Challenges to the Constitutionality of Pennsylvania’s Dragonetti Act
In the state of Pennsylvania, there is a law known as the Dragonetti Act which allows people who’ve been the subject of lawsuits to sue the opposing sides’ attorney for wrongfully using the courts. This law was enacted in 1980, and since that time defendants have been given a statutory right to sue when they think that a lawsuit has been filed against them for frivolous reasons. The attorneys at Bochetto & Lentz represent clients on both sides of Dragonetti Act charges and they are closely watching challenges to the constitutionality of the law.
Prior to the law’s passage, a defendant who believed themselves the subject of a malicious suit had only one recourse: a common law cause of action that has existed for years, relying upon the state’s Rules of Civil Procedure and Rules of Professional Conduct. In the more than three decades since Dragonetti passed, it has enabled many victims of these frivolous lawsuits to push back. Dragonetti allows victims to have the underlying case terminated in their favor and to pursue attorneys for filing the case where there was not probable cause in the first place. There have been repeated arguments that the Dragonetti Act is unconstitutional under Pennsylvania law, and for the first time last August, a court has agreed. After Chester County Judge Edward Griffith decided that the law infringed upon the judiciary’s power under the Pennsylvania Constitution to control the conduct of attorneys, Pennsylvania’s courts have been in something of a holding pattern, awaiting a decision by the state Supreme Court about the matter.
At issue is a section of the Pennsylvania Constitution that gives the state’s Supreme Court “the power to prescribe general rules governing practice, procedure and the conduct of all courts”. The judge agreed with the defending attorney that because the state’s Rules of Professional Conduct had different standards than the Dragonetti Act, that the law was not constitutional and represented “an encroachment on the exclusive power of the judiciary to regulate the practice of law.”
Since that decision was made, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments seeking to overturn the Dragonetti Act and that hearing took place in December. The justices listened to arguments against Dragonetti, indicating that under the state’s Constitution only the courts themselves should have the ability to allow legal causes of action. They also heard arguments in favor of Dragonetti indicating that it was not in conflict with the state constitution and did not create a conflict. The attorneys supporting the Dragonetti Act said that eliminating it would make attorneys immune to civil causes of action.
Until the court hands down its decision, it is expected that its constitutionality will remain an issue throughout the state and that the Chester County judge’s decision will be referenced as precedent against its use. Whether you believe that you have been a victim of a malicious lawsuit or you are an attorney being charged under a Dragonetti Act claim, the attorneys at Bochetto & Lentz have extensive knowledge and experience in this complex legal area. For more information, contact us today to set up a convenient consultation.