Estate litigation can involve a labyrinth of legal complexities. However, amidst this already intricate landscape, the presence of vexatious litigants can further exacerbate the challenges faced by all parties involved. But what exactly are vexatious litigants, and how do they influence estate matters in Ontario?

From frivolous will challenge claims to incessant motions and appeals, this blog will explore how vexatious litigants disrupt the orderly administration of estates, draining resources and prolonging the grieving process for all parties involved.

Who is a Vexatious Litigant?

Vexatious litigants are individuals who persistently engage in legal actions that are frivolous, harassing, or are without merit. Whether driven by personal vendettas or ulterior motives, such as improper financial gain, vexatious litigation can significantly impact the efficiency and fairness of the judicial process.

Under section 140 of the Courts of Justice Act, a judge of the Superior Court may find that a litigant is “vexatious” by commencing “vexatious proceedings” in any court or “conducting a proceeding in any court in a vexatious manner.” This provision is intended to prevent litigants from harassing others through the legal system and forcing others to incur legal costs to defend against meritless claims. It also serves the wider public policy objective of reserving court time for those who have genuine legal claims.

What Consequences do Vexatious Litigants Face?

If a court finds that an individual is a vexatious litigant, the judge may order that

“(c) no further proceeding be instituted by the person in any court; or

(d) a proceeding previously instituted by the person in any court not be continued, except by leave of a judge of the Superior Court of Justice.“

The court has discretion to make orders against vexatious litigants that, although a vexatious litigant order is considered an extraordinary remedy since it impacts a person’s ability to access the judicial system.

Brother Commences Litigation Over Late Father’s Estate

In the case of Colbert v Colbert et al., two brothers were involved in a dispute over their late father’s estate. The respondent (“HC”) commenced proceedings against his brother (“MC”) as well as the estate, which included one action and one application. When MC applied for a certificate appointing him as Estate Trustee pursuant to the father’s will, HC filed a notice of objection.

HC also tried to amend his action to include other allegations, including, among other things, that his father was under undue influence, and that MC’s lawyer had submitted fraudulent documentation as part of the application for a certificate as Estate Trustee.

Court Finds Respondent is a Vexatious Litigant

When the matter came before the Ontario Superior Court, the Court concluded that HC was a vexatious litigant. The Court arrived at this finding after a review of various emails and other correspondence sent by HC to MC and his legal counsel. The evidence showed that HC:

  • repeatedly stated that he would not pay any costs awards ordered against him and would not follow any court orders, including a vexatious litigant order;
  • stated that he intended to use the court process to bankrupt MC and deplete the assets in their father’s estate as “payback”;
  • repeatedly accused MC’s lawyer of illegal and unethical conduct;
  • contemptuous attitude towards court personnel and judges;
  • continually threatened to report MC to the police and allege that property from their father’s estate were stolen by MC;
  • made threats to MC that he would get his daughter arrested and that he would be “getting revenge no matter the consequences”; and
  • stated that he instituted three proceedings regarding the estate and threatened to institute more, including claims for defamation, small claims action, and an application to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal alleging discrimination.

Respondent Sought to Reduce Father’s Estate and Deprive Brother

The Court found that the legal strategy employed by HC was to “wreak vengeance on his late father and reduce his Estate to zero, thereby depriving Maury of the Stowgrass house and impoverishing him” which is an improper purpose for litigation.

The Court went on to note that HC was an “atypical” vexatious litigant due to the short timeline of his behaviour, and because he had only brought two proceedings, in addition to the notice of objection, against MC. Nonetheless, the Court concluded that, under these circumstances, HC was conducting the proceedings in a vexatious manner, and MC was entitled to that declaration under section 140 of the Courts of Justice Act.

Several Restrictive Orders Made Against Vexatious Party

In this case, the Court made several restrictive orders against HC, which included:

  • barring him from taking any other steps in his current court proceedings without leave of a judge of the Superior Court;
  • barring him from instituting further proceedings against MC, the estate, or any lawyer or law firm who acted for MC or the estate, without leave of a judge of the Superior Court;
  • preventing him from contesting MC’s application for certification of appointment as Estate Trustee unless he paid the costs order for this motion within 30 days; and
  • prohibiting him from contacting MC, his family, MC’s lawyer and his family, and work colleagues, in addition to restricting him from coming within 100 metres of their residences or workplaces for the duration of the proceedings.

The judge went on to appoint himself as the case management judge on the matter.

This case demonstrates the potential damage that a vexatious litigant can cause in an estate litigation matter. It also provides insight into the motives and conduct, both inside and outside of the court, that may result in a court making such a finding.

The Kitchener-Waterloo Lawyers at Campbell Litigation Provide Superior Representation in Estate Disputes

If you have questions about will interpretation, trustee dispute, or are required to defend against unmerited estate claims, the knowledgeable estate litigation team at Campbell Litigation can help. We will work with you to develop a sound litigation strategy and ensure your interests are preserved. Whether you are looking to challenge a will or defend an estate, contact us online or by phone at 519-886-1204 to speak with a member of our team and learn how we can assist you.