In a fact-heavy 16 page opinion issued by Judge Shannon on March 2, 2015, we get a clear picture of the challenge faced by litigants when opposing aggressive pro-se litigants. In Bishop v. Fannie Mae, Adv. Pro. No. 12-50912, the pro-se plaintiff was a chapter 13 debtor who was attempting to secure relief from his mortgage by bringing suit against Fannie Mae. As reflected in the 5 pages of background, the plaintiffs raised litigation against Fannie Mae in multiple Delaware courts and at the time Judge Shannon’s opinion was issued, had lived in their home without having made a mortgage payment in over 6 years. The Opinion can be read here.
While the Opinion does not contain any new or surprising analysis, it is a reminder to those who practice law professionally of the leeway that courts provide to pro-se litigants. In the Bishop case, both the District and Circuit Courts had chastised the plaintiffs for their frivolous pleadings and inappropriate behavior, Opinion at *13-15, yet their status as pro-se litigants inspired just enough sympathy that they were able to avoid sanctions – despite bringing baseless claims that have delayed the foreclosure of their home for years, undoubtedly costing the opposing parties tens of thousands of dollars in legal costs and lost revenues. As Judge Shannon states, “the Court is reluctant to issue sanctions against a pro se litigant attempting to pursue a difficult and complex … claim and call it a frivolous action.” Opinion at *15.
To misquote Voiltaire, “With great [knowledge] comes great responsibility.” In the case of our legal system, practitioners with a greater knowledge of the system and the rules of procedure are held to a higher standard than lay-persons who often struggle within it. The lenders in this case have been denied their property for 6 years without payment and have been saddled with the high cost of litigating since 2009. I can only hope that in this era of readily available information, that the courts will begin to raise its expectations of pro-se litigants.
I admit that I am biased on this issue. (I wanted to insert a joke here about having never had a pro-se client, but couldn’t find a phrasing that was clever enough to get even a courtesy laugh from my colleagues – if you can think of one, please let me know).