The filing of frivolous lawsuits is widely considered a problem. Frivolous lawsuits cost a significant amount of money, expend scarce judicial resources, and erode the integrity of the judicial system. In an attempt to curb frivolous lawsuits, one judge decided to take a stand against one plaintiff’s repeated frivolous filings.
In 1997, a Livingston County Judge, Judge William E. Collette entered an Order and Opinion preventing a litigant from filing any more lawsuits without getting permission from Judge Peter D. Houk, Chief Circuit Court Judge and Court of Claims Judge. Judge Collette ordered the restriction because of “repeated and consistent filing of frivolous suits.”
The litigant then filed a new lawsuit for malpractice against his former lawyer. In Scott v Gatesman, District Court dismissed the lawsuit because the plaintiff failed to get permission from Judge Houk. On appeal, the Court of Appeals ruled that the restriction on new lawsuits was valid. The Court rejected the plaintiff’s arguments that Judge Collette didn’t have the authority to issue the Order. Additionally the Court rejected the plaintiff’s argument that the judge should have recused himself. Finally, the Court ruled that the dismissal of the case did not violate the plaintiff’s due process rights. In the context of civil litigation, due process requires notice and an opportunity to be heard. The dismissal didn’t violate due process because the plaintiff failed to first obtain permission to file the lawsuit. As a result, the lawsuit was void from its inception.
Although frivolous lawsuits are a problem, courts do have remedies to prevent them. Hopefully, cases such as Scott will prevent plaintiffs from attempting to take advantage of Michigan’s judicial system.