What is a Frivolous Lawsuit?

Alexis W.
Alexis W.
When there are no legal grounds for a lawsuit, it is referred to as a frivolous lawsuit.
When there are no legal grounds for a lawsuit, it is referred to as a frivolous lawsuit.

A frivolous lawsuit refers to a lawsuit that is brought without justification and has no merit. Such lawsuits are brought by one private party against another. In order for a suit to be considered frivolous under the law, generally there must be no legal grounds for such a suit.

Some people believe that a frivolous lawsuit refers to any silly lawsuit. For example, some might argue that a case in which a person sues McDonald's for the coffee being hot is frivolous, since it may seem silly. In general, however, frivolous lawsuits in the eyes of the law mean something more specific.

Frivolous lawsuits may not be as common as you think.
Frivolous lawsuits may not be as common as you think.

Even if a lawsuit is silly, it does not necessarily mean it is without legal merit. For a lawsuit to be classified as frivolous in the eyes of the law, there must be no legal justification for bringing the suit and no possible law on which the suit could be based. It is not frivolous if McDonald's had a legal duty not to make their coffee quite that hot.

A lawsuit is brought when one person files papers with the court signifying his intent to sue another person. The person filing papers is the plaintiff. The person being sued is the defendant.

When a plaintiff files papers, he must list the facts surrounding the litigation. He must also list the legal grounds, in other words, what law or legal duty is he claiming the facts suggest were breached. Finally, he must list the damages he suffered. The court uses this to determine whether there is a potential legal question and whether it is possible that some duty or law was breached.

If the facts cannot possibly add up to a breach of legal duty, or if there are no legal grounds for a lawsuit, the claim may be considered a frivolous lawsuit. The plaintiff may file frivolous lawsuits for any number of reasons. The plaintiff may wish to hassle or harass the defendant or may truly believe that he has grounds for the suit.

If a defendant is the subject of a frivolous lawsuit, he may be able to sue the other party for the tort of malicious prosecution. In order to win such a case, however, the defendant would need to demonstrate not just that the plaintiff's lawsuit was a frivolous lawsuit and without merit, but also that the plaintiff knew it was frivolous and filed it anyway out of malicious intent.

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A homeowner hired a contractor to renovate kitchen in 2000. The contract was for about $25K. The contractor failed to perform relatively minor contracted issues and correct workmanship on one issue. The homeowner paid the contractor $23K during the work period. The client agreed to pay the remaining amount when corrections were completed. The contractor indicated they were either not in the original agreement, and/or the workmanship errors were fine (backsplash tile failed to line up in corners. They started the tile work at the same time in two different parts of the kitchen and did not match up when they both got to the corner).

The contractor sued in small claims for $2,200 and the judge ruled in favor of the plaintiff. The homeowner filed an appeal in Common Pleas court in Pennsylvania and provided all pictures and information why final payment was withheld and copies of estimates to repair or complete. The homeowner agreed to remit $879 to contractor (the difference between a third party cost to repair and withheld the amount of $2,200).

Nothing happened for about six years. Their lawyer kept filing "intent to proceed" and in 2007 filed a Motion to Compel (already provided discovery twice). Nothing again happened (no contact) since 2007, however, recently cleaned out files and noticed this stale dispute. The homeowner sent the lawyer an email requesting to finally settle this for the original offer (2001) of $879. The only response was to inform the homeowner that there were papers filed since 2007 to the courts. The homeowner informed their lawyer that no papers were served or received since 2007 and to please send whatever was supposedly filed immediately, and requested it three times, with no response from the lawyer.

The homeowner decided to file a Motion to Dismiss, stating that this dispute is wasting court time and their lawyer has no intention of cooperating or trying to resolve this 12-year-old dispute and may be simply attempting to file papers, without service to the homeowner and expecting the pro se homeowner to completely fail in responding to courts (fail civil procedure requirements), and then the homeowner received a decision by the judge against him and obtained a mechanic's lien. Their lawyer responded to Motion to Dismiss with a letter to the homeowner, which said the lawsuit was a frivolous filing which will subject the homeowner to sanctions, fees and costs to respond; the homeowner should withdraw the Motion immediately; offered to settle for $2,000 and that the filing was defective and improperly served.

I would respectfully request a learned opinion on the above claims of their lawyer and whether I should let the Judge review the Motion. Also, I do not believe this is a frivolous filing, but I would like to know if it is likely that I would be held liable for their legal costs / fees for responding to this Motion.

Any thoughts would greatly be appreciated! This case is in Montgomery County, PA.


The hot coffee lawsuit was not frivolous. The styrofoam cup melted at the top of the cup, causing it to spill out and when it did it was so hot she jerked and spilled the rest. Look up images of it. She was right to sue!


@SurfNTurf -I agree and the problem with frivolous medical malpractice lawsuits is that even if the doctor is found not guilty of the negligence the fact that he was charged raises his medical malpractice insurance rates.

There are many doctors leaving the profession or choosing to work without malpractice insurance because the rates are just too high. I think that if there were some form of tort reform that limited judgments and forced the losing party to pay all of the legal bills you may see a decrease in frivolous lawsuits.

I think it is too easy to sue a professional or a company and I think that if there were limits in place more people would think twice about it. These frivolous lawsuits take away time from legitimate lawsuits and really reward the trial lawyers that bring the suit forward.

I also think that it makes everything in the future more complicated. For example, years ago if you applied for a mortgage the paperwork was about one page. Now if you get a mortgage the paperwork is more like thirty pages. This is the result of previous frivolous lawsuits and the extra paperwork is the bank’s way of protecting itself.


@Subway11 - I think that we live in a society where every possible conflict or discomfort turns into a lawsuit. For example, the case in which a judge sued his dry cleaner for $65 million dollars for damage done to his pants is really something to think about.

Here is a judge that is supposed to dismiss frivolous cases bringing a frivolous case himself. What made it worse is that the dry cleaners were willing to give the man $1,000 even though he only paid about $200 for his pants and this was not enough.

I wonder if some people do these things for publicity or just because they can’t get over that someone made a mistake.

It is like that classic frivolous lawsuit case with the hot coffee. The coffee cup has always offered a warning that the contents were hot.

I think that giving in to the lawsuits is like paying a ransom. You are rewarding the people that bring these lawsuits forward because you want the situation to end. I wish that a company would stand up and fight these frivolous lawsuits.

These frivolous lawsuits that won encourage people to continue to file these types of cases.


@Moldova - I think that frivolous lawsuits also have implications in other areas as well. I think that because of the many frivolous lawsuits many companies that depend on research to create new products that will enhance the general public’s quality of life might be hesitant to spend the money on the development for fear of a lawsuit.

An example would be the drug companies. These companies spend millions on research and always have to wonder if they will get sued for producing a new drug. The drug companies do inform consumers of possible side effects ahead of time but they are still sued.

While these are usually legitimate lawsuits the fact there are commercials from law firms seeking more participants to engage in a lawsuit is a problem. I don’t have a problem with a law firm advertising, but I think that if you are advertising to build a specific case you are bound to get people that may have used the drug but showed no side effects but just see the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

These types of people are not legitimately harmed and I think that this type of advertising lends itself to creating potential frivolous cases.


@Stebbinsd- I am not sure that you can do anything if a judge deems your case as frivolous. Once a judge rules I believe the case is over unless you appeal the decision.

I just wanted to add that filing a frivolous lawsuit hurts everyone because it forces judges to rule on cases that are ridiculous instead of spending time on more substantive cases.

It also makes the general public pay more for goods and services because the company sued has to pass on the litigation costs to the consumer. I think that a lot of these companies are targets because the public knows that they have money.

Some of the companies settle the cases not because they have some guilt but because they just want to get it over with. The problem with this thinking is that it encourages people to file frivolous lawsuits in America.


Re: no legal grounds for a suit making it frivolous.

Can I get some citation for this? It's not that I'm calling you guys liars; rather, this seems too good to be true!

If a judge or defendant is calling my lawsuit "frivolous," what law do I cite in order to prove them wrong? What case law, statute, or other law, actually holds this objective standard?

Again, I'm not doubting you, but some of my opponents may doubt you, and I need credible citation to shut them up!

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    • When there are no legal grounds for a lawsuit, it is referred to as a frivolous lawsuit.
      When there are no legal grounds for a lawsuit, it is referred to as a frivolous lawsuit.
    • Frivolous lawsuits may not be as common as you think.
      Frivolous lawsuits may not be as common as you think.