Madam Justice Bonnie Wein of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice has decided that 72-year-old paralegal Joseph De Teresi belongs on the Ontario Vexatious Litigant list, after he brought 73 lawsuits in the past 10 years. According to the Toronto Globe and Mail, De Teresi — dubbed “the king of vexatious litigation” — filed “a blizzard of legal paper that targeted everyone from clients and landlords to banks, law firms, credit agencies and computer companies.” “Judge gives the boot to the king of the suit,” Jan. 30, 2007. De Teresi will now have to ask permission before before starting any sort of litigation in an Ontario court. He says he’s too old to appeal or bring any more suits, and told the Toronto newspapear that:
“he has won about 60 of his lawsuits and settled 10 more in his favour. However, he said his admirable success ratio and the validity of his claims counted for nothing with Judge Wein.
” ‘Superior Court judges in Brampton do not like self-represented litigants,’ Mr. De Teresi said. ‘That is a fact. . . . She never read my [written] submissions, and she practically didn’t allow me to make any submissions in court’.”
The opinion is not yet available at the CanadaLII website, so I can’t tell you Justice Wein’s reasoning or the factual basis for the decision. Apparently, this law suit involves the Brampton, Ontario, law firm Dale Streiman & Kurz, “which decided to fight back after Mr. De Teresi refused to pay its legal bill for $367.45. . . . Mr. De Teresi refused to pay his legal bill and sued DS&K for remitting the unpaid bill to a credit agency.” DSK says it spent the equivalent of ten of thousands of dollars fighting De Teresi, in order to stop his practice of “persistently us[ing] the courts to harass opponents in an attempt to force settlements that are to his advantage.”
Vexatious litigation rules and laws are usually aimed at self-represented parties — probably because attorneys would face ethics discipline for similar practices on behalf of represented clients. A good working definition is given in Wikipedia:
“Vexatious litigation is legal action which is brought, regardless of its merits, solely to harass or subdue an adversary. It may take the form of a primary frivolous lawsuit or may be the repetitive, burdensome, and unwarranted filing of meritless motions in a matter which is otherwise a meritorious cause of action.”
Current or former member states of the British Commonwealth seem especially likely to have vexatious litigation rules and lists. One commentator notes that England has had such laws since at least 1896. You can find the current list for the United Kingdom (England and Wales) here. Victoria, Australia, appears to apply their rules sparingly: “As of 2006, only 13 people . . . had been declared vexatious litigants since the law was introduced in 1930.”
In the USA, California has a well-established system for tracking and controlling vexatious litigants. (Code of Civil Procedure, section 391(b)) Click for a useful FAQ about the California VL system. Here are a couple of other resources on the topic:
- The Law Reform Commission of Nova Scotia issued a Report on Vexatious Litigants (April 2006), which explains the problems caused by VLs and the issues raised by trying to limit access to the courts. It notes that the federal courts in Canada have rules against VL, as do seven Canadian provinces.
- Martin Frost, who had been deemed a vexatious litigant in Scotland, has collected a lot of information on the history of such laws, including articles, case law and legal arguments. He writes, “It is my belief that in my case (which I regard as an abuse of process by the Scottish Executive against me) and no doubt in many others to come that vexatious proceedings will become common place for those that govern and judge us will seek to deny access to those of us that do not toe their particular mind set.”