“It seems like the same lawyers are the ones filing frivolous lawsuits over and over, and judges are not enforcing the sanctions available to discourage this practice.”
Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure Article 863(B) states that:
“pleadings must be signed by a party to certify that (1) the pleading is not being presented for any improper purpose, such as to harass, cause unnecessary delay or needlessly increase the cost of litigation; (2) each claim, defense, or other legal assertion in the pleading is warranted by existing law or by a non-frivolous argument for the extension, modification, or reversal of existing law; (3) each allegation or other factual assertion in the pleading has evidentiary support or, for a specifically identified allegation or factual assertion, is likely to have evidentiary support after a reasonable opportunity for further investigation or discovery.” La. C.C. P. Art. 863(B)(1)(2)(3). (2011)
In Harrison v. McNeese State University, the Third Circuit Court upheld a Calcasieu trial court’s imposition of sanctions against a pro se litigant-student, determining that the sanctions were proper and reasonable. Harrison v. McNeese State University, 635 So.2d 318 (La. App. 3 Cir. 1994). In Harrison, a student filed suit against a university following a suspension for refusing to remove pornographic material from his class assignment at his instructor’s request. Id. Harrison sued the university for refusing to refund his tuition and fees, falsely arresting him at the University library, issuing a slanderous grade report of all “Fs” when the correct graded should have been “Ws” and violating his freedom of expression. Id. The case proceeded to trial and his action was dismissed. Id Subsequently, the University brought an action for sanctions against Harrison for filing frivolous pleadings and failing to present any evidence to support his claims. Id. The trial court imposed $6,845.45 in attorney’s fees, and the appellate court upheld this award, opining the following:
“The obligation imposed upon litigants and their counsel who
sign a pleading is to make an objectively reasonable inquiry
into the facts and law. Subjective good faith will not satisfy the
duty of reasonable inquiry. By choosing to represent himself,
a party assumes the responsibility of familiarizing himself with
applicable procedural and substantive law. His failure to do so
does not give him any greater rights than a litigant represented
by an attorney.” Id.
As reported in the Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch in October 2012, candidates to the Louisiana Supreme Court acknowledged abusive lawsuits are a problem in Louisiana’s courts.
Jeff Hughes, Tim Kelley and Bill Morvant, were asked in response to a survey by Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch. When asked whether or not frivolous lawsuits and excessive damage awards are a problem in our courtrooms, candidate Morvant said, “I do think we see a fairly high number of suits that either should not have been filed or should have been resolved without litigation (amount in controversy does not justify the litigation expenses).”
Responding to the question of whether or not Louisiana’s civil justice system adequately deters and penalizes frivolous litigation, Morvant said, “We presently have in place La. CCP art. 863 that empowers the court to sanction a party or counsel (plaintiff or defendant) for conduct that violates its provisions. This includes improper or baseless pleadings. However, courts are very reluctant to impose sanctions except in extreme cases.”
Candidate Hughes agreed. “It seems like the same lawyers are the ones filing frivolous lawsuits over and over, and judges are not enforcing the sanctions available to discourage this practice.”
Candidate Kelley also agreed. “Without question frivolous lawsuits and excessive judgments are a problem in our courtrooms,” Kelley responded. “I do not feel that Louisiana’s civil justice system adequately deters and penalizes frivolous lawsuits,” he continued.
Also, a recent survey conducted by the American Tort Reform Association and Sick of Lawsuits found most Americans agreed with these candidates, with a strong majority-89 percent-saying they believe lawsuit abuse is a “problem.”
This view was shared across the political spectrum, with 94 percent of Republicans, 89 percent of Independents and 86 percent of Democrats all in agreement. Candidate Jeffrey L. Sanford, however, disagreed when responding to the LLAW survey. When asked whether or not frivolous lawsuits and excessive damage awards are a problem in our courtrooms, candidate Sanford said, “No. I can’t think of a case where a frivolous judgment was granted or upheld on appeal. Nor can I think of an excessive award.”
LLAW is a non-partisan, non-profit legal watchdog organization that represents more than 5,000 citizens and small businesses across the state. LLAW is now using the surveys to educate its supporters and voters across the state.
What do you think? Do we do enough to counter claim when there are obviously abusive and frivolous claims filed?
Share your thoughts.