Querulous Or Vexatious Litigants, A Disorder Of A Modern Legal System?

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2013 Presentation Paper

Querulous Or Vexatious Litigants, A Disorder Of A Modern Legal System?

by Yves-Marie Morissette, Court of Appeal of Quebec, Canadian Association of Counsel to Employers Banff

CACE lOth Annual Conférence / 10e conférence annuelle de l’ACAE



Nature of the problem: Some self-represented litigants never let go. Not only do they resist any reasonable attempt to settle a dispute consensually, they never accept defeat and they continue to fight on, in any available forum, and especially in the courts, until they are forced to stop, which usually occurs when they experience financial self-annihilation. Whatever “initial dispute” they may have had with a spouse, a relative, a neighbour, an employer, a government agency, or any other person or institution, this initial dispute evolves and degenerates into an all-out war on every front, fought mostly if not exclusively in the courts, against one or several parties and, later, those parties’ lawyers, the lawyers’ partners, their professional regulators or their insurers, the court personnel, judges in person, or the judicial council if its decisions are subject to judicial review. And whenever possible, they apply for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Even among the numerous self-represented parties, these abnormally obdurate and belligerent litigants only account for a very small percentage of parties who go to court without representation. But they impose a real and threatening burden on all other participants in the administration of justice (be they lawyers, judges and court administrators or personnel). Worse still is the situation in which the parties they target in their “initial dispute” find themselves: more often than not, they face staggering legal costs, exhaustion through lengthy, repetitious and spurious proceedings, and despair in their encounters with the legal system.

Legal and psychiatric perspectives on this problem: When dealing with litigants who present such a profile, lawyers and judges usually speak of “vexatious” litigants. As we shall see, there is a panoply of legal devices to restrain or prevent this form of behaviour; whether these devices are effective is a different question, but they do exist. Vexatiousness is also of interest to psychiatrists, for it is a recognized1 “borderline personality disorder” which can be diagnosed. A word also used by psychiatrists and psychologists to describe this behaviour is defined in two well-known dictionaries as follows:

Querulousness: The state or condition of persons given to complaining, full of complaints, peevish. (Oxford English Dictionary — first recorded occurrence in 1652)

Quérulence: Tendance pathologique à rechercher les quérelles et à revendiquer, d’une manière hors de proportion avec la cause, la réparation d’un préjudice subi, réel ou imaginaire.
(Le Grand Robert — first recorded occurrence in 1901)

As a descriptive term, “querulous” is broader than the legal term of art “vexatious” but it gets to the root of the problem. For indeed, the querulous subject may be a vexatious litigant in court, but he may also be an abnormally difficult and disputatious person as a colleague at work, as a user of government services, as a citizen who attends city council meetings, as a church member, etc.

The legal and psychiatric approaches to the problem share certain characteristics, notably with regards [sic] to the definition or depiction of this abnormal behaviour, but they differ markedly in other respects. If I were to describe in a nutshell the psychiatrist’s perspective, I would say that it coincides with the lawyer’s on several counts —

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particularly as to who may be considered or declared querulous or vexatious — but that in most other respects the two perspectives are divergent.

For a lawyer, the vexatious litigant’s actions are abusive, disruptive of legal proceedings and a gross misuse of legal resources.1  Such abuses are what alerts the lawyer to the problem. Containment, reparation and ultimately, repression, are therefore in order. For the psychiatrist, on the other hand, the querulous person has a serious personality disorder of the obsessive-compulsive kind (which, by the way, is not the same as a “mental illness”). The only effective treatment of this disorder would be prolonged psychotherapy. Under normal circumstances, however, that scenario is unrealistic because the disorder is quintessentially “egosystonic”, as opposed to “egosystonic”.2 Except in the most extreme cases, bordering on actual paranoia and requiring immediate hospitalization, the best or most promising scenario for the subject and his entourage (his spouse, family, relatives, colleagues, neighbours, etc.) is to be allowed to use the court system freely. I do not wish to trivialize the issue, but in the presence of a diagnosed querulous individual, psychiatrists have a tendency to see the courtroom as one of a few substitutes for a couch.

Structure of this paper: Five aspects of the topic merit special attention here. (I) As a starting point, it is convenient to use the typical profile of a vexatious litigant and the corresponding diagnosis of a querulous person in psychiatry; as I mentioned earlier, law and psychiatry share a fairly similar outlook here. (II) Another line of inquiry concerns the etiology of the disorder: what causes it and, in particular, what are there [sic] discernible organic (or medical) and societal factors that bring it about. (III) One narrower but interesting facet of the topic is how the legal profession usually reacts to this phenomenon and how the perception of the problem changes as the awareness of its scope increases. (IV) From a practical angle, one may ask: if this is the problem, what can be done about it, both from a legal and rule-bound angle, and from the point of view of psychiatry? (V) Finally, we may consider a final question and take a critical look at our response: in institutional terms, are there other ways of addressing the problem? If so, are they adaptable to the court system and are they more effective?

I. Delineation of a profile and of a pattern of behaviour

Querulousness and vexatiousness in the DSM-5: Most readers will be familiar with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the DSM), published by the American Psychiatric Association. Most will also have heard of the controversies which often surround the compilation and constant updating of this influential publication. It is now in its 5th edition: DSM-5, as it has become known, succeeded DSM-IV on May 18, 2013, and information about the changes from the previous edition is freely available on the Internet. So far as I know, the words “vexatiousness” or “querulousness” do not appear as such in the DSM-5, nor did they appear in earlier editions. But there is no question that, depending on its degree of intensity,3 the typical behaviour of a querulous litigant can fit the description of several diagnosable “personality disorders”4 recognized in the DSM-5.

1  I first became aware of the problem many years ago, while I was working on a lengthy law review article about abuse of process in civil cases (see Y.-M. Morissette, « L’initiative judiciaire vouée à l’échec et la responsabilité de l’avocat ou de son mandant » (1984), 44 Revue du Barreau 397). I noticed at the time that, in a small proportion of cases, absurd and obviously untenable arguments were occasionally offered in court by unrepresented litigants. It is only years later, however, that I connected this problem with the personality disorder of interest to psychiatrists (see Y.-M. Morissette, « Pathologie et thérapeutique du plaideur trop belliqueux » (2002), 32 Revue de droit de l’Université de Sherbrooke 252 et « Abus de droit, quérulence et parties non representées » (2004), 49 McGill Law Journal 23).


2 I define these two terms later: see footnotes 15 and 16, infra.

3Valery Fabrikant is still alive but imprisoned. Clifford Olson died on September 30, 2011. Both are convicted murderers and extraordinarily persistent vexatious litigants. In common parlance, they are also psychopaths (what the DSM calls “antisocial personality disorder”). Clearly, very few vexatious litigants offer such a troubled profile. For a small sample of Mr. Fabrikant’s activity in Quebec courts, see Fabrikant v. Bradette, [1996] A.Q. no 3274 (Q.S.C.), Fabrikant v. Swamy, [1997] J.Q. no 4241 (Q.S.C.), Fabrikant v. Legaré, [1999] J.Q. no 1461 (Q.S.C.), Fabrikant v. Adolph, [1995] J.Q. no 285 (C.A.), and [1997] J.Q. no 1592 (C.A.), Fabrikant v. Concordia University, J.E. 96-167 (Q.S.C.), confirmed by Fabrikant v. Concordia University, J.E. 97-224 (Q.C.A.), Fabrikant v. Concordia University, [1997] J.Q.

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In this sense, the DSM-5 is a precise diagnostic tool which depicts reality with more nuances and from more different angles than the binary legal construct, “vexatious” or “not vexatious”. Indeed, on a number of occasions in my work as a judge, I, along with my colleagues, have observed actions which denoted an early propensity to querulousness in an unrepresented litigant — perhaps something which would qualify as a mild personality disorder for a psychiatrist, but which cannot justify, under our existing rules, the issuance of a restraining order for vexatiousness.

The psychiatrist’s perspective in its context: The pattern of behaviour normally associated with vexatious litigants is obsessive-compulsive, a factor which may cause the subject to become aggressive and a danger to himself or to others.

Querulousness shares this trait with several other known personality disorders, such as hypochondria (the subject believes, to the point of obsession, that he has a serious, even life-threatening disease that has yet to be diagnosed — and the medical clinic is to the hypochondriac what the courthouse is to the querulous litigant), erotomania (the subject believes, to the point of obsession, that another individual, often a stranger of considerable prominence, is in love with him) or even the hoarding disorder5 (which the DSM-5 describes in these terms: “the persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions, regardless of the value others may attribute to these possessions”).

The harassment of others by the subject is often a side effect of these disorders or conditions. In their most extreme form, they may cause the subject to engage in criminal activity. Thus, Osman v. Ferguson6 involves an erotomaniac subject (a teacher) who had an obsession with one of his pupils. He shot the child and his father, injuring the first and killing the second. It seems plausible that a common denominator, perhaps the subject’s very propensity to obsess compulsively about something, connects all these disorders.7 At any rate, this appears to have been the view of Gaëtan Gatien de Clérambault (1872-1934), a celebrated French psychiatrist and clinician, admired by Jacques Lacan, who was the head of the Infirmerie de la préfecture de police de Paris and who left

no 1593 (Q.C.A.) and Fabrikant v. Adolph, [1998] R.R.A. 585 (Q.C.S.). Fabrikant is a named party in 21 judgments in the Court of Appeal of Quebec. He was successful in Fabrikant v. Swamy, 2010 QCCA 330, which resulted in a re-trial of the action and its ultimate dismissal in Fabrikant v. Swamy, 2011 QCCS 1385. For a small sample of Mr. Olson’s activity in the Federal Court, see Olson v. Canada, [1997] F.C.J, no 1849, Olson v. Canada, [1992] F.C.J, no 958, Olson v. Canada, [1991] F.C.J. no 339, Olson v. Canada, [1990] F.C.J. no 1123, Olson v. Canada, [1990] F.C.J, no 1121, Olson v. Canada, [1990] F.C.J, no 1120, Olson v. Canada, [1990] F.C.J, no 1118, Olson v. Canada, [1990] F.C.J. no 1045, Olson v. Canada, [1990] F.C.J. no 931, Olson v. Canada, [1990] F.C.J. no 1028 and Olson v. Canada, [1989] F.C.J, no 719.
4 Among them, paranoid personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder and obsessive-compulsive personality disorder. In my experience, based on collaborative [sic] with a number of psychiatrists and done over the years (such as joint publications and joint presentations made at professional, legal or medical, conferences), the category most often used is the “borderline personality disorder”.
5 Known in French as a “compulsion de ramassage“, or as the “syndrome de Diogène” (Diogenes syndrome, or senile squalor syndrome).
6 [1993] 4 All E.R. 344 (C.A.) — see also Osman v. United Kingdom, (1998), VIII Cour Eur. D.H. (Sér. A) 3166.
7In Quebec, an early instance of a restraining order (an injunction, actually) against a vexatious litigant is the case of de Niverville c. Descôteaux, [1997] R.J.Q. 1049 (Q.S.C.) involving Mr. Descôteaux, a disbarred lawyer who had founded an association devoted to providing (illegally) legal advice to prospective litigants — see also Club juridique c. Lafrenière, J.E. 99-1989 (Q.A.C., chamber motion). Descôteaux had earlier been disbarred for having engaged in criminal activity (harassment) that very clearly fits the description of erotomania: see the decisions of the Quebec Bar’s disciplinary committee, Bernard c. Descôteaux, no. 06-89-00412 of March 21, 1990, and no. 06-89-420 of May 23, 1990.

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detailed diagnostic descriptions of erotomaniac or querulous inmates.8 Evidently, the topic has long been of interest to some practitioners of psychiatry.

The querulous person’s profile: Various sources available in medical journals and psychiatric literature provide us
with a generic image of the querulous subject.9 Drawing from these and other sources, one can underscore the following points which emerge as defining features of querulousness (which, I reiterate, is a general state of mind and a diffuse phenomenon not confined to vexatiousness in litigation):

— Querulousness is a personality disorder of the affect, not of the subject’s intellect; he or she usually demonstrates strong narcissistic tendencies but is often also of above-average intelligence and well-educated.10

— More often than not, the disorder appears during the subject’s middle age, usually between the ages of 40 and 60.


8 Notably in his Œuvres psychiatriques, edited by Jean Fretet, Paris, Frénésie, 1987. A famous erotomaniac was Adèle Hugo, daughter of Victor, who for years pursued Albert Pinson, a British army officer, whom she followed to Halifax and later to the Caribbean islands. From 1872 until her death in 1915, she was hospitalized in a psychiatric institution. Her life inspired François Truffaut’s 1975 film, The Story of Adele H.
9 See for example Paul H. Mullen and Grant Lester, “Vexatious Litigants and Unusually Persistent Complainants and Petitioners: From Querulous Paranoia to Querulous Behaviour” (2006), 24 Behavioral Sciences and the Law 333; Grant Lester, Beth Wilson, Lynn Griffin et [sic] Paul E. Mullen, “Unusually persistent complainants” (2004), 184 British Journal of Psychiatry 352; A.H.T. Pang et [sic] C.K. Wong, “Querulous Behaviour” (1997), 37 Medicine Science and the Law 265; G.S. Ungvari et al., “Querulous Paranoia in Chinese Patients: A Cultural Paradox” (1996), 30 Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry 463; F. Caduff, “Compulsive Querulousness — A Decreasing Behaviour Syndrome?” (1995), 63 Fortschritte der Neurologic Psychiatric 504; R. L. Goldstein, “Paranoids in the Legal System: the Litigious Paranoid and the Paranoid Criminal” (1995), 18 Psychiatric Clinics of North America 303; I. Feckelton, “Querulent Paranoia and the Vexatious Complainant” (1988), 11 International Journal of Law and Psychiatry 127; M. W. Rowlands, “Psychiatric and Legal Aspects of Persistent Litigation” (1988), 157 British Journal of Psychiatry 317; D. Miller et al, “Litigiousness as a Resistance to Therapy” (1986), 14 Journal of Psychiatry & Law 109; C. Astrup, “Querulent Paranoia: A Follow-Up” (1984), 11 Neuropsychohiology 149; R. Bolton, “Differential Aggressiveness and Litigiousness: Social Support and Social Status Hypotheses” (1979), 5 Aggressive Behaviour 2.
10 Case in point: the track record of Dr. Guillaume Kibale, the holder of a Ph.D. in economics. Quicklaw contains no fewer than 54 judgments, and perhaps more, on actions or motions instituted by Kibale as plaintiff or petitioner, proceedings by means of which he sued between 1987 and 2002 the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (motion for a writ of mandamus dismissed on May 20, 1987, [1987] F.C.J, no. 465 (F.C.)), Transport Canada (motion for leave to appeal dismissed June 30, 1988, [1988] C.S.C.R. no. 216), the Department of the Secretary of State (costs adjudication, January 10, 1991, [1991] F.C.J, no. 15 (F.C.)), the National Energy Board (appeal dismissed with costs, December 8, 1992, [1992] F.C.J, no. 1118 (F.C.A.), the Queen in right of the Province of Ontario (motion for leave to appeal dismissed with costs on March 18, 1999, [1998] C.S.C.R. no 578), the Queen (A.G. Can.) (motion for leave to appeal dismissed with costs, November 19, 1998, [1998] C.S.C.R. no 219, the University of Ottawa (appeal dismissed with costs, March 29 mars [sic], 2000, [2000] O.J. no. 1052 (Ont. C.A.)), OC Transpo (motion for leave to appeal dismissed with costs, August 22, 2002, [2001] C.S.C.R. no 538) and the Queen (A.G. Can.) (motion for leave to appeal dismissed, no mention of costs. May 15, 2003, [2001] C.S.C.R. no 500). Two complaints to the Public Service Commission of Canada and to the Canadian Human Rights Commission, described in Kibale v. Canada, [1994] F.C.J, no 161, 169 N.R. 217, appear to have been the “initial dispute”, that is, [sic] the origin of this barrage of proceedings, but Mr. Kibale also began some obviously unrelated proceedings against the Secretary of State in Kibale c. Canada (Secrétaire d’état), [1990] F.C.J. no. 735 (F.C.) and against the Ottawa-Carleton Regional Police Services Board, in Kibale c. Ontario, [1998] O.J. no. 4184 (Ont. C.A.). In Kibale v. Canada, [1997] F.C.J, no. 480, Mr. Justice Lufty (as he then was) wrote: “L’histoire de ce contentieux pourrait faire l’objet d’une requête en vertu de l’article 40 de la Loi sur la Cour fédérale si la défenderesse croit que le demandeur agit de façon vexatoire en cette instance“. Much earlier, in a judgment of Novembre [sic] 3, 1988, Mr. Justice Hugessen had observed, in Kibale v. Canada (Transport Canada), [1988] F.C.J, no. 1006 (F.C.A.): “The applicant is not a neophyte: on the contrary, he has great experience of arguing his own cases in the courts at all levels and knows quite well that he cannot always win. Furthermore, since March 25 and up to the date on which the application at bar was filed, the applicant has personally appeared and pleaded in the Supreme Court of Canada and the Federal Court of Appeal. During this same period, he made a written application to the Court of Appeal in two other cases and brought an action for damages in the amount of $800,000 in the Trial Division. It is apparent he was not unable to defend his rights; he admitted at the hearing that his alleged disability was “selective”. Such a disability cannot be an excuse.” As recently as July, 2008, the “initial dispute” resulted for Mr. Kibale in an adverse decision of the United Nations Human Rights Committee (CCPR/C/93/D/1562/2007).


1 Admin “vexatiousness” is a “recognized” “borderline personality disorder”. The ingenuity of Rhodes Scholar Morissette (legal adviser to the veiled Communist Parti Québécois re the 1995 referendum whose object was to create a Communist state of Quebec), has found a new “borderline” “mental illness” that is “recognized”, which can be conveniently filled with all the same symptoms of the manifestly non-recognized and world-wide discredited Soviet contrived mental illness of political dissidents, “creeping” or “sluggish” “schizophrenia”. Moreover, “spouse, a relative, a neighbour, an employer, a government agency, or any other person or institution” are all the same alleged battlefronts of the Soviet dissident or the inconvenient citizen. In fact, the way the KGB are employed here in Quebec to achieve this effect is that they stalk their target for decades, recruit and interfere with employers, bankers, neighbors, janitors, landlords, who are quickly taught what to say, what to do, and how to harass the target in order to expel them from their jobs, their homes, and repeatedly destroy their property while defaming them to all in the neighborhood, including recruiting corner store staff and owners to conduct concerted harassment of the target. The objective is to create disputes all around the person, everywhere they go, with a view to building up a “profile” of their victim as an incompetent, self-absorbed individual in continual conflict, unable to hold a job or maintain even a minimal home. When the KGB then step in to incarcerate their target, or better to murder their target, they have all the “proof” they need to write off the incarceration or the death as the target’s own fault, or suicide. Today’s electronic era makes this fairly simple. Everyone has government-issued ID cards. It is easy to red-flag the federal and provincial government ID cards of the targeted individual. It is easy to monitor their bank accounts or other financial device for activity, and to then follow the purchases to their origin, and recruit the parties with whom the target does business, online or off, to harass the target on behalf of the local Quebec KGB. Ed. JudicialMadness.


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— The disorder is consistently more prevalent among men than it is among women. This observation is borne out by statistics from the court system: only about 25 % of the vexatious litigants subjected to a court restraining order are women.”

— It is a common characteristic of querulous subjects to appear coldly rational (an expression which is frequently used in French to describe their posture is that of a monstre froid [frozen monster]).

— In its most extreme form, the subject may display the same acute symptoms as a person suffering from paranoia.

— As was previously noted, similar patterns of behaviour are observable in obsessive-compulsive subjects suffering from disorders formerly classified as hypochondria or erotomania.

— Querulousness is a borderline personality disorder which can be diagnosed by a psychiatrist12 and which may result in a work disability;13 it is doubtful, however, that it would qualify as mental illness for the purposes of criminal liability14.

— As a general proposition, the prognosis for a person diagnosed with this particular borderline personality disorder is rarely positive: the disorder is egosyntonic15 (as opposed to egodystonic16), which curtails the effectiveness of a [sic] psychotherapy, a treatment which could otherwise work and is by far preferable to medication.17


11 More on this topic below: see infra, Appendices B and C.
12 Thus, see U.S. v. Riggin, 732 F. Supp. 958 (1990), p. 960: «Dr. Small concluded that Mr. Riggin suffers from a rare form of “Paranoid Personality Disorder”. He further considered that Mr. Riggin may be suffering from delusional disorders of a persecutory type and further reported that Mr. Riggin behaves in a rigid, inflexible way and that he does seem to have the problem “querulous paranoia.” Ominously, Dr. Small concluded his report by stating that there is no good treatment for this condition”. See also Guzman v. Lamarque, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 26804, p. 33, Carr v. Woodward, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 10708, p. 40-1 and US. v. Salley, 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 536, p. 7.
13 1J See for example Roussel v. Canada, [1998] 3 C.T.C. 2941 (T.C.C.) (Mr. Roussel, a provincial civil servant, was placed on long term disability for this reason :”… il s’est insidieusement développé chez monsieur Roger Roussel un trouble mental caracterisé par un délire de revendication qui l’amène à totalement s’investir dans des litiges sans fin. Cette pathologie correspond à ce que l’on appelle la paranoia querulans de type processif“) See also Roussel v. Canada, [2001] C.T.C. 35 (F.C.A.). The case of F.L. v. Lesage, 2010 QCCS 117, J.E. 2010-248, to which I shall return, is an oddity: the Superior Court of Quebec holds that the plaintiff, a member of the local legal profession who was placed on long term disability by reason of her querulousness, is also a vexatious litigant because of the proceedings she instituted in person against the physician who had diagnosed her personality disorder; appeal dismissed, 2012 QCCA 1288, application for leave to appeal dismissed (with costs), [2012] S.C.C.A. No. 460).
14 As far as I know, R. v. Walsh (1990), N.S.R. (2d) 126 (N.S.Co. Ct), where a querulous person was charged with assault, is the only case where the issue was considered, although the case is inconclusive on the specific question of whether this disorder could ever amount to mental illness in criminal law.
13 That is, consistent or consonant with the ego, in harmony with the subject’s ideal self-image, who therefore has no awareness of his problem. The querulous subject typically considers that he is in the right and that everybody else is in the wrong. [Admin JMad: Tell it to Galileo!]
16 That is, dissonant with the ego, in conflict with the subject’s ideal self-image, and therefore perceived by him as something that must be corrected.
17 Medication (such as Haloperidol or Pimozide) can be prescribed but practitioners are reluctant to do so because of the severe side effects of these antipsychotic drugs.

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— The plasticity of the diagnosis may give rise to what psychiatrists call “the apprehension of overinclusive diagnosis”, as typified by the history of “sluggish schizophrenia” in Soviet psychiatry18. By definition, the querulous subject is a contrarian, persistently argumentative and critical of others, but it goes without saying that not all persons with these traits have a personality disorder recognized in psychiatry.

Clues for lawyers and judges: This description is largely and perhaps entirely consistent with what legal practitioners will observe in vexatious litigants. In addition, however, the following elements are sure signs of a querulous disposition morphing into vexatiousncss in court proceedings:

The litigant is unrepresented and (virtually always19) acting in person. Vexatious litigants form but a very small subset of a much larger reality, that of the litigant in person or “pro se litigant“. Judicial statistics in Quebec show that, in family law matters heard in the Superior Court between 2004 and 2010, the percentage of cases involving at least one unrepresented party grew year by year as follows: 31,8%, 33,7%, 34,0%, 34,3%, 34,3%, 35,7%, 36,4% (with an overall caseload varying between a low of 30,143 cases commenced in 2009 and a high of 34,220 cases commenced in 2004).20 It is generally believed that the causes of this surge in self-representation are primarily economic in nature: a party is not entitled to legal aid but cannot or will not afford the cost of professional legal services. These causes affect courts all over North America and they call for corrective measures21 that have nothing in common with the institutional responses appropriate for dealing with vexatious litigants. The fact remains, however, that a distinctive feature of vexatious litigants is that they appear without counsel.

— The vexatious litigant’s attitude is characterized by his pronounced obduracy: settlement is impossible and any concession made in his favour may result in his upping the ante.

— The persistent reiteration and amplification of the same claims is a an almost universal characteristic of vexatious proceedings.


18 Paul Chodoff and Walter Reich offer a telling account of this aberration in Sidney Bloch, Paul Chodoff and Stephen A. Green (ed.), Psychiatric Ethics, 3rd ed., New York, Oxford University Press, 1999. In a chapter entitled “Misuse and Abuse of Psychiatry: An Overview”, at p. 58, Chodoff writes on psychiatry in the former USSR: “… the Snezhnevsky system made it easy to classify dissenters as suffering such illnesses as “sluggish schizophrenia”, a diagnosis not disqualified by “seeming normality” and “absence of symptoms”, or, as is illustrated by the case of General Grigorenko, by a panoply of human characteristics mislabeled as symptoms”. Reich, at pp. 196 and fol. [sic] in a chapter entitled “Psychiatric diagnosis as an ethical problem”, explains: “In its definitions of the schizophrenic disorders this system employed such broad and loose criteria that it permitted the diagnosis of schizophrenia in cases in which, in the West, there would be no finding of any mental illness“. A list of these criteria, or “symptoms”, includes (p. 203) “originality, ideological formulations, fear and suspiciousness, religiosity, depression, ambivalence, guilt, internal conflicts, and behavioural disorganization, intensity, attention to detail, poor adaptation to the social environment, shift of interests, reformism”.
19 I say virtually always because one would like to think that virtually all members of the legal profession will decline to take part in proceedings conducted in a vexatious manner. I know of one case, however, where a member of the Quebec Bar who belonged to a sect engaged in behaviour on behalf of this group which fits the description of vexatious conduct: see the judgment of the Chief Justice of Quebec in Bohémier c. St-Onge, 2009 QCCA 1371, particularly at par. 14-17.
20 “According to a recent report cited below, infra, note 47, “… the inordinate costs of litigation have led to a massive increase in the number of litigants who represent themselves [in family law disputes] — now as much as 70 or 80 percent.”
21 See for example Alicia M. Farley, « An Important Piece of the Bundle: How Limited Appearances Can Provide an ethically Sound Way to Increase Access to Justice to Pro Se Litigants » (2007) and the Canadian Judicial Council’s Statement of Principles on Self-represented Litigants and Accused Persons, 2006, available on line.

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— Substantively, the arguments raised by the vexatious litigant are often unintelligible or highly confused; when they are not, they tend to be characterized by their legal incongruity.22

— The style of written submissions in pleadings, factums and the like by vexatious litigants is quite distinctive. In 2004, Dr. Grant Lester and his co-authors identified the following highly characteristic features23:

  • Opaqueness and excessive length of written complaints or submissions. Faulty terminology
    and syntax.

  • Emphatic tone reinforced by the use of bold, underlined, highlighted words and differentiated fonts.

  • Multiple appendices and supporting documents. The expression of a keen desire for moral vindication.

— All adverse judgments are followed by the systematic exhaustion of all rights of review, appeal or revocation of judgment.24

— Unsustainable allegations of bias, groundless demands for recusal, and gratuitous complaints against lawyers, the Bar, the Law Society, adjudicators, judges and judicial councils eventually result from the initial dispute.

— Often, the cycle comes to an end when the vexatious litigant is unable to pay legal (court) fees and costs, and is eventually forced to file for personal bankruptcy.

At a conference of the British and Irish Ombudsman Association held in April of 2005, a workshop on persistent complainants produced a document which presents a gradation in the severity of querulous behaviour (see Appendix A). It accurately describes the levels of severity in vexatious behaviour.

II. Plausible causal factors

Historical traces of abusiveness in legal proceedings: A view commonly held among Quebec judges25 is that the problem which vexatious litigants pose for the courts has grown steadily in magnitude in the last fifteen years. I agree up to a point, but we must be careful not to overstate things.

22 The case of Fabrikant v. Adolph, [1995] J.Q. No. 285 (Q.C.A.) provides a good illustration. In his action for defamation against the Montreal Gazette, Mr. Fabrikant pressed the view that he was entitled to proceed without paying any of the legal fees provided for in the relevant tariff. The argument was rejected in the Superior Court. Mr. Fabrikant appealed and asked the Court to “AFFIRM the applicability of the Henry VIII Statute of A.D. 1495 in Canada; AFFIRM the general right of poor people to proceed in forma pauperis upon showing the appearance of right and the inability to afford payment of legal fees in all courts of the Province of Quebec and in all kinds of litigation.” (The statute he invoked was actually passed during the reign of Henry VII, not Henry VIII.) The appeal was unsuccessful. [Note: Ed. Judicial Madness: it is a characteristic accusation by Morissette et als that vexatious pleaders cite “novel” case law, which they pinpoint as old. First of all, Magna Carta, some of it still valid law today, is the royal charter of political rights given to rebellious English barons by King John in 1215, long before either Henry VII or VIII. Moreover, the Federal Court of Canada in fact recognizes the principle that certain litigants are indeed entitled to plead in forma pauperis; since Mr. Fabrikant was pleading before the Quebec Superior Court, the court of the Province, he may well have sought in the law books for the origin of the concept, which is not expressly referred to in i.e., the Quebec Code of Civil Procedure, or the Quebec Civil code. In addition, there are a number of cases of great antiquity whose principles are taught in law schools as valid to this day. Among them are Heydon’s Case [1584] 3 CO REP 7a (for the Mischief Rule); the Case of Proclamations, [1610] EWHC KB J22; (1611) 12 Co Rep 74; 77 ER 1352 (caution against novelty when precedent lacking, lest it contradict the law of the land); the Prince’s Case, in Chancery, Original Citation (1572-1616) 8 Co Rep 1; English Reports Citation: 77 E.R. 481 (for what principle? xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx); Magna Charta (25 Edw. 1) C A P. XXIX (“NO Freeman shall be taken, or imprisoned, or be disseised of his Freehold, or Liberties, or free Customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or any otherwise destroyed; nor will we not pass upon him, nor condemn him, but by lawful Judgment of his Peers, or by the Law of the Land. We will sell to no man, we will not deny or defer to any man either Justice or Right.”). The said Act is listed in the Chronological Table of Statutes as the Criminal and Civil Justice Act, 1297. And, for example, would be an excellent response from the year 1297 to the “Plaideur vexatoire” deprivations of liberty by the courts “preceding” (i.e. “usurping” the Legislature), with Morissette’s words going to prove that there is indeed no “law of the land” in these judicial declarations of vexatious pleader, or those he himself set in motion of “plaideur quérulent“. In other words, there is no statute on the books to authorize either form of judicial detention; the victims of these judges were entitled to a trial by jury (but of course, there is nothing in the Criminal Code of Canada on whic hto charge them; so, essentially, since they can’t be put on trial, and they can’t be declared crazy without charges and a trial, or a “law of the land”, well, s. 46 of the Quebec Code of Civil Procedure which authorizes the judiciary to use reasonably necessary inherent power to control their “process” (but obviously confers no primary legislative power upon them; and moreover, primary powers cannot be inferred from principles of interpretation which authorize limited discretion necessary to the operation of the Courts AS Courts and not as amateur psychiatrists declaring people crazy from the bench) is quite insufficient to detain and tar someone’s personality with a label, as opposed to judicially declaring a procedure alone “abusive”. It would therefore seem that something bordering on malice motivates “legal professionals” to attack pro se litigants whose only “crime” is their creative search for precedents to support principles that their common sense and intelligence tell them must be recognized today. Fabrikant was right about in forma pauperis; it is recognized and used in the Federal Court of Canada; he simply found himself an old precedent to use in another court. Moreover, the miserly Mr. Morisette pettily accuses Fabrikant of attributing the old statute to the wrong King Henry, as if the mistake between the Roman numeral VII and VIII might not be a simple typographical error.]
22 Grant Lester, Beth Wilson, Lynn Griffin and Paul E. Mullen, “Unusually persistent complainants” (2004), 184 British Journal of Psychiatry 352.
23 One troubling consequence of this state of affairs is that, paradoxically, vexatious litigants are over-represented in appellate jurisdictions. In Quebec, they occupy a sizable amount of court time in hearings for leave to appeal where leave is necessary and in hearings on motions to dismiss brought by respondents, when the vexatious litigant appealed as of right.
24 One troubling consequence of this slate of affairs is that, paradoxically, vexatious litigants are over-represented in appellate jurisdictions. In Quebec, they occupy a sizable amount of court time in hearings for leave to appeal where leave is necessary and in hearings on motions to dismiss brought by respondents, when the vexatious litigant appealed as of right.
25 But, it would appear, not only among Quebec judges: see the comments of Mr. Justice David W. Stratas, of the Federal Court of Appeal in « Federal judges take steps to curb nuisance lawsuits », The Globe and Mail, 14 novembre [sic] 2012, p. A-15.


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On the one hand, there is solid evidence that querulousness, as a personality disorder, has existed for quite a long
time. There are traces of it in old documents and in ancient literature.26  The notion of vexatious proceedings itself made its official appearance in English common law in 1887 with the judgment of the English Court of Appeal in Grepe v. Loam 27  Grepe appeared in person in this case, his pattern of behaviour then and before showed in all likelihood that he was a querulous individual, and he was subjected to the first restraining order of its kind, which later became known as a Grepe v. Loam order. But there is more. The existence at common law, and for a long period, of the offences and torts of maintenance, champerty and barratry shows that repressing vexatious litigation and indemnifying victims of such acts was a concern early on in the development of the law. Barratry, defined as “the act or practice of bringing repeated and spurious legal actions solely to harass,” could earn the offender a fine, and as a tortfeasor he could also be condemned to pay damages. The rationale for a tort of maintenance may have evolved over time but it was always grounded in a concern about dishonest or abusive litigation.28 In most common law systems, these offences and torts have now been abolished by statute, though not so long ago in some jurisdictions: for example, in New South Wales, the Maintenance and Champerty Abolition Act was passed in 1993.

On the other hand, it is a fact that, in Quebec, many of the procedural devices used to prevent or control vexatious proceedings were created recently. The Grepe v. Loam type of ruling was introduced in Quebec by a judgment of the Superior Court, Yorke c. Paskell-Mede,29 less than twenty years ago.30 The rules, specifically aimed at “comportement vexatoire ou quérulent / vexatious or quarrelsome conduct,” only made their appearance in the Code of Civil Procedure on June 4, 2009, though some earlier amendments to the Rules of practice of the Superior Court and the Court of Appeal had been made to address the same problem.30 These indications tend to confirm that, at least in terms of the awareness of the problem, and of the need to take effective measures to correct it, a recent intensification of vexatious behaviour by litigants in person is what spurred the courts and the legislature into action.

An intriguing explanatory hypothesis : Ian Hacking is one of the very few living Canadians who have achieved considerable international recognition and stature as a philosopher (Charles Taylor is perhaps the other name that


26  When Jean Racine (1639-1699), Ihe great French classical playwright, wrote his comedy Les plaideurs in 1668, he staged as his two main characters the commoner Chicanneau and the countess Pimbesche, both of whom would undoubtedly be declared vexatious today. In Descarreau c. Voyer, a judgment of the Conseil souverain in New France rendered on April II, 1740, a party received a hefty fine for having filed a spurious appeal (“un fol appel“) as the phrase went in those days).
27  (1887),37Ch.D. 168.
28  A fourth edition of John G. Flemming’s The Law of Torts, Melbourne, The Law Book Company, 1971, states at p. 548 (footnotes omitted): “The promotion or support of contentious legal proceedings by a stranger, who has no direct concern in them, is a wrong actionable at the suit of the other party, in the absence of justifying circumstances. This tort, known as maintenance, stems from a time when officious interference in litigation was a wide-spread evil, practiced by powerful royal officials and nobles to oppress their vulnerable neighbours. But after the Tudors had crushed the baronage and purged the judiciary, the prevalence of maintenance as an ‘engine of oppression’ rapidly diminished, and later cases reveal it rather as a deplorable mode of paying off a score against an adversary. Its survival in modern law, though in greatly attenuated form, must be attributed to a persisting, if perhaps exaggerated, fear that it is still a needed safeguard against blackmail and speculation in lawsuits prone to increase litigation.” And naturally, on a parallel course, a defendant could also sue for malicious prosecution and for abuse of legal process.
29  [1996] R.J.Q. 1964.
30  Two or three years before 1996, there were a couple of orders that effectively replicated the Grepe v. Loam ruling, but it is only in 1996 that the Superior Court of Quebec made explicit in a reasoned judgment why such orders would be made in appropriate cases.
31  Namely Rules 94 and 95 of the Rules of the Court of Appeal of Quebec in Civil Matters, and Rules 84 to 90 of the Rules of Practice of the Superior Court of Quebec in civil Matters.

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immediately comes lo mind).32  Although much of Hacking’s work is in the domain of logic, mathematics and analytical philosophy,33 his research interests are eclectic. In 2001, he was the first Canadian ever, as far as I know, to take up a research chair at the prestigious Collège de France in Paris, a Chaire de philosophie et histoire des concepts scientifiques. The scope of his enquiries under that general theme is apparent from his inaugural lecture34  at the Collège de France and at the time of this lecture, he had already published a few titles in which he explored the “looping effect” of classifications of people and their behaviour.

Not long before his election to this chair, Hacking had published two books critical of certain aspects of modern psychiatry as a scientific discipline, Mad Travellers: Reflections on the Reality of Transient Mental Illnesses35 and Rewriting the Soul: Multiple Personnality [sic] and the Sciences of Memory35, in which he offered case studies of what he calls “transient mental illnesses”. In The Social Construction of What?37 in a chapter entitled “Madness: biological or constructed?”. Hacking explains what he means by that phrase “transient mental illnesses”:

I now turn to a quite different field of conflict, also couched in terms of construction. Mental illness provides the most pressing example.

It is easy to be sceptical about many entries in contemporary diagnostic manuals. How about Intermittent Explosive Disorder? Certainly, some people fly off the handle all too easily, but do they suffer from a mental illness, IED? Or is this just some construct concocted by psychiatrists? We suspect that IED has to do with medicalizing disagreeable patterns of behaviour. It is easily argued that IED is not a diagnosis but a disciplinary device. If someone said that Intermittent Explosive Disorder is a social construct, I might wince at the overuse of social-construct talk, but would understand roughly what was meant.

Other mental illnesses are what I call transient. I do not mean that they last only for a time in the life of an individual. I mean that they show up only at some times and some places, for reason which we can suppose are connected with the culture of those times and places. The classic example is hysteria in late-nineteenth-century France. There is multiple personality disorder in recent America. There is anorexia – of which young women can die — which is quite local in its history; at present it is more virulent in Argentina than anywhere else. It is all too tempting to call these social constructs.


32 Both have had stellar academic careers. Hacking at Cambridge, Stanford and the University of Toronto, Taylor at Oxford and McGill, both have received much admired international awards. Hacking the Holberg International Memorial Prize in 2009 (two years after Ronald Dworkin), Charles Taylor the Templeton Prize in 2007. Their interests differ, however, for Hacking is essentially a philosopher of science, who trained first in mathematics and physics.
33 I am thinking here of Logic of Statistical Inference, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1965, The Emergence of Probability, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1975, The Taming of Chance, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1990, Probability and Inductive Logic, New York, Cambridge University Press, 2001, but also of The Social Construction of What?, Cambridge Mass., Harvard University Press, 1999.
34 Ian Hacking, “Inaugural Lecture: Chair of Philosophy and Scientific Concepts at the Collège de France, 16 January 2001″ (2002), 31 Economy and Society 1.
35 Charlottesville, University of Virginia Press, 1999.
36 Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1995.
37 Supra, note 33, p. 100.


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Random Quote

The social tyranny of extorting recantation, of ostracism and virtual outlawry as the new means of coercing the man out of line, is the negation of democracy.

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— Admin, Judicial Madness, 22 March 2016.
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