The Vexatious Litigant
Most lawyers have come across the vexatious litigant, the complainant who has an endless array of grievances and regards the courts as a convenient forum to pursue frivolous claims. The Oxford Dictionary defines vexatious as "… not having sufficient grounds for action and seeking only to annoy the defendant". Endless proceedings and countless motions are brought over a number of years. Regrettably, the vexatious litigant knows enough about the rules of court, often through trial and error, to be a menace and not easily put off. As no one judge initially hears all proceedings and accompanying motions, a great deal of sympathy is often extended to the vexatious plaintiff together with ample leeway to pursue his or her claims.
However, there is hope. Section 140 of the Courts of Justice Act states that where a judge of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice is satisfied that a person has persistently and without reasonable grounds instituted vexatious proceedings or conducted proceedings in a vexatious manner, the judge may order that no further proceedings be instituted or current proceedings continued without leave of a judge.
In Dale Streiman & Kurz LLP v. De Teresi, Mr. De Teresi had commenced 73 proceedings over 10 years. According to the court, Mr. De Teresi had a history of serially litigating against the same party over essentially the same set of facts. He brought sequential lawsuits, often suing lawyers who had acted for or against him in past proceedings and continued to litigate even when a settlement had been reached. The court held that Mr. De Teresi had deliberately misled the court and instituted proceedings that could not succeed but were simply designed to harass other parties. Mr. De Teresi was declared a vexatious litigant and could no longer institute proceedings without leave.
Finally, if a section 40 order is not yet open to the defendant, the defendant can ask that a judge be appointed to case manage all proceedings commenced by the vexatious plaintiff. Once assigned, a judge will quickly take the measure of the plaintiff and begin to shut down frivolous proceedings and useless motions.
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