What is “Abuse of Process”?
ABUSE OF PROCESS CLAIMS ARISE WHEN SOMEONE MISUSES THE JUDICIAL PROCESS.
“Abuse of process” is not merely a description of wrongful behavior; it is also a cause of action in California. Lawsuits for “abuse of process” arise when someone seeks to recover damages (normally, money) because someone else has attempted to use (or succeeded in using) the court or a court process for some purpose other than the purpose for which the relevant legal process was designed. Using the court for ulterior purposes is inappropriate and, in proper circumstances, actionable.
Claims for abuse of process require substantial misuse of judicial process–generally more than simply filing a legal action–and the party bringing an abuse of process claim must also be able to allege the wrongful or improper purpose for which the legal process was initiated, used, or abused.
ELEMENTS OF THE ABUSE OF PROCESS CLAIM.
In California, a valid claim for abuse of process requires a plaintiff to prove all of the following elements, to the required standard of evidence:
1. The defendant used or utilized a specific, identifiable legal process or procedure (for example, taking a deposition).
2. The defendant intentionally used the relevant legal procedure for some reason other than the procedure’s intended purpose.
3. That the plaintiff suffered legally recognizable harm.
4. That the defendant’s abuse of the legal process was a substantial factor in causing the plaintiff’s harm.
ABUSE OF PROCESS IS DIFFERENT FROM MALICIOUS PROSECUTION.
Abuse of process is a claim in its own right, and differs from malicious prosecution. Malicious prosecution claims require a defendant to engage in willful use of the legal process in ways that are not proper in the regular course of a proceeding, and doing so with an ulterior (and inappropriate) motive. One distinctive difference between the two causes of action is that, in California, improper filing or maintaining/continuing a lawsuit may give rise to malicious prosecution claims, but merely filing a lawsuit (or continuing to prosecute or maintain one) does not generally form a proper basis for claims of abuse of process.
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