Which of the following cases fits into the tort of abuse of process and which cases fit into malicious prosecution?
In February 2015, Dr. John Costino and his wife Barbara filed a malicious prosecution lawsuit against Cape May County. He was accused approximately six years prior to the lawsuit of distributing illegal painkillers. He was acquitted in 2012.
In 2007, the case of Pinewood Homes, Inc. v. Harris resulted in the defendant obtaining a judgment for several thousands of dollars. Harris feared the plaintiff, Ritche, wouldn’t pay. So Harris obtained a preliminary injunction against Rictche and all companies he had ownership interests in, including Pinewood Homes. However, Pinewood wasn’t a part of Richie’s lawsuit because Ritchie was only a shareholder. Pinewood then sued Harris for trying to maliciously coerce it into paying Ritchie’s judgment.
In 2014, a federal jury ruled Homicide Detective Dwayne violated Hephzibah Olivia Lord’s civil rights for maliciously arresting her. The arrest was for a murder she didn’t commit. Her boyfriend allegedly drank an energy drink, vodka, then committed suicide.
Abuse of Process and Malicious Prosecution are similar on the surface, but they have essential differences.
Abuse of Process
Let’s say someone doesn’t have a reasonable basis to file a lawsuit against you. Maybe he subpoenas you, continuously files motions, or seeks a retaining order. These are examples of abuse of process. Abuse of process occurs when someone uses the legitimate judicial process for reasons not intended.
With this tort, a plaintiff has to prove four elements for a successful claim:
- The defendant used the process
- The defendant had an ulterior motive
- The defendant misused the process
- The plaintiff incurred injuries and damages from the result of the abuse of process
To prove element one, you show the defendant used the “process” such as filing:
- Motions for sanction
- Summons requests
- Change of location
Showing facts and circumstances usually determine whether there was an ulterior motive. The court looks at the intent of the plaintiff and defendant. “Having an ulterior motive” is defined as attempting to gain an economic, business, or legal advantage.
A misuse of process generally exists if the defendant:
- Used the process in a way not intended, contemplated, or authorized by law
- Used the process in an intentional way and knew it would be misused
The best way to think about abuse of process is with two words: improper purpose. The defendant had an improper purpose when filing any lawsuit against the plaintiff.
Let’s say you were at work at 4 p.m. on Tuesday. That day an individual robbed a bank near your workplace. It just happens to be where your ex-spouse worked. You have an alibi and witnesses who place you at work. You didn’t commit the crime. In fact, there’s no reasonable way you could have committed the crime. You’re charged and prosecuted for a committing a bank robbery. Later, the charges are dropped or you’re found not guilty. This is referred to as malicious prosecution.
This tort has four elements a plaintiff must show to win her case:
- The plaintiff was prosecuted for a crime she didn’t commit and found not guilty
- No probable cause existed to show the plaintiff was guilty of committing the crime
- The prosecutor knew no probable cause existed and still continued to prosecute and try to prove guilt
- In some jurisdictions, a plaintiff must also prove she suffered injuries because of the criminal prosecution beyond typical mental distress.
You’ve probably figured out by now which of the cases are abuse of process or malicious prosecution. Just in case you’re not sure:
- Malicious prosecution
- Abuse of process
- Malicious prosecution
Although both torts are similar, they are distinct. As you’ve read, malicious prosecution typically happens after a criminal case where a person was not guilty of the crime. However, they were still prosecuted for it anyway. With abuse of process, an individual is trying to gain an advantage by filing a frivolous lawsuit against someone.
Authored by Taelonnda Sewell, LegalMatch Legal Writer