February 05, 2006

A Welcome Ruling on 'Vexatious Litigants'

Disability Law Blog reports on a recent court ruling in California in which the judge rejects the charge that a man who has filed numerous lawsuits is a "vexatious litigant."

Any of you who have followed stories about the California business community's efforts to discredit people who file access lawsuits know that one of the tactics business owners who've been sued use is to say the guy filing the suit is a "vexatious litigant" -- which, in non legalese, means a guy who files a whole bunch of lawsuits just for the heck of it, to "vex" the court. It's a nasty tactic but unfortunately it's worked several times -- back in December, 2004, Jarek Molski was hauled up before Federal Judge Edward Rafeedie, who accused him of engaging in a "scheme of systematic extortion"; said he was was "misusing a noble law" and formally designated him a "vexatious litigant" -- someone who files lawsuits "maliciously and without good cause." Molski was forbidden to file further suits without judicial permission beforehand. Since then, other crips filing numerous access suits have gotten the same treatment.

In the case blogger Sam Bagenstos reports on, U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton of the Eastern District of California uses some pretty clear wording to tell the businesses (who evidently counter-sued when they were sued for access violations) that the disabled guy -- who, yeah, has filed a big bunch of suits -- isn't a "vexatious litigant": "the number of lawsuits plaintiff has filed does not reflect that he is a vexatious litigant; rather, it appears to reflect the failure of the defendants to comply with the law. "

To which we add a decidedly non-lawyerly "right on, Judge!"

Bagenstos puts it better, of course:

there's nothing unethical about filing lots of suits when lots of people have violated your legal rights. And the sad fact is that noncompliance with the ADA is widespread. Judge Karlton is to be commended for not letting questions about the number of suits the plaintiff has filed get in the way of the real issue -- whether the defendants are violating the law.

Read the blog entry, which has a lot of detail about just what Judge Karlton wrote, here.

Posted on February 05, 2006