Since 2018, we have been working with our legislators to support a comprehensive abusive litigant law. In 2018, we and other victims of abusive lawsuits contacted our legislators, and consequently Tennessee legislators listened to our accounts and enacted the Abuse of Civil Action law, which provides protections from abusive litigants, such as my brother Ken “Pastor Max” Parks demonstrated himself to be. The limitations of the 2018 Tennessee Abuse of Civil Action law are that it provides protections only for former intimate partners or family members of the abusive litigant. Although this law has given us and other victims of abusive litigants strong protections, the original draft of the Abuse of Civil Action bill proposed by Rep. Carter (now deceased) extended protections to anyone and everyone — not just former intimate partners or family members — victimized by an abusive litigant (pro se / self-represented or represented by an attorney) who filed a meritless, harassing lawsuit.
COVID-19 and voter integrity issues delayed our 2021 abusive litigant bill and separate abusive litigant list bill from gaining traction. The 2022 legislative session saw support for many aspects of our bills, but certain special interest groups did not support the cost required for the courts to hire an attorney in good standing to help judges review pro se plaintiffs’ lawsuits to determine if they had any legal merit.
After conferring with supportive attorneys in the Tennessee Bar Association, judges, court clerks, and legislators, our plans are to forge ahead with crafting a revised bill for the 2023 legislative session, based in part on Rep. Carter’s original 2018 Abuse of Civil Action Bill as well as on the abusive litigant laws in politically red, purple, and blue states. Part of our “wish list” for a 2023 abusive litigant bill will include language that urges judges to exercise far more frequently their right and responsibility to judicially review especially pro se plaintiffs’ lawsuits for merit and valid claims, and issue immediate sua sponte dismissals when appropriate so as to spare innocent defendants from months, and sometimes years, of litigation hell and all the financial and emotional damage that goes with that litigation hell.
As I’ve mentioned in my websites, and in my book, working to get better laws enacted can be a frustratingly slow process. But we know we have the support of important movers and shakers in our state!
In the meantime, for those who are or will become embroiled as victims of abusive litigants for which their state does not (yet!) have comprehensive abusive litigant laws, there are still some legal remedies available that may work. Victims of abusive litigants need to ensure they have competent attorneys who are determined to put a stop to abusive litigants’ meritless and/or harassing lawsuits as quickly as possible, using Rule 11 to file their motion for an immediate dismissal.
Rule 11 requires that complaints be “well grounded in fact” and “warranted by existing law or a good faith argument for the extension, modification, or reversal of existing law” and that they not be filed for any “improper purpose, such as to harass or to cause unnecessary delay or needless increase in the cost of litigation.”
Also of extreme importance, especially for those who live in states that still allow pro se litigants to obtain subpoenas from the court clerk’s office (often for as little as a few dollars for each subpoena), victims of abusive litigants must ensure from day one of the lawsuit that the abusive litigant is not allowed to file for subpoenas to get at their victim’s irrelevant personal information. This is a form of identity theft — an abusive tactic in and by itself that is used frequently enough by stalking abusive litigants to obtain personal information that they have no right to have. If an abusive litigant has filed for subpoenas, the judge must be instantly made aware of this problem and issue immediate orders quashing those subpoenas. The judge must also be requested to place pre-filing approvals on any subsequent subpoenas that an abusive litigant may attempt to file.
A judge may respond to immediate dismissal motions, especially if the abusive litigant has abused the subpoena process, by issuing an immediate dismissal of the abusive litigant’s lawsuit without even scheduling a dismissal hearing, especially if the abusive litigant’s lawsuit is clearly, on the face of it, completely meritless and obviously intended to harass the defendant. If the judge schedules a dismissal hearing, during that dismissal hearing the attorney can ask the judge that in the event a dismissal motion may fail, to place a bond requirement on the suspected abusive litigant in an amount expected to cover all of the defendant’s legal fees before the case can proceed any further based on the likelihood that the suspected abusive litigant will lose the lawsuit. This strategy may or may not succeed with a judge, but it is worth pursuing. Keep in mind that every state has different laws, and different “customs” among its judges.
In summary, for those of us who are trying to put a final end to abusive litigants (especially abusive pro se litigants) from weaponizing our court system, let’s continue the fight for justice.