29 September 2012

Alberta Associate Chief Justice Releases Dissertation on Maverick Litigants

Associate Chief Justice Rooke of the Alberta Court of Queen's Bench has just published his decision in Meads v. Meads. This decision is remarkable and should be, I suggest, required reading for judges, lawyers, court administrators and court clerks across the country.

The judgment in Meads is a treatise, a manifesto and a cri de coeur addressing a certain sort of disaffected, maverick litigant which has been clogging up Canada's courts with contrived, pseudolegal arguments and irrational, histrionic demands for a number of years. Mr. Justice Rooke's judgment identifies, analyses and deconstructs the arguments of vexatious litigants variously known as Detaxers, Freemen or Freemen-on-the-Land, Sovereign Men or Sovereign Citizens, members of the Church of the Ecumenical Redemption International and Moorish Law adherents, and makes recommendations as to how the court should manage such litigants.

The common theme among these groups of litigants, who Mr. Justice Rooke collectively refers to as "Organized Pseudolegal Commercial Argument litigants," is that they believe themselves to be privy to some secret legal principles which allow them to evade the normal rules and regulations that bind every other member of civil society. These people — and I have encountered them in my practice — drape themselves in cobbled-together pseudolegal verbiage and concepts, such as describing themselves as "corporate entities" or "juristic persons," claiming copyright over their own names and spelling their names with add-on hyphens and colons (the husband in the case before Mr. Justice Rooke, for example, referred to himself as "::Dennis-Larry:Meads::"), and filing bogus pseudolegal documents festooned with gibberish and meaningless symbols, such as thumbprints, multicoloured ink, pompous phrases set in capital letters, stamps and references to inapplicable, foreign or repealed statutes. Mr. Justice Rooke describes a number of improbable hypotheses common to these litigants, including:
  1. that the Canada Revenue Agency has tricked persons into believing there is an obligation to pay tax;
  2. that various deficiencies in judicial oaths prohibit court action;
  3. that the relationship between the state and a person is a contract which one can opt out of;
  4. that legislation, the common-law, and court principles and procedures are trumped by divinely ordained rules and principles;
  5. that taxes and civil liabilities only attach to a “corporate name” and not physical persons;
  6. that the courts have no power over litigants until they surrender to the courts; 
  7. that state actors require the consent of persons, any state activity without consent is oppression; and,
  8. that public notaries possess a judge-like authority that displaces the authority of Canadian courts.
After an exhaustive review of the many cases across Canada dealing with these and other favourite arguments, Mr. Justice Rooke concludes that the theories of Organized Pseudolegal Commercial Argument litigants have never gained purchase in a Canadian court.

Mr. Justice Rooke goes on to point out certain common linguistic, documentary, analytic and behavioural hallmarks of these litigants, and suggests a number of procedural devices that can be employed by the courts to manage and curb their excesses.

Court Staff:
  1. Reject documents and materials that do not conform to established standards.
  2. Mark non-compliant materials as "received" rather than "filed."
  3. Forward potentially non-compliant materials to a judicial officer for review before filing.
The Judiciary:
  1. Strike actions, applications and defences that are frivolous or vexatious.
  2. Award punitive damages where the litigant's conduct is high-handed, abusive or oppressive.
  3. Award elevated costs in favour of opposing parties to off-set their increases legal expenses resulting from the litigant's conduct.
  4. Make orders that the litigant post security for costs at an early stage of the litigation.
  5. Adopt tight approach to case management and assign a single judge to manage the case through to trial.
  6. Consider whether the character and nature of the litigation warrants a finding that the litigant is frivolous and vexatious and should be barred from commencing further proceedings without leave.
  7. Restrict who may appear as a representative or agent of the litigant.
It isn't particularly difficult to extrapolate from these comments principles of use to lawyers and self-represented parties dealing with such litigants. May I suggest:

Lawyers:
  1. Apply to the chief justice for an order appointing a case management judge early on.
  2. Consider whether the litigant's claim or defence discloses a legitimate cause of action or defence and apply to strike if it does not.
  3. Do not waste your client's money replying to nonsensical pleading or applications in the same voluminous manner as the litigant's material, consider applying for directions.
  4. Consider applying for security for costs, bearing in mind the generally high threshold that must be reached before such orders will be made. Search for other reported cases involving the same litigant.
  5. Carefully scrutinize the background and motivations of persons seeking approval to appear as a representative or agent, and object where the person is going to exacerbate the situation.
Finally, the concluding remarks of Mr. Justice Rooke deserve repetition:
[71] Dealing with an OPCA litigant is difficult and frustrating. The fact that they are almost always self-represented adds to the challenge. What is worse is if a [OPCA proselytizer] is directly involved. I anticipate most judges will not tolerate representation by these persons ... particularly if the judge understands the nature of the [proselytizer] and his activities. ... 
[72] Timely and cost-effective resolution of these disputes requires that an action be pared down to its legitimate substance. That can be achieved by applications to strike irrelevant submissions and pleadings, and to categorize materials as irrelevant except for the purpose of costs, vexatious litigation and litigant status, and contempt and criminal sanction.

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