Massachusetts law about frivolous (abusive) litigation

Frivolous or vexatious litigation is when one party in a case files complaints and motions to harass or abuse the other party. This page collects general information, laws, cases, and web sources on frivolous litigation.

Table of Contents

What is frivolous litigation? How do I know if this applies to me?

During a court case, there are times when it is reasonable to file many complaints and motions. However, there may be situations where one party is misusing court processes by filing unnecessary complaints and motions to harass or abuse the other side. These complaints or motions might be:

  • Repetitive
  • Unjustified
  • Not filed in good faith

This situation is sometimes called vexatious litigation, frivolous litigation, or abusing and harassing litigation.

What is not considered frivolous litigation?

Complaints and motions aren’t necessarily frivolous just because the items filed:

  • Are not persuasive
  • Are unusual
  • Suggest changing an existing law or adding a new law

What can I do about frivolous litigation?

Massachusetts allows judges to discipline parties who file frivolous litigation. Judges can:

  • Dismiss the litigation
  • Order the party to pay additional fees and costs
  • Order the party to pay the other party’s costs

Judges may also enter orders that require the other party to give their complaints and motions to the judge for review before they can be filed. These are called gatekeeper orders.

The type of help you may be able to get depends on the case type and court department. Judges may enter some orders on their own, but you can also request orders. If you think you are experiencing frivolous litigation, you can ask for help from the court by filing a motion. You can’t file for help with frivolous litigation in a Boston Municipal Court or District Court under G. L. c. 231, § 6F.

Probate and Family Court

Here are some possible actions the judge can take in Probate and Family Court if they find that there is frivolous litigation against you:

  • Give you payment for what you spent on lawyer and legal fees and dismiss the frivolous claim or action under G. L. c. 231, § 6F.
  • File a gatekeeper order, or limiting order, to keep unnecessary complaints from being filed.

Massachusetts law

Main law

MGL c. 231, § 6F Costs, expenses and interest for insubstantial, frivolous or bad faith claims or defenses

Additional laws

MGL c. 211, § 10 Frivolous appeals; costs and interest [Supreme Judicial Court]

MGL c. 211A, § 15 Frivolous appeals or exceptions; costs and interest [Appeals Court]

MGL c. 231, § 6E Definitions applicable to sections 6E to 6G
''Court'' is defined as "the supreme judicial court, the appeals court, the superior court, the land court, any probate court and any housing court, and any judge or justice thereof".

MGL c. 231, § 6G Appeals; motions for expenses for insubstantial, frivolous or bad faith claims or defenses

Massachusetts court rules

Appellate Procedure Rule 25: Damages for frivolous appeal in civil cases
"If an appellate court determines that an appeal in a civil case is frivolous, it may award just damages and single or double costs to the appellee, and such interest on the amount of the judgment as may be allowed by law. The appellate court shall calculate the amount of any award after a separately filed motion or notice from the court and reasonable opportunity to respond."

For attorneys

Supreme Judicial Court Rule 3:07: Rules of Professional Conduct

  • Rule 3.1 Meritorious claims and contentions
    "A lawyer shall not bring, continue, or defend a proceeding, or assert or controvert an issue therein, unless there is a basis in law and fact for doing so that is not frivolous..."
  • Rule 3.4 Fairness to opposing party and counsel
    A lawyer shall not: "(d) in pretrial procedure, make a frivolous discovery request or fail to make reasonably diligent effort to comply with a legally proper discovery request by an opposing party; ..."
  • Rule 4.4 Respect for rights of third persons

    "In representing a client, a lawyer shall not: (1) use means that have no substantial purpose other than to embarrass, harass, delay, or burden a third person ..."

Federal law

26 USC § 6673 Sanctions and costs awarded by courts
The U.S. Tax Court can issue penalties of up to $25,000 for frivolous litigation.

28 USC § 1912 Damages and costs on affirmance
"Where a judgment is affirmed by the Supreme Court or a court of appeals, the court in its discretion may adjudge to the prevailing party just damages for his delay, and single or double costs."

Federal Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 11 Signing pleadings, motions, and other papers; representations to the court; sanctions
Sanctions for frivolous litigation: (c)(1) "If, after notice and a reasonable opportunity to respond, the court determines that Rule 11(b) [which includes frivolous arguments] has been violated, the court may impose an appropriate sanction on any attorney, law firm, or party that violated the rule or is responsible for the violation. Absent exceptional circumstances, a law firm must be held jointly responsible for a violation committed by its partner, associate, or employee."

Selected cases

Allen v. Batchelder, 17 Mass.App.Ct. 453 (1984)
"When the law is well settled, when there can be no reasonable expectation of a reversal, an appeal is frivolous." However, it should not be considered frivolous "because it presents an argument that is novel, unusual or ingenious, or urges adoption of a new principle of law or revision of an old one."

Karellas v. Karellas, 61 Mass.App.Ct. 716 (2004)
"In reviewing a Probate Court order made pursuant to G. L. c. 231, s. 6F, a single justice of the Appeals Court did not err or abuse his discretion in awarding penalty interest at the rate of eighteen per cent on monetary awards" in a divorce case against a husband whose claims were found to be "frivolous and not advanced in good faith."

Marabello v. Boston Bark Corp., 463 Mass. 394 (2012)
"Unpersuasive arguments do not necessarily render an appeal frivolous."

Spartichino v. Commissioner of Metropolitan Dist. Com’n, 24 Mass.App.Ct. 965 (1987)
"We think, however, that our power to assess double costs, penalty interest, and counsel fees does not extend to appeals brought by the Commonwealth."

State Realty Company of Boston, Inc. v. MacNeil, 341 Mass. 123 (1960)
"In view of the record in this case and the history of its derivative litigation which already has produced nearly a score of reported decisions in this court and in Federal courts, the injunction undoubtedly was aimed at putting a stop to harassing, vexatious, and repetitious litigation initiated by the respondent. A court of equity has ample power to grant such relief."

Tamber v. Desrochers, 45 Mass.App.Ct. 234 (1998)
"The idea of frivolousness is something beyond simply lacking merit; it imports futility, not 'a prayer of a chance' … or -- as another formulation of the same idea -- an egregious lack of merit."

Additional sources

Web sources

Vexatious litigants by Bill Raftery, National Center for State Courts, 2023.
Provides a short background to vexatious litigant laws, and also provides a compilation of rules and laws that have been adopted in 12 states.

Print sources

Identifying & handling vexatious litigation, MCLE New England, 2024.

Contact   for Massachusetts law about frivolous (abusive) litigation

Last updated: June 27, 2024

Help Us Improve  with your feedback

Please do not include personal or contact information.