Abuse of process refers to the improper use of a civil or criminal legal procedure for an unintended, malicious, or perverse reason. It is the malicious and deliberate misuse of regularly issued civil or criminal court process that is not justified by the underlying legal action. Abuse of process includes litigation actions in bad faith that are meant to delay the delivery of justice.
A person harmed by abuse of process is entitled to damages resulting from a personal tort. The same counts of a case may lead to different torts of malicious prosecution and malicious use of process.[i] In such cases, causes may be joined in the same action.
A victim of abuse of process can initiate action for compensatory and punitive damages. The person who committed the tort of abuse of process will not be permitted to benefit from his/her action. Therefore if a person extorted a sum of money or property from another through abuse of process, that person shall be forced to return such money or property.
To maintain a cause of action for the common law tort of malicious use of process, the plaintiff has to prove that (1) a prior civil proceeding was instituted by the defendant. (2) The proceeding was instituted without probable cause. (3) The proceeding was instituted with malice. (4) The proceeding terminated in favor of the plaintiff. (5) Damages were inflicted upon the plaintiff by arrest or imprisonment, by seizure of property, or other special injury which would not necessarily result in all suits prosecuted to recover for a like cause of action.[ii]
[i] Franco v. Mudford, 2002 Mass. App. Div. 63, 2002 WL 539065 (2002)
[ii] Runkle v. O’Neil, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 8682 (D. Md. Feb. 7, 2007)