Proving the “Prior Action” Requirement of a Malicious Prosecution Case

When a party prevails in a legal proceeding, he or she sometimes will seek further vindication by way of a malicious prosecution action.  However, no matter how frivolous the prior action was, not all legal proceedings are recognized by California courts as triggering malicious prosecution liability.  In California, the filing of a frivolous garden variety civil action for breach of contract or a tort can support a later claim for malicious prosecution.  In addition, the following types of legal proceedings are recognized as “prior actions” which will support a later claim for malicious prosecution:

However, California courts have drawn the line and failed to allow liability for malicious prosecution for the institution of the following legal proceedings:

  • Small claims court proceedings (Pace v. Hillcrest Motor Co. (1980) 101 Cal.App.3d 476, 479);
  • Subsidiary procedural actions within a lawsuit, such as filing an application for a restraining order or for lien.  (Lossing v. Superior Court (1989) 207 Cal.App.3d 635, 639; Adams v. Superior Court (1992) 2 Cal.App.4th 521, 528);
  • Requests for admissions (Twyford v. Twyford (1976) 63 Cal.App.3d 916, 922);
  • Motion for writ of sale.  (Merlet v. Rizzo (1998) 64 Cal.App.4th 53, 63);
  • A defendant’s filing of a notice of appeal.  (Coleman v. Gulf Ins. Group (1986) 41 Cal.3d 782, 794);
  • Family law motions or OSC’s.  (Bidna v. Rosen (1993) 19 Cal.App.4th 27, 37);
  • Contractual arbitrations.  (Brennan v. Tremco Inc. (2001) 25 Cal.4th 310, 314);
  • A departmental investigation of a police officer where no formal proceedings occurred. (Imig v. Ferrer (1977) 70 Cal.App.3d 48, 59);
  • A California State Bar investigation that terminates at the investigatory stage without leading to proceedings before body that had power to action adversely affecting legally protected interests.  (Lebbos v. State Bar (1985) 165 Cal.App.3d 656, 671); and
  • An attorney’s complaint to state bar association where complaint does not result in initiation of any proceedings.  (Chen v. Fleming (1983) 147 Cal.App.3d 36, 41)

This post is the sixth in an ongoing series of posts on the tort of malicious prosecution.  Jeffrey Lewis represented the prevailing parties in the malicious prosecution case of Videotape Plus, Inc. v. Lyons (2001) 89 Cal.App.4th 156.   Jeffrey Lewis and the other attorneys at Broedlow Lewis LLP are experienced litigators and can advise you about your potential rights and defenses in a malicious prosecution action.  Each case is different and you should consult a lawyer rather than relying on this post as legal advice for your situation.

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