Using US Courts to Burn Money, for Free, Forever
I have been sued by the same woman six times pro se in forma pauperis.
Pro se in forma pauperis means "for yourself while poor". It is a combination of two distinct legal terms: pro se, when representing yourself without a lawyer, and in forma pauperis, when you file and are unable to pay court fees. The United States strives for equitable justice; we permit people too poor to hire attorneys to represent their own legal interests, and we allow the poorest people to avoid paying court fees when they docket a case.
Melinda Scott, the litigant, is a Virginian who converted to Judaism and has had several children with several different men. She calls herself a matriarch and the head of her household, but is financially supported by taxpayers. She has very little income outside of her welfare and her only 'business' is new age garbage catering to a sect of Judaism which she has invented herself as a self-purported "Torah scholar".
She is worth nothing. Her personal income is nonexistent. The social security money she collects for her children cannot be garnished. Her primary residence and vehicle cannot be collected to pay the financial damages she causes.
Melinda represents herself, pays nothing to file, and spends her worthless time writing worthless legal arguments which must be taken as seriously by her targets as any other lawsuit. She has attempted to sue me or my LLC at least once a year every year for five years. For the first five times, she failed to state a claim and the judge threw out her cases sua sponte -- without me needing to respond at all.
The courts operate on an honor system. If the plaintiff files a complaint which cites a law, alleges facts by which they are owed relief under that law, and dockets it in the right court, that court will presume the claims are true. For example: "I was injured in this way, and I am owed damages under this statute, and this is the right jurisdiction for this claim". Melinda has failed to meet this low, low bar of entry five times in a row.
Lawsuit number 6 comes and the courts allow it through for the first time. Through trial and error, she succeeded in passing the sniff test. Then, she lied by claiming I was properly served at a virtual mailbox. I was never served. I didn't reply to the lawsuit, because I had never been served, and she automatically receives a default judgement a few months later. She had finally won -- at least temporarily.
I later receive a letter at my virtual office notifying me that I've lost a lawsuit. So, I lawyer up. I'm fortunate to have an attorney, Matthew Hardin, who sympathizes with this sort of injustice. Pity only goes so far when it comes to legal expenses. Even being billed for fewer than half the hours spent working the case, it is still thousands of dollars. A typical retainer is $5,000 and that covers just overturning the default judgement. There's still work to win the case.
I run a website called the Kiwi Farms. It is a forum about eccentric people on the Internet. Users of the forum were discussing a man who had been stalking Melinda. He joined to defend himself, and in these discussions mentioned her by name. She finds out about this somehow and immediately threatened me with legal action unless I deleted every post made by this man. I told her I would not censor my website and that she should be using these posts to augment her legal arguments against him. In the process, I become the first person to ever tell Melinda "no", and she has been busy filing lawsuits against me ever since.
There are some other problems with hosting a contentious website. Primarily, it is impossible to monetize. I've written extensively about this issue. See: Where the Sidewalk Ends: The Death of the Internet and Section 230 isn't the problem, Payment Networks are. The total lack of monetization options make legal expenses especially painful.
Meanwhile, Russell Greer is suing me in Utah, again pro se in forma pauperis. This time, it's for contributory copyright damages and false light (a kind of defamation). Russell Greer is an ex-Mormon who considers himself a civil rights activist because he has a paralyzed face from a congenital disability (Mobius syndrome). He wants to legalize prostitution so that people with disabilities can pay for sex.
That's not what makes Russell Greer a laughingstock. Instead, it is his obsession with famous women. He has sued both Taylor Swift and Ariana Grande for not taking him out on dates. He would send them gifts, such as original lyrics for songs, and then expected them to reciprocate by giving him something he wants in return (a date / sex). He also has been convicted of cyberstalking a woman local to him.
After losing his first case against Swift, he self-published a book called Why I Sued Taylor Swift: and How I Became Falsely Known as Frivolous, Litigious and Crazy which included a full-color comic where she literally stabs him in the heart. He's a very funny guy, unintentionally.
Greer's other creative work is Yo, Yovanna!, a love song directed at Yovanna Ventura, a Dominican actress and model. It's a generic sounding pop track he wrote the lyrics for, but paid someone else to perform (his condition prevents him from verbally articulating himself clearly). This song ends up posted on the Kiwi Farms and is harshly criticized for being creepy. Greer responded to this criticism by sending me a DMCA complaint demanding that the song be removed. I refused and told him that it's being used fairly for the purposes of criticism and ridicule. He escalates the matter to the courts by suing me personally and "Kiwi Farms, a website."
Greer tends to use the court system as punishment. Displease him, and he will try to litigate you into doing what he wants. Humorously, when he sued Taylor Swift, he took her to small claims court. These courts typically try to keep costs down by forcing people to represent themselves instead of hiring attorneys. His strategy was to force TayTay to show up in person and deal with him. Instead, Greg Skordas was allowed to represent her, however, and Greer never managed to set up his romantic date in a Utah small claims court.
Greg Skordas is a Utah attorney and was the Democratic nominee for Utah Attorney General in 2020. He has represented Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande, and yours truly. Greer thusly considers Skordas his nemesis and has harassed his family over Facebook.
Greer's complaint against me was two-fold: he alleged that I contributed to theft of his song by allowing it to be posted (using Napster as a comparison), and that I put him in "false light" when a sentence alleging Greer had "victims" was featured on the front page of my website. His actual legal argument is: he was only convicted of cyberstalking once, so he has only a single victim, thus claiming he has multiple victims is defamatory. This is not a joke.
The court upheld that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act protects me from damages caused by user generated content on my platform. Section 230 is important and provides protections for alt-tech just as it does for big tech. Any proposals to amend Section 230 should be considered very carefully.
Skordas's firm has competently represented my interests in Utah. Greer's case was dismissed, and so were his post-mortem motions to have the case reopened. He is now appealing the decision in a higher court. Skordas has also been generous in not charging me for all billable hours, but even half of an attorney's bill is a lot of money.
Melinda's lawsuit has also been thrown out and she is also appealing. She actively posts on my forum, despite suing me over alleged emotional distress it has caused her. In these posts, she has stated intentions to appeal all the way up to the United States Supreme Court. When they refuse to hear it, she will file a new lawsuit. If she can't file in Virginia, she'll do it in a random state, where I would have to find a new attorney who may not be as sympathetic towards my situation as Hardin and willing to save me on billable hours.
I am in a difficult position. I could try to get a judgement for attorney's fees. Ironically, this costs money to file. Once I have my judgement, I have to go back to court to try enforcing it.
With Greer, I believe he works a job and I can garnish his wages. He might also have money I could try and take. His family is wealthy and they might choose to bail him out of debt. I could also ask for the rights to Yo, Yovanna! and write that off as part of his debt. Then, I could make money with it. My users would probably buy a vinyl press of Yo, Yovanna! and it would be good fun.
With Melinda, it's not so simple. She has no job, she has no supporting family, she has nothing but her children (and indentured child labor is off the table these days). She has two books I could win the rights to, but nothing as funny as Yo, Yovanna!. I would have to actually physically repossess her belongings after winning the power to do so in the debtor's court. If I send a debt collector into her home, I would ask he wear a camera.
Maybe a video 'wall of shame' on the site would deter future pro se in forma paupis litigants. Maybe it wouldn't. It's a gamble, and it's a gamble with money I don't really want to gamble with.
What other option do I have?
There is no point in moving my company out of the US. As long as I am American and I have property in the US, a default judgement can be used to take that property or garnish my income.
Labeling repeat offenders as "vexatious litigants" is hard and it's infrequently used. A vexatious litigant has limitations on how they may litigate (for instance, they can only file litigation with an attorney representing them or must have all complaints reviewed by a judge before they can be filed with the court and served). This would not stop them from simply litigating in a different jurisdiction. A vexatious litigant in Utah can still file lawsuits in Nevada. It would also cost money to litigate each person and ask they be classified as a vexatious litigant, and it would not be a guarantee to win.
There is no criminal element. A judge could find a litigant in contempt of court, but the judge would first have to instruct them to do something they refuse to do. Simply abusing the court system like this does not result in criminal charges.
I could represent myself pro se to try and reduce expense. I cannot, however, represent my LLC pro se. Any lawsuit involving an entity that is not my person cannot be represented by me. These lawsuits usually identify an entity which is not myself. It is still a gamble. What if I do a bad job, then lose? I would have to hire an attorney and still be stuck with those bad legal arguments made out of naivety. Fighting my own words could end up costing more than an attorney would have to begin with.
I have loss conditions. I can only spend so much money. They file for free, and there's no way to recoup losses. Unless I simply make enough money to deal with this forever, it will be a winning strategy, eventually.
Our country rewards only its biggest burdens.
Scott v. Moon (2017)
Wise/Norton General District Court (GV1700529-00)
Scott v. Wise County Commonwealths, et al. (2017)
U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia (C2:17CV00023)
Scott v. Moon (2017)
Wise County Circuit Court (CL17000827-00)
Scott v. Carlson, et al. (2018)
U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia (2:18CV47)
Scott v. Moon, et al (2019)
U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia (2:19CV5)
Greer v. Moon (2019)
U.S. District Court District Court for Utah, Central Divsion (2:20-cv-00647-TC)
Scott v. Wise County Department of Social Services, et al. (2020)
U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia, Big Stone Gap Division (2:20CV00014)