frivolous suit | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Criminal Law

A frivolous suit is a legal action that is brought without a reasonable basis in law or fact and with little or no chance of success.

Let’s explore frivolous suits in more detail. Imagine someone bringing a lawsuit against another person or entity that has no substantial basis, either in law or fact. That’s a frivolous suit. These lawsuits aren’t just pointless; they also waste valuable time and resources of the court and the parties involved.

A frivolous lawsuit may be filed with no hope or intention of winning. The person filing it may have other motives, like harassing the other party, delaying a legal process, or causing financial strain to the opponent.

Examples of Frivolous Lawsuits

Understanding frivolous suits gets easier when we look at a few examples. Here are a few typical scenarios:

      1. Someone might sue for an amount of money that doesn’t make sense. Imagine being sued for a million dollars for accidentally stepping on someone’s foot.
      2. An individual could bring forward a lawsuit that’s clearly beyond the statute of limitations, which means the time to legally file the claim has passed.
      3. Another example is when someone sues for an action protected by valid immunity. This might be suing a police officer for arresting a person who was committing a crime.
      4. Frivolous suits can also be about actions with no basis in fact. For instance, suing a restaurant for causing weight gain without any proof that the restaurant’s food is responsible.
      5. Lastly, someone might bring a lawsuit about an action that has no basis in law. An example could be suing a neighbor for not liking you, even though there’s no law requiring your neighbor to like you.

Consequences for Frivolous Suits

Courts take frivolous suits seriously and have ways to handle them. One common way is to dismiss the case outright, meaning the court refuses to hear it.

The court can also impose sanctions or penalties on the person who brought the frivolous suit or their lawyer. This could include fines or other disciplinary actions.

In some cases, the court might require the person who filed the frivolous suit to pay the other party’s attorney fees. This acts as a form of punishment and discourages people from filing frivolous suits in the future.

Frivolous Suits Filed by Inmates

In the realm of the legal system, prisoners filing frivolous suits is a particular concern. Oftentimes, inmates have considerable time on their hands and may feel they have nothing to lose by filing a lawsuit, regardless of its merit.

Many inmates file lawsuits over conditions in prison or perceived violations of their rights. While some of these cases are legitimate, many others lack substantial legal or factual basis, making them frivolous suits.

Common examples include suing over small or perceived slights, like complaints about the quality of food or the temperature of the showers. One infamous example is an inmate suing because he was served chunky peanut butter instead of the creamy variety he preferred.

These suits not only burden the court system but also drain the already stretched resources of prisons, as they have to dedicate personnel and time to respond to these cases.

To manage the high number of frivolous lawsuits filed by inmates, the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) was enacted in 1996 in the United States. The PLRA imposes restrictions on the ability of federal prisoners to file lawsuits. It requires inmates to exhaust all available administrative remedies within the prison before they can file a lawsuit in court. The PLRA also mandates that prisoners bear the filing fees for their lawsuits.

Despite the PLRA, frivolous lawsuits from inmates continue to be a challenge. However, it’s crucial to remember that not all inmate lawsuits are frivolous. Some suits bring to light serious issues concerning prison conditions, inmate treatment, and violations of constitutional rights. These legitimate cases underscore the importance of access to the courts for all individuals, including those incarcerated.

Concluding Thoughts

Frivolous suits can be a drain on the legal system, wasting time and resources. However, courts have ways to deal with such cases and discourage them from being filed. Remember, a key part of our justice system is ensuring lawsuits are genuine, substantial, and brought forward in good faith.

[ Glossary ]

Last Modified: 05/20/2023

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