Oct 15, 2020

Litigants who abuse the legal system have been a challenge for many decades. Recently the approach of the courts to dealing with abusive litigants has evolved. A lengthy and fascinating decision on the topic, on a case that relates to professional regulation, is found in Unrau v National Dental Examining Board, 2019 ABQB 283, http://canlii.ca/t/hzztc. In that matter an unsuccessful examination candidate sued many individuals and entities but provided no specifics of what they had done wrong and requested “impossible remedies”. The action was struck out. However, the Court, on its own motion, initiated a “show cause” process as to whether restrictions should be imposed on Mr. Unrau’s ability to litigate generally. After considering the litigation history of Mr. Unrau the Court imposed an order that Mr. Unrau had to obtain permission before continuing or initiating legal actions in Alberta.

The Court noted that the modern approach to abusive litigants was proactive, rather than reactive, including being initiated by the Court itself rather than by frustrated parties. In addition, the Court had an inherent authority to act and was not constrained by the existing vexatious litigant’s legislation. Ongoing restrictions could be imposed where future abusive litigation is anticipated. The restriction, of requiring permission to continue or initiate legal proceedings, was seen as minimally impairing Mr. Unrau’s access to the courts.

This “modern” approach should provide some relief to regulators who experience such challenges. Obviously, this relief is limited as it does not necessarily apply to regulatory proceedings themselves. In addition, regulators often have to initiate legal proceedings on their own to protect the public and a vexatious litigant will have a right to respond.