By Jason R.L. Major – New Hampshire Civil Attorney
What rights do you have if you are subjected to a baseless legal claim? What can you do to recover the thousands of dollars of legal fees and time spent defending yourself from a frivolous lawsuit or a vindictively-filed criminal charge? The answer is a claim for “malicious prosecution.”
Under New Hampshire law, malicious prosecution is the name of the claim when you are the victim of a baseless legal claim. It doesn’t matter whether the baseless claim against you is a civil lawsuit or a criminal case –
If the plaintiff or police filed a claim against you with an improper motive and did not have reasonable evidence to support the claim, you may have a right to sue them for any damages
To win a claim for malicious prosecution, you first need to win the underlying case. If you fail to win the case the plaintiff or police brought against you, then obviously it might not have been so frivolous! You also have to show that the case was filed against you “with malice.” This means that you need to show that the plaintiff or police filed their legal action against you for some improper purpose, and not to achieve justice. Merely “not liking you” is generally not enough – you need to be able to show that they had a strong motive to harass you or persecute you by filing the baseless claim against you. This usually means some previous history had to have occurred between you and the other plaintiff. We frequently get inquiries from people who have defeated poorly thought out criminal charges, but they often do not work as the basis for malicious prosecution claims because the police officer, though unfriendly and mistaken about the facts or law, did not have any provable axe to grind with the prospective malicious prosecution plaintiff.
Finally, you need to show that the other plaintiff or police did not have “probable cause” to believe that their claim against you had merit. “Probable cause” exists when the “facts and circumstances within the charging party’s knowledge are sufficient to warrant a prudent person to believe that the person being charged has committed an unlawful act.” In other words, the other plaintiff or the police need to show that they had sufficient evidence to support a reasonable belief that you had committed the criminal offense or tort that they accused you of. Probable cause does not mean “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” or “more likely than not.” It is a lower standard than either of those legal tests.
For a malicious prosecution case to succeed, you need to have proof of all three of these elements – you need to win the other case, you need to show the other plaintiff or police officer had some kind of improper motive, and you need to show they did not have sufficient evidence to justify filing a claim against you in the first place. Merely having two out of three of these elements will not be grounds for a viable malicious prosecution case.
The attorneys at Douglas, Leonard & Garvey, P.C. have extensive experience with malicious prosecution litigation. In a 2003 jury trial, attorneys Chuck Douglas and Jason Major won over $400,000 in a malicious prosecution case involving frivolous legal claims made by one doctor against another in connection with the sale of a collectible car. In a 2006 jury trial, Attorneys Jason Major and Ben King won $130,000 in a malicious prosecution case against a local municipality involving bad faith criminal charges filed against a resident. DL&G has handled a multitude of other malicious prosecution claims since then.
If you believe you been the victim of bad faith litigation, whether criminal or civil, please contact one of the attorneys at Douglas, Leonard & Garvey, P.C. Call us at 1-800-240-1988 or fill out our online contact form.