LS Attorney Has anyone been sued more than the former president?

Has anyone been sued more than the former president?

Donald Trump has faced an incredible number of lawsuits in his life. In 2016 USA Today found that Trump and his businesses were involved in at least 3,500 legal actions in federal and state courts over the three decades before that.

Some of those legal troubles are, notably, going on as we speak, while he’s running for president. Trump was recently indicted by the Manhattan district attorney’s office, he’s currently under trial for rape, and he’s facing two more federal investigations that could very well announce an indictment any day now. All in all, Forbes found that there are at least 40 active legal challenges facing the former president and his businesses.

That got us wondering: Has anyone sued more times than Trump? What’s the most someone has ever sued in the US, anyway?

Googling the question doesn’t get you very far. The results are mostly stories about the world’s most litigious man (allegedly! Please don’t sue us): Jonathan Lee Riches, who has filed over 4,000 lawsuits, according to ABC News. When the Guinness Book of World Records awarded him the world record for the most lawsuits filed, he—guess what?—sued them.

So I reached out to a few law professors who specialized in complex litigation, and they couldn’t think of anyone who had been entangled in as many lawsuits, as both a plaintiff and a defendant, as Trump. It’s “definitely unprecedented” for a former president, said Jed Shugerman, a law professor at Fordham University School of Law.

Trump has built up a massive public profile as a businessman and now a former president, and some experts think that it’s emboldened him to sue, even threatening people that cross him. “One thing that makes Donald Trump unique is that he doesn’t shy away from litigation. He relishes it. For him, it’s what I’ve always thought of as an overall strategy to elevate his public profile,” explained Adam Zimmerman, a law professor at Loyola Law School. If a lawsuit Trump has initiated turns sour, he usually turns it around and blames the court system—the same argument he uses when someone else sues him.

Trump’s large number of legal entanglements is particularly impressive because it’s not exactly easy to bring a lawsuit in the US. The legal system is expensive, with a huge assortment of court fees, plus the cost of hiring a lawyer. It also moves pretty slowly. But, somehow, none of that has deterred Trump. “I find it really surprising that Trump is able to pay for this much litigation and that people continue to take the risk of representing him,” said Alexandra Lahav, a law professor at Cornell Law School.

It’s surprising, in part, because Trump has a reputation for not paying his legal bills. One of Trump’s lead lawyers for his second impeachment trial quit just days before it was set to start over a compensation dispute, according to Axios. Trump and his businesses have faced at least 60 lawsuits over unpaid wages, including 24 violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act. He’s earned a reputation of stinginess, and his recent federal election filings indicated he’s turning to his presidential campaign for help, spending about $10 million from his Save America PAC to pay for personal legal fees.

On top of all that, Trump doesn’t have the greatest success rate in court. An analysis by the Associated Press found that over 30 of the lawsuits brought by Trump’s campaign and allies were rejected or dropped out of the roughly 50 filed in the wake of the 2020 presidential election.

Trump’s use of the country’s legal system is aggressive, and he’s been called out for it. Last year, when US District Judge Donald Middlebrooks dismissed a lawsuit Trump filed against his former rival Hillary Clinton, he sanctioned members of Trump’s legal team over intentional abuse of the legal system and said Trump’s allegations were “political grievances masquerading as legal claims.”

Zimmerman agreed that Trump’s legal strategy is one of a kind. “He’s unique because he’s a business figure and a political figure and he’s used the court system to further both those aims at the same time. I can’t think of a lot of people who are quite like that.”

But there are, of course, others who have racked up a high volume of lawsuits.

Harvey Weinstein, Jeffrey Epstein, and Bernie Madoff were all accused of misdeeds that affected dozens (or, in Madoff’s case, thousands) of people and resulted in large lawsuits. Weinstein had more than 30 women join a civil lawsuit over sexual misconduct, while Epstein also faced a lawsuit representing 23 victims of sexual abuse. Madoff was convicted of defrauding as many as 37,000 people in 136 countries over four decades.

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice—who recently announced he’s running for the US Senate—also has a history of being sued. A ProPublica investigation found that over the past three decades, Justice and his network of coal mining companies received more than 600 lawsuits over unpaid bills.

Zimmerman explained that it’s generally rare to find individuals who are sued as much as Trump, because a singular person’s actions don’t typically affect large swaths of people in a way that could invite so many lawsuits. But Trump has recently managed to do just that, Shugerman said. Consider Trump’s actions after the 2020 election—including the infamous phone call in which he pressured the Georgia secretary of state to “find 11,780 votes.” “It’s going to have a mix of federal jurisdiction and state jurisdiction, with lots of different crimes to investigate,” said Shugerman. That leads to even more litigation. Trump is under investigation not only by Georgia’s Fulton County district attorneys over alleged election law violations, but also by the Department of Justice on suspicion of unlawful interference in the transfer of power following the 2020 presidential election.

It’s usually large entities—for example, corporations—that see this many lawsuits, because they have a much larger reach if they engage in misconduct. For example, child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church resulted in thousands of lawsuits—in California alone, nearly 700 lawsuits have been filed against the institution over the past three years. There’s also oil giant BP, which was responsible for the enormous 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that resulted in over 4,000 lawsuits from 2018 to 2021.

These are lawsuits brought over allegations of serious, documented harm, and they’re what our legal system is intended for. However, there have been plenty of less serious suits. In 2006 Allen Heckard tried to sue basketball legend Michael Jordan and Nike for $832 million because he allegedly felt he was a Jordan look-alike and was sick of people mistaking him for the athlete. There’s also the infamous McDonald’s “hot coffee” lawsuit, which resulted in $2.7 million in punitive damages.

These cases may make it seem as if the US is becoming a more litigious place, but that’s not actually true. Lahav told me that the number of lawsuits filed in federal courts has decreased over the past 20 years, as have filings in state courts. “There have been a lot of tort reforms, legislation that has been passed that makes it very hard for people, even people who are severely injured, to Sue,” said Lahav. “We have a lot of problems in the US, but too many people say this is not our problem.”

So far, the Trump team has managed to spin the former president’s legal wooes into campaign-strategy gold. Over a two-week period, after news of a looming indictment by the Manhattan district attorney was made public, Trump’s campaign raked in $15.4 million. Then, hours after Trump was indicted last month and charged with 34 counts of falsifying business records in the first degree by the state of New York, he gave a speech from Mar-a-Lago, where he painted himself as the victim. His campaign also began selling indictment merch, including a T-shirt with a fake mug shot, free with a $47 campaign contribution.

“The only crime I have committed is to fearlessly defend our nation from those who seek to destroy it,” said Trump to his supporters at Mar-a-Lago. “This is a persecution, not a prosecution.”

The courts will decide whether or not that’s true.