People file lawsuits for a variety of reasons. In most cases they have a perfectly valid legal basis for pursuing their action — or they believe they do — and in others there is no actual probable cause and they are just trying to cause some kind of trouble for the defendant. While the latter may fall under the category of malicious prosecution, there are some situations where the underlying cause or claim is legally legitimate but the methodology that’s used fulfills an ulterior motive. This is known as abuse of process.

In the law, process is a formal notice or writ, and can include summons, subpoenas, mandates, or warrants. Abuse of process describes an individual trying to use the justice system’s legal processes to gain an advantage. It is a purposeful and malicious act intended to intimidate, delay, get information or money, or in some other way use the system inappropriately.

The legal system, and particularly the civil justice system, is intended to allow people to right wrongs, usually in the form of compensation for damages that they’ve suffered. Unfortunately, people needlessly issue subpoenas or other procedures for the sole purpose of harassing the other side. Though this can represent malicious prosecution, when it occurs within a legitimate legal purpose it represents abuse of process.

There are many examples of legal process, but the most common is when an individual who has been named as a defendant in a personal injury case issues a subpoena to the person who has filed suit against them for the sole purpose of intimidating them or inconveniencing them. These types of action are frivolous, time-consuming, and cause needless expense.

It is possible to take legal action against the person who is misusing the courts, but in order to win your case you need to be able to prove two things: you have to show that the action had an ulterior motive and that it was not justified as part of the regular prosecution of the case. Though it is possible for the person or entity accused of abuse of process to defend their actions by claiming that they are acting in good faith or on the advice of their attorney, threatening an abuse of process action usually brings their inappropriate behavior to a stop.

If you believe that you’ve been the victim of abuse of process, an experienced attorney can advise you on how best to address it. Contact us today for more information.