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What is a “Frivolous Case” and how are such cases regulated?
A frivolous case is a civil lawsuit that lacks any factual merit. Basically, the plaintiff is suing the defendant based upon facts that do not amount to a cause of action. A frivolous case is based upon conjecture or false information. Any party can move to dismiss a frivolous suit or the judge can dismiss it unilaterally. Generally, the rules of procedure in civil trials seek to prohibit the filing of frivolous cases. Specifically, Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires an attorney to sign an attestation that the case is filed in good faith. The attorney’s signature says that the facts and claims in pleading are meritorious and, to her knowledge, not for an improper purpose.
Discussion: The idea of a frivolous case relates closely to the question of whether society in the United States is over litigious. What do you think? Is it better to allow frivolous suits or potentially block a valid dispute from resolution through the court system?
- Those who support tort reform wish to do away with cases that do not have merit to be tried in a court of law. They argue that there are too many frivolous cases being filed. The idea of frivolous cases is not to block a valid dispute from resolution through the court system but rather not to allow cases that necessarily have issues or facts to be determined by the court.
Practice Question: Lydia walks into the office of attorney Greg. Lydia states that she has been in a car accident. She states that she is not injured and does not feel any pain. Greg immediately sends Lydia to a doctor, chiropractor, and physical therapist. He sends a letter to the other driver’s insurance company asking for $100,000 in damages for pain and suffering. When the insurance company refuses to settle, Greg files a complaint to start a legal action against the driver and his insurance company. Greg signs an affidavit that all of the allegations are substantiated by facts known to him. Could Gregg potentially be subject to sanction by the court for filing a frivolous claim?
- In theory, yes. Greg can be sanctioned by the court for filing a frivolous claim. I appears that Greg is using the court to extort an insurance claim. The case could be considered frivolous if the judge determines that it lacks merit under the law or based upon the alleged facts. In reality, however, this sort of practice is common. It is very difficult for a court to determine that a legal matter, such as an auto accident, lacks merit.
Yablon, Charles M., The Good, the Bad and the Frivolous Case: An Essay on Probability and Rule 11. in the UCLA Law Review, Vol. 44, No. 2 (1996).. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=10480