Spilke v. Wicklow
A vexatious litigation claim arises when a plaintiff has wrongfully been sued by another individual and the plaintiff is entitled to recover damages that resulted from the unlawful lawsuit. Following their divorce, the defendant, Kenneth Spilke, filed a postjudgment motion for contempt against the plaintiff, Georgina Spilke. The trial court ruled for the plaintiff. The plaintiff filed a complaint against the defendant and Jennifer Ballard alleging vexatious litigation based on the motion for contempt. The defendant and Ballard were defaulted for failure to plead. The matter proceeded to a hearing in damages. The court awarded the plaintiff $1 in nominal damages for economic damages and $10,000 in noneconomic damages against the defendant, trebled those damages, and rendered judgment against him for $30,003. The court determined that the complaint did not demonstrate a link between Ballard and the motion for contempt and awarded $1 in nominal damages against her. All parties appealed. The Appellate Court affirmed the judgment. For the plaintiff's claims, the Appellate Court concluded, inter alia, that the trial court did not err in determining that Ballard did not participate in the motion for contempt. Although the plaintiff alleged that Ballard was involved in a purported conspiracy to hide the defendant's assets, the vexatious litigation claim stemmed solely from the motion for contempt and not the prior divorce proceedings. The plaintiff did not allege in the complaint nor demonstrate at the hearing in damages, that Ballard played any part in the actual filing of the motion for contempt. Additionally, the court did not err in limiting the vexatious litigation claim and resulting damages to the filing of the motion for contempt onward. The vexatious litigation claim stemmed from the filing of the motion and not the divorce proceedings. The court did not abuse its discretion in awarding only nominal damages as to Ballard. The Appellate Court rejected the plaintiff and defendant's challenges to the amount of damages. From the plaintiff's testimony, the trial court could have inferred that the plaintiff suffered emotional distress from the filing of the motion. The award was not unreasonable. For the cross appeals, the trial court, inter alia, did not abuse its discretion in refusing to open the default judgment following an amended complaint. No substantive change was made to the action.