Torts: Abuse of Process
Fappani v. Bratton, 778 Ariz. Adv. Rep. 8 (App. Div. I, November 16, 2017) (J. Brown)
Plaintiff built a private dirt motorbike track on his property for use by his children. Defendant successfully urged the Maricopa County Sheriff to issue two citations for excessive noise to plaintiff and then urged the county attorney to prosecute the charges. The justice court ruled in a bench trial that plaintiff was not guilty. Plaintiff then sued defendant for abuse of process alleging the citations were issued and prosecuted at defendant's insistence based upon the defendant's ulterior motive of trying to get the racetrack removed because she thought it diminished the value of her property. The trial court granted defendant's motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Arizona Rules of Civil Procedure and denied plaintiff's motion for new trial. The Arizona Court of Appeals affirmed.
One who uses a legal process, whether criminal or civil, against another primarily to accomplish a purpose for which it is not designed, is subject to liability to the other for harm caused by the abuse of process. The specific elements of abuse of process are: 1) a willful act in the use of judicial process; (2) for an ulterior purpose not proper in the regular conduct of the proceedings.
Here there was no allegation or evidence that defendant used an instrument of judicial process. The deputy sheriff, and not the defendant, issued the citations. The deputy signed a certification that the he believed the plaintiff had committed acts in violation of the law. Similarly, demands issued to a prosecutor that an action be pursued does not implicate judicial process. The prosecutor has discretion to prosecute such cases as he or she deems appropriate whether demanded by a victim or not.
Additionally, plaintiff failed to establish that defendant “misused and perverted the criminal justice system.” There is nothing improper about a property owner seeking to preserve his or her property value by trying to prevent unlawful practices. It matters not whether or not as alleged, defendant's acts were further motivated by “spite or ill-will” where, as here, the process was used for the purpose it was intended.