If you have been sued, you may wonder: Is there a law that protects me from lawsuits?
In general, the law allows all people access to the courts and does not prohibit people from filing lawsuits. However, if someone files a lawsuit that is frivolous, vexatious, or in bad faith, state law provides the following remedies:
· Sanctions against the plaintiff or his attorney
· A court order for the other party to pay your attorney’s fees
· Professional discipline against an attorney who files a frivolous lawsuit
· Criminal prosecution for perjury
· Civil lawsuits for abuse of process or malicious prosecution
I’ll explain these remedies in greater detail below.
First, three caveats:
1. This post only discusses Oklahoma law. If your case is in federal court or in another state, the law may be very different.
2. This post does not list all the remedies that may be taken against someone who files a baseless lawsuit. There may be other remedies available.
3. The law on protection against lawsuits changes frequently. Thus, this information may soon be out of date.
Protections against frivolous litigation
Sanctions against the plaintiff or his attorney
Rule 2011 of the Oklahoma Pleading Code says that if a lawyer or party signs a pleading and files the pleading in court, the lawyer or party is certifying to the court that
“1. It is not being presented for any improper or frivolous purpose, such as to harass or to cause unnecessary delay or needless increase in the cost of litigation;
2. The claims, defenses and other legal contentions therein 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;
3. The allegations and other factual contentions have evidentiary support or, if specifically so identified, are likely to have evidentiary support after a reasonable opportunity for further investigation or discovery; and
4. The denials of factual contentions are warranted on the evidence or, if specifically so identified, are reasonably based on a lack of information or belief.”
If someone files a pleading that does not conform to the above standard, the judge may impose sanctions on him and order him to pay a fine. Here’s how it works: If you are on a lawsuit and the party on the other side files a pleading, and you believe the pleading is frivolous, write up a “motion for sanctions.” In this motion, explain why you believe that the other side’s pleading is frivolous. Then, send the motion for sanction to the opposing attorney (or the opposing party, if he is not represented by an attorney) but don’t file the motion with the court.
After you send the motion for sanctions to the other side, the other side has twenty-one days to withdraw their pleading. If they don’t withdraw their pleading within twenty-one days, then file the motion for sanctions with the court. The judge will then decide to impose sanctions on the other party. Rule 2011 says that a judge may impose any or all of the following sanctions:
· “Directives of a nonmonetary nature” (it doesn’t precisely say what these directives are)
· An order for the party who filed the frivolous pleading to pay a fine to the court
· An order for the opposing party to pay the attorney’s fees you incurred as a result of the frivolous filing.
A court order for the other party to pay your attorney’s fees
The law on sanctions, above, is not the only way you may collect attorney’s fees in a civil case. In City National Bank & Trust Co. v. Owens, the Oklahoma Supreme Court said that all courts have “inherent power” to order a party to pay the other side’s attorney’s fees if the party “has acted in bad faith, vexatiously, wantonly, or for oppressive reason.” If the other side has acted this way in your case, ask the judge to order attorney’s fees.
There are also state laws that say that in some types of cases, the judge shall order the loser to pay the winner’s attorney’s fees. For example, in suits for negligent or willful injury to property, or for unauthorized use of another person’s right of publicity, the law says that the court “shall” award attorney’s fees to the prevailing party.
Professional discipline against an attorney who files a frivolous lawsuit
Rule 3.1 of the Oklahoma Rules of Professional Conduct says,
“A lawyer shall not bring or defend a proceeding, or assert or controvert an issue therein, unless there is a basis in law and fact for doing so that is not frivolous, which includes a good faith argument for an extension, modification or reversal of existing law.”
If a lawyer violates this rule and files a baseless lawsuit against you, you may file a bar complaint with the Oklahoma Bar Association. If the bar association reads your complaint and determines that the lawyer has violated this rule, the bar association may file a disciplinary proceeding against the lawyer in the Oklahoma Supreme Court. The Supreme Court may impose discipline against the lawyer, including disbarment. For instructions on how to file a bar complaint, click here.
Criminal prosecution for perjury
“Whoever, in a trial, hearing, investigation, deposition, certification or declaration, in which the making or subscribing of a statement is required or authorized by law, makes or subscribes a statement under oath, affirmation or other legally binding assertion that the statement is true, when in fact the witness or declarant does not believe that the statement is true or knows that it is not true or intends thereby to avoid or obstruct the ascertainment of the truth, is guilty of perjury. It shall be a defense to the charge of perjury as defined in this section that the statement is true.”
Only the district attorney may file a perjury charge. If you believe that the opposing party in a lawsuit has committed perjury, you may report the incident to the police or the district attorney. Perjury in a civil trial is punishable by one to ten years in prison. In a civil case outside of a trial, perjury is punishable by up to five years in prison.
Civil lawsuits for abuse of process or malicious prosecution
You may also sue the other party for abuse of process or malicious prosecution.
To sue for malicious prosecution, you must prove the following five elements:
“(1) the bringing of an original action by the defendant,
(2) its successful termination in plaintiff's favor,
(3) want of probable cause,
(4) malice, and
To sue for abuse of process, you must prove:
"(1) the improper use of the court's process
(2) primarily for an ulterior or improper purpose
(3) with resulting damage to the plaintiff asserting the misuse."
Has someone filed a frivolous lawsuit against you?
If someone has sued you and you believe the lawsuit is frivolous, you may have a remedy. The Persaud Law Office has defended many clients in lawsuits. If you want to know what kind of protection you have against abusive lawsuits, contact us today.
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