Frivolous Suits in PA

Our Pittsburgh trial lawyers handle claims against those whose frivolous civil lawsuits (civil litigation versus family law or criminal law).  These kinds of suits often cause stress, lost time, business interruption, the expense of attorney fees, and more for the victim.  Serious stuff.

For this reason, we welcome stories on the lighter side.  A great one came along recently.  It was a special treat, because it involved a proud member of the Steeler Nation (like us), who for some reason decided to use the federal courts when the refs made a bad call.

OK, here’s the deal.  Members of the Steeler Nation recall how our beloved Pittsburgh Steelers needed the Kansas City Chiefs (“KC”) to beat the San Diego Chargers (“Chargers”), for the Steelers to clinch a wildcard playoff spot in 2013.  The stage was set.  The KC-Chargers game was close.  KC lined up to kick a game winning field goal (that would send the Steelers to the playoffs!) yet missed, but alas, the Charger had too many players on the field and the ball would be re-kicked, after a five yard penalty would be assessed.  Simple, right? 

Not so much.  You see, the officials never called the penalty, and under NFL league rules at the time, KC could not challenge the no-call.  KC went on to lose in overtime, dashing the Steelers’ playoff hopes in 2013.

Would that be the end? 

Not for one individual.  An inmate at the State Correctional Institution at Mercer filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, seeking an injunction to remedy this wrong, perpetrated by the refs.  Aspiring to be fair, the inmate offered the court two choices:

  1. Allow Succop (the KC kicker) to re-kick the field goal attempt, which, of course, meant that the Chargers would need to play the Steelers on a neutral site; or

  2. Declare the Steelers the sixth seed in the AFC playoffs.

In any event, the inmate sought $25,000 in monetary damages for himself.  We are not certain of the current status of the above suit, but before the court could rule on the petition and all appeals could be exhausted, the Chargers went on to trounce the North Division champion Cincinnati Bengals, before perishing to Denver Broncos in the Conference Championship.

To see the actual hand-written petition, click here.


Areas of Law We Handle

While the above story may be humorous, frivolous suits are no laughing matter for the victims, who often suffer stress, aggravation, psychological harm, damage to reputation, lost time, and the expense of steep legal fees in defense of such frivolous actions. Pennsylvania allows the victim of a frivolous suit to, in some instances, recover for the above items of damages. 


The Dragonetti Act

In 1980, the legislature in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania legislature enacted what is now referred to as the Dragonetti Act. The key provision of the Act, entitled “Wrongful Use of Civil Proceedings,” is codified at 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 8351(a) and provides as follows:

A person who takes part in the procurement, initiation or continuation of civil proceedings against another is subject to liability to the other for wrongful use of civil proceedings [if]:

  1. He acts in a grossly negligent manner or without probable cause and primarily for a purpose [typically to harass] other than that of securing the proper discovery, joinder of parties or adjudication of the claim in which the proceedings are based; and

  2. The proceedings have terminated in favor of the person against whom they are brought.

The Dragonetti Act further provides, at § 8351(b) that the arrest or seizure of the personal property of the Plaintiff is not required in order to bring an action under the Act.

This replaces the previous cause of action for “malicious use of process” or “malicious prosecution.” At common law, in order to prevail against someone who had wrongfully pursued civil or criminal process against him, the Plaintiff had to establish not merely a malicious motive, but also an arrest of one’s person or seizure of his property. Thus, the Dragonetti Act expands the availability of the cause of action by relaxing the standard of proof from malice to gross negligence, and by making the remedy available to those who have suffered injury short of the arrest of their person or the seizure of their property.

One key aspect of the Dragonetti Act is, a claim cannot be made until after the prior proceedings have terminated in favor of the party who wishes to proceed with a Dragonetti Act claim. Thus, a Dragonetti Act claim is not yet ripe until the defendant prevails at trial.  

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