The law recognizes that while anyone can bring a lawsuit against another person or organization, not all lawsuits have merit or should proceed. The types of claims are known as “frivolous or vexatious” claims.
In short, a frivolous claim is where the claim has no merit whatsoever, while a vexatious claim is made for the sole purpose of harassing or injuring another party, through, for instance, continuously bringing claims against them, or bringing various claims for different issues that are not based on facts or have no merit.
The Alberta Rules of Court set out remedies available to parties who are at the receiving end of frivolous or vexatious claims. If the court has found that a claim is frivolous or vexatious, the court may strike out all or part of the claim, set aside documents, or provide a judgment or award costs.
There are other pieces of legislation, such as the Judicature Act, that outline what can be done in the event that someone brings a vexatious or frivolous claim. Given the technical nature of these pieces of legislation, a case study is helpful to understand how the court deals with vexatious litigants.
A Case Study
The Judicature Act was amended in 2007 in order to make dealing with vexatious litigants easier. The provincial government outlined what a vexatious litigant would look like, including:
“A vexatious litigant is someone who persistently files proceedings that have already been determined by a court, persistently files proceedings that can’t succeed or that have no reasonable expectation of providing relief, persistently files proceedings for improper purposes, inappropriately uses previously raised grounds and issues in subsequent proceedings, persistently fails to pay the costs ordered by a court as a result of unsuccessful proceedings, persistently takes unsuccessful appeals from judicial decisions, or persistently engages in inappropriate courtroom behaviour”
Shortly after these amendments were enacted, a case was decided by the Associate Chief Justice regarding an order prohibiting an individual from commencing any more proceedings or prohibiting her from continuing proceedings that had already commenced unless she had permission from the court.
This individual, the Plaintiff, had a number of actions before the court, but the exact number was not determined. The Defendants used past decisions by the court as evidence that she was a vexatious litigant. In some of those decisions, the court found that the Plaintiff had been trying to abuse the process of the court. In another proceeding, she had brought the action to the lower court (the Provincial Court) and lost and failed to mention this when it was before the higher court. The court noted that “Lawsuits are not sporting events.”
Upon reviewing the evidence and the new provisions, the Associate Chief Justice found that the Plaintiff consistently abused the processes of the court for improper purposes. It was also found that she made attempts to mislead the court. An order was issued to prevent her from commencing any more proceedings and for the proceedings that had already been commenced, she would require permission (or leave) from the court.
A Reasonable Basis for Suing
The fundamental concern regarding vexatious or frivolous claims centers on the defence of the integrity of the justice system. Our justice system is there to uphold the rights of individuals and corporations, as well as to protect the public. Which is why it must be viewed with the utmost respect.
Another concern about these types of claims is that they waste court time and resources. If a claim has no legal foundation, it more than likely will be dismissed. However, before that happens, the person making the claim will have to file it and have it addressed. All of this takes significant court time and resources.
There needs to be a reasonable basis for suing someone. You need to have a genuine legal claim, something based in law, in order to successfully pursue a claim. For example: if you fall outside a grocery store, it does not mean you will necessarily be successful in suing the store in a slip and fall claim. There are elements of the claim that need to be proven and there needs to be some connection to your fall and the store.
You must also consider whether you will even be able to sue, as there are time limitations on when you can sue. For example: if you have been injured in a motor vehicle accident, you have two years from the date of the accident or the injury was sustained to bring a claim.
Other relevant considerations include the jurisdiction where you are able to sue (if the dispute arose in a different province, etc.) and which level of court to bring your claim into.
A Lawyer’s Role
The best way to know whether or not you have a reasonable basis to sue a person, corporation, municipality, or other entity is by consulting with an experienced lawyer.
A lawyer will review your situation, explain which laws are applicable (or not applicable) to your case, how long you have to file a claim, what will need to be established for the claim to be successful. A lawyer will also be honest with you in terms of whether they think your case will be successful and whether they think this is something that should be brought before the courts.
Ultimately, lawyers can turn away clients if they believe there is no merit to the claim or the claim is being brought solely to injure another party. Lawyers have a responsibility to their client, but also to the profession and the justice system as a whole. Lawyers in all provinces and territories are required to follow a code of conduct that ensures they not only represent their clients to the best of their abilities but also prevent their clients from acting in ways that are dishonest and harmful to the justice system.
At HMC Lawyers, our lawyers can help you determine whether or not you have a claim. If you think you want to file a claim and are curious about the potential chances of success, or if you believe think you are a defendant to a vexatious or frivolous claim, contact us online or call 1-800-480-3534 to make an appointment. With offices in Calgary, we represent professionals in Calgary, throughout Alberta, and across Western Canada.