South Carolina Abuse of Process Lawyers
Our state and federal officials are charged with enforcing our laws each and every day. Our citizens have an obligation to not abuse the legal system. While most officials and citizens uphold this duty in a professional and responsible manner, cases do unfortunately arise where an official exercises poor judgment or acts unreasonably. When this happens, victims may suffer damage to reputation and suffer financial loss, such as attorney’s fees, fines and loss of income. Clawson & Staubes has experience in representing clients on claims of abuse of process.
What is Abuse of Process?
Abuse of process is the employment of legal process for some purpose other than which it was intended by law to effect. Abuse of process is distinguished from malicious process in that the focus is on the improper use of process after is has been issued. The term process includes the full range of activities and procedures attendant to litigation.
To establish an abuse of process case in South Carolina, a plaintiff must prove (1) ulterior purpose and (2) willful act in the use of process not proper in the regular conduct of the proceeding. Of note, the tort of abuse of process has no requirement that the action be intended to harm or that the actor have actual malice.
Ulterior purpose exists only when process is used to gain an objective which is not legitimate in the use of the process. When process is used for the legally intended purpose, there is no abuse. A willful act exists where a party seeks to gain collateral advantage and that collateral objective was the sole or paramount reason for acting. This requires a willful act, in the use of process, that was improper because it was unauthorized or because it was aimed at an illegitimate collateral objective.
Defenses to Abuse of Process
The defenses to the tort of abuse of process are primarily aimed at undermining the key elements. Defendants often assert that there was no ulterior purpose and that the use of process was neither unauthorized nor solely for gaining a collateral advantage. Furthermore, in any action against a governmental entity, the South Carolina Tort Claims Act provides the exclusive and sole remedy including limits of damages recoverable.
If a plaintiff is successful in bringing an abuse of process claim, he or she may be entitled to out-of-pocket damages, including attorney fees in defending the underlying case, court costs and any lost wages incurred as a result of the suit. Additionally, a successful plaintiff may be entitled to damages for emotional distress, humiliation, damage to reputation, and other “intangible” damages caused by a malicious prosecution. Punitive damages may also be recoverable. These damages can be significant under certain circumstances, highlighting the need for experienced legal counsel.
Consult with an Abuse of Process Attorney
If you are in need of a South Carolina or North Carolina abuse of process attorney, our legal team at Clawson and Staubes is available to assist you. Contact us at (843)577-2026 to learn more about our services.