firm may also be sanctioned, or even held in contempt.
In the U.S. Tax Court, frivolous arguments may result in a penalty of up to $25,000 under 26 U.S.C. § 6673(a)(1). Similarly, section 7482 of the Internal Revenue Code provides that the U.S. Supreme Court and the U.S. Courts of Appeals may impose penalties in which the taxpayer’s appeal of a U.S. Tax Court decision was “maintained primarily for delay” or where “the taxpayer’s position in the appeal is frivolous or groundless.” A common example, as shown below, is an argument based on tax protestor claims.
In a noncriminal case in a U.S. District Court, a litigant (or a litigant’s attorney) who presents any pleading, written motion or other paper to the court is required, under Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, to certify that, to the best of the presenter’s knowledge and belief, the legal contentions “are warranted by existing law or by a nonfrivolous argument for the extension, modification, or reversal of existing law or the establishment of new law”. Monetary civil penalties for violation of this rule may in some cases be imposed on the litigant or the attorney under Rule 11.
Are There Any Consequences for Filing a Frivolous Lawsuit?
Filing a frivolous lawsuit is usually looked down upon by courts. In most cases, filing a frivolous lawsuit will lead to a civil fine of a certain amount of dollars (sometimes in the thousands). It may also lead to a contempt order. In serious cases or repeat filings, criminal consequences can result. If a court identifies a lawsuit as frivolous, they will usually dismiss the filing immediately without looking into the claims more or investigating evidence.
Abuse of the legal system is a serious matter and is not treated lightly. Thus, one should only file a lawsuit if they are certain that there claim has merit and is likely to succeed. Also, lawsuit should never be filed for personal reasons or to “get back” at a certain person or corporation.
Lawyers who engage in consistent frivolous litigation may also face fines, citations, or a suspension/revocation of their state bar license.