Loco Lawsuits: Suing Yourself

Ever really regret a bad decision? Wish there was some way of making good some of the damage it caused? A few inventive people have used an idea rife with cognitive dissonance – suing yourself.

The progenitor of what some call “autolitigation” is a California case decision. It started when Oreste Lodi sued himself in state court, seemingly to resolve questions he had about the validity of his land title. Lodi served himself with the lawsuit (how is unclear). He then failed to respond to his complaint and asked a judgment against himself be entered by default. The trial court, though, denied the motion and dismissed the lawsuit.

When Lodi appealed, the 1995 decision upholding the dismissal was blunt, calling the lawsuit “a slam-dunk frivolous complaint.” The court didn’t think the dismissal was unfair to Lodi. “Although it is true that, as plaintiff and appellant, he loses, it is equally true that, as defendant and respondent, he wins,” the court wrote. “It is hard to imagine a more even handed [sic] application of justice.”

Ten years later, a state prison inmate sued himself for violating his own civil rights. Robert Lee Brock’s seven-page, handwritten federal lawsuit alleged that he “partook of alcoholic beverages” in July 1993. That, he said, “caused myself to violate my religious beliefs” by breaking the law. “I want to pay myself 5 million dollars,” he wrote, “but ask the state to pay it in my behalf since I can’t work and am a ward of the state.” Brock wanted $3 million for his wife and children for “pain and suffering and college tuition.” The other $2 million was to support himself during his 23-year prison sentence. Brock said, though, that he’d pay back the state “when I get out.”

The professed IOU didn’t rescue the lawsuit. Although the judge called the case “an innovative approach to civil rights litigation,” she dismissed it because “his claim and especially the relief sought are totally ludicrous.”

Sometimes courts allow a person to be both a plaintiff and a defendant in a lawsuit. In such cases, though, the individual is acting in distinct legal capacities. For example, the administrator of a decedent’s estate could also be a defendant in an action to determine title to property or other estate issues. As a plaintiff, they represent the estate but are solely an individual as a defendant.

Neither Lodi nor Brock were acting in different capacities. Their cases were straightforward “Me v. Me,” thereby lacking adverse interests. The risk of collusion or fraud is too great for courts to tolerate.

Be suspicious of the litigious.

Stewart Stafford

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