The G.O.A.T. of Frivolous Lawsuits?

No one keeps records for bizarre, frivolous lawsuits. Why would they? Still, Jonathan Lee Riches must be in contention for the U.S., or even the world, record. His pride in being a serial litigant was seen in a dispute with Guinness World Records. After claiming (incorrectly) that Guinness was going to name him the world’s most litigious person, he sued to make sure the number wasn’t understated.

There’s no exact count of his lawsuits. The electronic federal court docket system lists Riches as a plaintiff in 1,934 cases filed from February 2006 to March 2016, the last docket entry. If you include efforts to intervene in other litigation, such as securities and antitrust actions, the number exceeds 2,600. And those numbers are for his real name; he’s filed scores of actions using other names.

Riches claimed in 2009 that he’d also filed more than 2,500 lawsuits in local and state courts — and more than 4,000 worldwide. Accepting this as true, which seems injudicious, courts have spent thousands of dollars and hours dealing with some 9,000 meaningless lawsuits. He was such a scourge that at least two federal courts ordered his prison mail privileges not be used to file lawsuits.

The Litigation Onslaught Begins

In 2004, Riches was sent to federal prison for 125 months on wire fraud charges resulting from a “phishing” scheme. After a couple of years of incarceration, filing lawsuits became his pastime. From September through December 2007, he filed more than 260 in federal courts across the country. But he was most prolific in 2008, filing nearly 1,500 cases.

Riches cast the widest possible net. He seemed to perceive that outlandish suits would draw attention to the lawsuits, and thus, to him. He sued dozens of businesses and charities but he also sued things. These included the Mormon Tabernacle, Hurricane Katrina, March Madness, Black History Month, St. Patrick’s Day, Swine Flu, and the No Child Left Behind Act (for leaving him behind).

He also relied on fame or notoriety for individual targets. Among the individuals he sued were Jeffrey Dahmer, George Clooney, Jay Z, Monica Lewinsky, Vladimir Putin, the BTK Killer, Britney Spears, Bruce Springsteen, Jennifer Aniston, Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, Salman Rushdie, Avril Lavigne, Aileen Wuornos, Julian Assange, and Alex Trebek. All the suits were thrown out, like virtually all his others.

Why Wasn’t He Stopped?

How does a person get away with filing so many claims? Fees aren’t charged to file a federal in forma pauperis motion and application claiming indigence. The clerk of courts must file the papers, making them a matter of record. The case doesn’t proceed nor are the defendants served without court approval. The motion or the action it seeks to bring can be dismissed if, among other things, the court finds it “frivolous or malicious.” That’s where Riches’ lawsuits crumbled.

But what about other penalties? During his incarceration, Riches didn’t have the funds to pay fees or sanctions. Some courts ordered the Bureau of Prisons to withhold a percentage of any prison wages to pay the fees. Riches claimed his account was entirely frozen. Still, prison inmate wages render such orders toothless.

Federal law also forbids a prisoner from filing in forma pauperis actions if they’ve had three or more suits dismissed as frivolous. Yet, there’s an exception if the prisoner is “under imminent danger of serious physical injury.” Riches gamed the law by always alleging he faced imminent danger or harm, something a clerk of courts cannot assess or decide. So, Riches only needed paper, an envelope and a stamp.

Riches was released from prison on five years probation on April 30, 2012. Less than a year later, he was incarcerated again. Four days after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, Riches traveled to Newtown, Connecticut, without permission. There, he reportedly impersonated the uncle of Adam Lanza, the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooter. He was arrested for violating probation on old Pennsylvania charges and, in February 2013, he received 2½ to 5 years in state prison.

Riches Uses a Fake Name to Repeatedly Sue the Kardashians

His temporary freedom didn’t quell his litigiousness. For example, in the summer of 2012, Riches used the name “Gino Romano” to file at least 19 federal lawsuits against members of the Kardashian family. These cases, filed in at least 13 different federal courts, illustrate the outlandishness of his claims and perhaps some mockery from the courts.

He sought an injunction against various Kardashians because they “terrorized” him on Disney World’s Tower of Terror ride. “While it may be plausible that more than a few people would be terrorized if they found themselves trapped in the Tower of Terror ride with the Kardashians, the Court concludes the [request] is frivolous,” the judge said in dismissing the claim. He said Riches/Romano “is free to enjoy the theme parks in the greater Orlando area; however, the Court invites him to do so without filing another frivolous lawsuit, regardless of whether the Kardashians join him on the rides.”

In another lawsuit, “Romano” allegedly encountered the Kardashians at Tampa’s Busch Gardens. He claimed Khloe Kardashian put him in a headlock, Kourtney Kardashian stuck her heel in his eye, Kim Kardashian put brass knuckles on and punched him in the teeth, and Kris Kardashian pulled out mace and sprayed him while Kim Kardashian searched his pockets and stole his wallet. Unsurprisingly, the court said the allegations “appear to be delusions.”

In yet another Florida lawsuit, he claimed the Kardashians and others “squatted” in his (alleged) waterfront Florida home. There, Kris Jenner led a Wicca ritual, Kim Kardashian sacrificed a chicken and “used meat cleavers on monkeys [sic] heads,” and Bruce Jenner made “Romano” drink vampire blood. The group then went on a rampage and “did the Thriller dance” around him. Again, a judge called the allegations delusional.

Or there’s the Texas lawsuit where, among other things, “Romano” allegedly saw Kim Kardashian and reality star Jesse James making a sex tape atop a Harley Davidson motorcycle. When he began recording it on his phone, he was attacked by Kardashian, James, Sandra Bullock (who divorced James two years before the lawsuit), Kourtney Kardashian, and Bullock’s son Louis, then two years old. “While the Court gives Romano credit for his imagination and close attention to E! Entertainment Television,” the judge said, “unfortunately his claim is patently frivolous, fantastical, and delusional.”

Trolling Replaces Litigation

At his February 2013 probation revocation hearing, Riches and his lawyer said he suffered from an untreated mental illness. After returning to prison, he filed only 12 federal lawsuits in his name. Half came in 2016, when he sued, among others, Donald Trump, Valentine’s Day, and Daylight Saving Time. He’s not filed a federal lawsuit in his name since March 2016.

Riches left the state prison in May 2016. He’s since written two books, both appearing self-published, gathering some of his lawsuits. His lack of litigation activity, though, isn’t necessarily good news. Several websites classify him as a “notorious” and “dedicated” internet and social media troll, even a “proto-troll.” Riches often posts to various video sites (which is how authorities learned of his trip to Newtown). He’s also contributed anti-ANTIFA content to a right-wing website noted for fake news.

Riches made headlines again last year for stunts at political events and a photo that went viral. The picture showed him wearing a “Make America White Again” and suggesting he was the Minneapolis police officer who kneeled on George Floyd’s neck.

It’s unwise to label someone who doggedly abused the judicial system for years “great.” That’s particularly so given the absurdity of his claims. Still, his quest for celebrity was then limited to one slice of society. Unfortunately, Riches now seeks the spotlight using a worldwide stage.

[I]f someone hurts Trump in any way I will be an emotional mess.

Riches v. Trump, March 2016 (Riches’ last federal lawsuit)

(Originally posted at History of Yesterday)

Comments are closed.