I f at first you don’t succeed, stop: Taking litigation too far
By A.J. Wagner
Every once in a while, there appears before a court someone who can’t take “No” for an answer. Or, sometimes there are individuals who sue everyone for everything regardless of the lack of merit of their claim. These are called vexatious litigators.
Ohio’s Second District Court of Appeals recently looked at such a case and told a vexatious litigator, Mr. Easterling, that he could no longer file a court action without first obtaining permission of the court. What follows are parts of the decision declaring Easterling a vexatious litigator.
The key vexatious litigator terms are defined by the statute itself. A “vexatious litigator” is “any person who has habitually, persistently and without reasonable grounds engaged in vexatious conduct in a civil action or actions … whether the person or another person instituted the civil action or actions, and whether the vexatious conduct was against the same party or against different parties in the civil action or actions.
“Vexatious conduct” includes a party’s civil-action conduct that “(a) obviously serves merely to harass or maliciously injure another party to the civil action” or that “(b) is not warranted under existing law and cannot be supported by a good faith argument for an extension, modification or reversal of existing law.”
“Conduct” includes filing a civil action or asserting a claim, defense or other position.
There is evidence in the record that Easterling has filed many pro se actions against several parties. He has filed three actions based on the same facts against Ameristate Bancorp, Inc. in the Montgomery County Common Pleas Court. We have affirmed the dismissal of two. Easterling has filed five actions against Croswell Bus Lines. In the first, we affirmed the entry of summary judgment for Croswell. Easterling did not appeal any of these dismissals. Easterling has also filed eight separate actions against some of the magistrates, trial court judges and a former judge of this Court who have ruled against him. Easterling has also filed two actions against a Montgomery County Common Pleas Court bailiff.
In this case, Easterling filed the first action in December 2009 and asserted two employment claims – wrongful termination and fraudulent employment. The trial court dismissed both claims under Civ.R. 12(B)(6). Easterling did not appeal. Easterling filed the second action against the Bank in April 2010 and asserted the same two claims that the trial court dismissed in the first action. The court dismissed both claims again under Civ.R. 12(B)(6). And it dismissed them on the ground that they were barred by res judicata. (The case has been decided before.)
(On appeal), we compare(d) every part of the text of Easterling’s 2010 complaint with the counter part text of Easterling’s 2009 complaint. Our review confirm[ed] the conclusion of the trial court. Easterling’s 2009 and 2010 complaints against Union Savings Bank are indistinguishable in any material way.
(A) couple of months later in December 2010, he filed the third action against the Bank. Again
Easterling asserted the same two employment claims for unlawful termination and fraudulent hiring. Easterling filed the fourth action in June 2011 and asserted yet again the same two claims.
The court concluded that there are no issues of material fact. The court found that Easterling “habitually, persistently and without reasonable grounds engaged in vexatious conduct in a civil action or actions.” Easterling’s conduct in filing the cases, found the court, “obviously serves merely to harass or maliciously injure another party to the civil action.” And the court found that his conduct “is not warranted under existing law and cannot be supported by a good faith argument for an extension, modification, or reversal of existing law.”
The purpose of the vexatious litigator statute is clear. It seeks to prevent abuse of the system by those persons who persistently and habitually file lawsuits without reasonable grounds and/or otherwise engage in frivolous conduct in the trial courts of this state. Such conduct clogs the court dockets, results in increased costs and oftentimes is a waste of judicial resources – resources that are supported by the taxpayers of this state. The unreasonable burden placed upon courts by such baseless litigation prevents the speedy consideration of proper litigation.
We note, too, that the statute was designed to curb “the untoward effects of vexatious litigation in depleting judicial resources and unnecessarily encroaching upon the judicial machinery needed by others for the vindication of legitimate rights.”
To this end, the vexatious-litigator statute (a)t its core establishes a screening mechanism that serves to protect the courts and other would-be victims against frivolous and ill-conceived lawsuits filed by those who have historically engaged in prolific and vexatious conduct in civil proceedings.
See Easterling v. Union Savings Bank, 2013-Ohio-1068.
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A.J. Wagner is an attorney with the law firm of Flanagan, Lieberman, Hoffman and Swaim at 15 W. Fourth Street in Dayton. A.J. and his firm would be glad to help you with all of your legal needs. You can reach A.J. at (937) 223-5200 or at AJWagner@DaytonCityPaper.com.