Judicial privilege does not bar statutory Dragonetti claim and common law abuse of process claim.
As always, this wrongful use of civil proceedings and abuse of process case arises from an underlying suit. In the underlying suit, the defendant filed a counterclaim against the plaintiff’s counsel, joining him as a party to the negligence suit. Here, the underlying plaintiff’s counsel is the plaintiff and sues the underlying defendant’s counsel under Dragonetti. The defense raised here was that the judicial privilege bars these claims because the actions taken in the underlying suit fall within the broadly drawn absolute immunity for communications issued in the regular course of legal proceedings. The trial court agreed, holding that the judicial privilege covers all litigation behavior, including tortious behavior. In this precedential opinion, the Superior Court disagreed, holding that the Dragonetti Act and common law abuse of process claim each separately imposes liability for actions taken without probable cause and for an improper purpose. Immunity provided by the judicial privilege seeks to protect the legal process, but “[i]ndividuals who bring lawsuits for malicious motive and lacking probable cause, or that use the legal process for an illegitimate end after a suit has been initiated, are not seeking the ascertainment of truth or to encourage candor from witnesses.” Thus, the privilege has its limits.
Case Law Alerts, 2nd Quarter, April 2017
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