OLR Bill Analysis

sHB 5366

AN ACT CONCERNING CIVIL ACTIONS AND SUBPOENAS FILED TO HARASS AN INDIVIDUAL OR AFTER NUMEROUS ACTIONS AGAINST THE INDIVIDUAL HAVE BEEN DISMISSED.

SUMMARY:

This bill expands gatekeeper requirements when certain convicted criminals attempt to file civil lawsuits against their crime victims or summon them to a court or deposition hearing. It also imposes these limitations on parties who have repeatedly filed meritless actions and appeals against one individual. The bill also applies to attorneys participating in the proceedings, although it does not appear to be the case when a person who has filed multiple claims is seeking a subpoena.

The bill also authorizes judges to order sanctions against plaintiffs, their attorneys, or both when judges find such a complaint or initial pleading meritless or filed for a malicious purpose or solely to harass the defendant. It also gives judges the authority to report attorneys who have participated in such proceedings to the Statewide Grievance Committee, which they can already do under existing law.

EFFECTIVE DATE: October 1, 2012

FILING CIVIL COMPLAINTS

The bill requires those who have been convicted of crimes, including family violence crimes, to include certificates signed and sworn by the convicted person or his or her attorney with complaints or initial court filings against their victims. Certificates must state that a reasonable inquiry has been made and that, in the opinion of the convicted person or his or her attorney, there are grounds for a good faith belief that the action has merit and is not being filed for a malicious purpose or solely to harass the crime victim. The bill requires the certificate to include a detailed basis for the formation of the signatory's opinion.

It imposes the same requirements on a person who has filed three or more meritless suits or appeals in state or federal courts.

Court Action

The bill requires the court to stay all proceedings against the defendant when a certified complaint or other initial pleading is filed (presumably, only proceedings in which the plaintiff is involved). It may dismiss the action if the defendant files a motion, or on its own motion, if it finds, after reviewing the certificate and other relevant information that the plaintiff has:

1. been convicted of a crime of which the defendant is a victim or,

2. had three or more complaints or appeals dismissed by a state or federal court based on it findings that such complaints or appeals are (a) frivolous or malicious or (b) failed to state a legal claim, and

3. that the pending civil action is meritless or filed for a malicious purpose or solely to harass the defendant.

The bill authorizes the court to impose appropriate sanctions on the person or attorney filing the action, or both. These may include an order to pay the defendant reasonable expenses incurred because of the filing of the action, including attorney's fees. It may also submit the matter to the Statewide Grievance Committee, which may result in the imposition of disciplinary action against the attorney.

FILING CIVIL SUBPOENAS

Under current law, an unrepresented person (pro se litigant) must get a judge's authorization before the court clerk will issue a subpoena, including one summoning a person to a habeas corpus proceeding, when its subject is the victim of one of the following crimes of which the requesting litigant has been convicted:

1. a family violence crime;

2. risk of injury to minors;

3. 1st, 2nd, 3rd, or 4th degree sexual assault;

4. aggravated 1st degree sexual assault;

5. 3rd degree assault with a firearm;

6. sexual assault in a spousal or cohabiting relationship; or

7. 1st, 2nd, or 3rd degree stalking

The bill makes the same procedures applicable to those filing multiple, meritless lawsuits, whether or not represented by an attorney.

Court Hearing

Under the bill, when a party seeks a subpoena, he or she must notify the clerk of this intention. The clerk must schedule a hearing and notify the party of its date, time, and place. At the hearing, the party must make an offer of proof, disclosing the testimony he or she expects the victim to give. The judge may authorize the subpoena if he or she finds that the expected testimony is relevant and necessary to the civil matter. The party's subsequent examination of the victim must be consistent with any limitations the judge imposed in his or her findings on the offer of proof.

BACKGROUND

Rules of Professional Conduct

The Rules of Professional Conduct prohibit attorneys in this state from (1) initiating a court proceeding or making an assertion unless there is a basis in law and in fact for doing so that is not frivolous or (2) offering evidence that the attorney knows is false. If a lawyer or his or her client has offered material evidence that the lawyer learns is false, he or she must take reasonable remedial measures including, if necessary, disclosing this to the court (Rules 3. 1 and 3. 3 (a)(3)).

Family Violence Crimes

Family violence crimes are those, other than delinquent acts, that in addition to other elements, contain an element of violence to a family member, including a housemate or person in, or formerly in, a dating relationship.

COMMITTEE ACTION

Judiciary Committee

Joint Favorable

Yea

45

Nay

0

(04/02/2012)