A Motion to Strike Gone Wrong – The Court’s Inability to Address Mental Health and Vexatious Litigants

Published on: December 2022 | What's Trending

Silhouette of depressed and anxiety person head.

Francesco Villi was a resident in a condominium building administered by York Region Standard Corporation No. 1139 (the “Corporation”) and was involved in a series of civil litigation matters with the Corporation and individuals said to be related to the Corporation.

One evening, Mr. Villi did the unthinkable and took matters into his own hands, killing five people and injuring another in a mass shooting in his condominium building. At least three of the victims were members of the condo board. We may never know if Mr. Villi’s setbacks in the civil litigation matters prompted his violent rampage, but it appears that Mr. Villi, like many vexatious self-represented litigants, was suffering from mental health issues. His claims and submissions in court were filled with undertones of paranoia.

Mr. Villi was no stranger to mental health issues. He was involved in a personal injury matter before the Ontario Insurance Commission stemming from two motor vehicle accidents in 1993, which revealed he had a history of depression and insomnia.[1] Medical witnesses in that proceeding provided evidence that Mr. Villi suffered from adjustment disorder with depression and suicidal ideation.[2] The Commission declined to find that Mr. Villi’s mental health issues were related to the motor vehicle accidents.[3] I am not suggesting that Mr. Villi’s historical mental health issues were related to his recent senseless acts of violence, but suffice it to say that Mr. Villi has a history of the justice system being unable to do anything to address his mental health.

A tragedy such as this causes us to reflect. As a litigator, it causes me to reflect on the gaps in the civil justice system and its inability to address mental health issues. What could be done is up for debate, but surely more could be done. The status quo is insufficient.

Litigation Background

In November 2018, the Corporation commenced an application against Mr. Villi, seeking to restrain his allegedly threatening, abusive, intimidating and harassing behaviour towards the Corporation’s board of directors, property management, workers and residents.[4]

In response, Mr. Villi commenced an application against the Corporation relating to issues stemming from an electrical room beneath his unit and alleged oppressive conduct on the part of the Corporation.[5]

The applications were converted into actions and consolidated. Mr. Villi was also ordered to refrain from recording various individuals related to the Corporation, to refrain from making social media posts about the proceedings, and to only communicate with the Corporation in writing.[6] He was later found to be in contempt of this order.[7]

In December 2020, Mr. Villi commenced another civil action against six individuals said to be involved in the management of the Corporation, seeking more than $6 million in damages.[8] The allegations in the claim were similar to those one often sees from self-represented vexatious litigants. Mr. Villi alleged that the defendants committed “Acts of Crime and Criminality” and “negligently purposely” caused him harm, pain, suffering, stress, damage to physical and mental health and his financial well-being.[9] The claim included allegations that Mr. Villi had “reasonable and probable grounds” to believe that the defendants had committed “perjury, extortion, fraud, criminal harassment, criminal intimidation, defamatory libel and slander”.[10]

The defendants reacted as most civil litigators would expect in these circumstances; they brought a motion to strike the claim under Rules 21.01(1)(b) and 21.01(3)(d) on the basis that it disclosed no reasonable cause of action and/or was frivolous, vexatious or an abuse of process.

The Applicable Rules of Civil Procedure

Rules 21.01(1)(b) and 21.01(3)(d) are tools available to defendants faced with claims that are doomed to fail, where it is “plain and obvious” that the claim discloses no reasonable cause of action, and is frivolous, vexatious or an abuse of the court’s process.

These rules are often used by defendants facing rambling nonsensical claims from self-represented litigants to nip the litigation in the bud. In some instances, courts have been willing to strike vexatious claims through a more streamlined summary process found in Rule 2.1.01.

The Motion to Strike

Justice Di Luca granted the defendants’ motion and struck Mr. Villi’s claim without leave to amend. He also awarded costs of $2,500 to be paid by Mr. Villi within 30 days.[11]

Justice Di Luca noted that Mr. Villi’s Statement of Claim revealed no basis connecting the defendants to the alleged acts. It simply alleged a number of criminal offences against a number of individuals.[12] To the extent some of the criminal offences may also give rise to a parallel civil cause of action, no material facts were pleaded.[13] Even where the claim appeared to advance civil claims, it failed to relate any material facts in support of the claims. Accordingly, on its face, the claim was fatally flawed and was struck.[14]

In submissions, Mr. Villi claimed that he believed the electrical room which sits beneath his unit was improperly constructed, resulting in the emission of electromagnetic waves which caused him significant pain and suffering.[15] He believed that board members had actively engaged in efforts to intentionally harm him and had conspired to suppress the truth.[16]

In light of these submissions, Justice Di Luca declined to grant leave to amend, concluding that this was not an instance where Mr. Villi would, if given the opportunity, amend the claim to make it even remotely viable.[17]

Justice Di Luca’s decision also revealed that Mr. Villi had apparently attended before a Justice of the Peace in order to lay a private information to lay criminal charges against the defendants. It is clear he was determined to obtain “justice” against the Corporation and related individuals.

The Court’s Inability to Address Mental Health

The Villi v Camilleri decision is not an unusual decision. Self-represented litigants with underlying mental health issues often turn to the justice system to seek redress for what they believe is a wrong they have suffered. Sometimes there is merit to these claims, albeit insufficiently articulated and pleaded. These types of claims could use the benefit of quality legal advice – but access to justice is a significant issue, especially in civil litigation which receives fewer resources than other areas of law. Other times the claims are completely frivolous and vexatious and have no air of reality to them.

In any event, the Court’s ability to address these claims and litigants is typically limited to striking claims, awarding costs, making findings of contempt, and in especially egregious matters, making vexatious litigant orders.

This ignores the fact that there are very often serious mental health issues behind vexatious claims and that litigants like Mr. Villi cannot be assisted or controlled by the civil court’s process. Such litigants, when exhausted or frustrated by the justice system, might take matters into their own hands to seek their own senseless version of justice.

Something more needs to be done. What this looks like is uncertain. Perhaps it could include increased mental health education for the bar and the bench, mental health resources available to litigants in court houses, or an increase in provincial funding for mental health programs. What is clear is that Mr. Villi has highlighted that the current civil justice system is woefully inadequate to address mental health issues and more needs to be done to limit this “worst-case” scenario from happening again.

My heartfelt condolences go out to all of the victims and their family and friends during these difficult times.

[1] Villi v Co-operators General Insurance Company, 1996 ONICDRG 115 (CanLII).
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Villi v Camilleri, 2022 ONSC 4561 (CanLII) at para 7 (Villi v Camilleri).
[5] Villi v Camilleri, supra at para 8.
[6] Villi v Camilleri, supra at para 9.
[7] Villi v Camilleri, supra at para 10.
[8] Villi v Camilleri, supra at paras 2-3.
[9] Villi v Camilleri, supra at para 4.
[10] Villi v Camilleri, supra at para 5.
[11] Villi v Camilleri, supra at paras 21 and 23.
[12] Villi v Camilleri, supra at para 18.
[13] Ibid.
[14] Ibid.
[15] Villi v Camilleri, supra at para 17.
[16] Ibid.
[17] Villi v Camilleri, supra at para 20.