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As a frequent auction expert witness, we’ve been privy to some others’ thoughts on suing auctioneers, sellers, and buyers which would have (in our opinion) been frivolous actions. So, what makes a claim or lawsuit frivolous?

Basically, when someone sues without regard to the facts nor law, knowing their claim lacks merit or bases such on some absurd legal theory, the term “frivolous” comes to mind. We occasionally receive calls where we feel the claimant doesn’t have a sound case.

University of Kentucky law professor Joshua Douglas recently described “frivolous” lawsuits this way:

When you don’t know the facts and you don’t have the law and you don’t have a remedy, you’ve really got nothing to go on in court.

Incidentally, as we were recently reviewing Steve Proffitt’s 9 years of Maine Antique Digest articles in a case we’ve been hired to assist with, we noted several occasions where his readers noted circumstances where “frivolous” was likely part of Steve’s evaluation. In other words, their claims lacked merit.

Many frivolous auction claims are meant only as a bluff of sorts. We’re going to sue you (or we have) in hopes you’ll change your behavior and/or write us a check. If you’re ever sued — or threatened to be sued — it’s good to secure competent legal counsel.

We wrote about “threatening to sue” (threatening to litigate) in regard to auctioneers, sellers, bidders, and buyers prior, with comments on some of the possible issues and prudent responses: https://mikebrandlyauctioneer.wordpress.com/2020/10/25/threatening-to-sue/.

You’re probably familiar with the 1994 so-called frivolous lawsuit regarding Stella Liebeck, McDonald’s, and some hot coffee. While this case on its face might have appeared to be without merit, Stella was injured, did win substantial damages and McDonald’s changed their behavior.

Frivolous lawsuits don’t just waste the time and resources (and patience) of our judiciary system but can damage the reputation of the attorneys/firms submitting such silly claims. No different than auctioneers, one’s reputation and brand are important to protect.

Concerning that — in today’s environment — the Internet can facilitate damage to one’s reputation and/or brand in a matter of seconds. We discuss such and much more for auctioneers in a course we teach at the Certified Auctioneers Institute held at Indiana University Bloomington each year.

Interestingly, prominent law firms including Porter Wright Morris & Arthur and Jones Day recently withdrew from representation in certain newsworthy cases due to the litigation (the claims) largely being considered frivolous. Don’t think for a second that some attorneys and law firms don’t consider the bigger picture.

One such attorney apparently remarked that “While anyone can spout ‘fake news’ on social media platforms or otherwise, one needs facts and evidence in a courtroom.” Indeed, one can say there is harm as well as facts and law to support any claim, but if it doesn’t meet the legal standing, it’s best to stay out of court.

As we’ve said before — any lawsuit (frivolous or not) is ill-advised when contrasted with staying out of court. Settling any claim is better but having no claims is ideal. One idea is to be more fair and reasonable with your clients and customers. We wrote more about that here: https://mikebrandlyauctioneer.wordpress.com/2018/07/26/auctioneers-you-want-win-in-court-or-stay-out-of-court/.

Mike Brandly, Auctioneer, CAI, CAS, AARE has been an auctioneer and certified appraiser for over 30 years. His company’s auctions are located at: Mike Brandly, Auctioneer, RES Auction Services, and Goodwill Columbus Car Auction. He serves as Distinguished Faculty at Hondros College, Executive Director of The Ohio Auction School, and an Instructor at the National Auctioneers Association’s Designation Academy and Western College of Auctioneering. He is faculty at the Certified Auctioneers Institute held at Indiana University and is approved by The Supreme Court of Ohio for attorney education.