Shabbat Parashat Bamidbar| 5767
Obligating the Plaintiff to Pay Expenses for a Spurious Claim - Based on Halacha Psuka - vol. 7 - A Condensation of a Psak from Piskei Din Rabaniim X - pp. 3-16
Case: A husband brought his wife to court with a claim of sh’lom bayit (attempting reconciliation) after his wife left the house, claiming that he had acted violently toward her and was impotent. The wife spent significant money defending herself in court. She was able to prove, after his initial denial, that at the time that he was demanding reconciliation in court, he had approached a matchmaker about finding a new wife. The wife now demands financial compensation for her legal expenses.
Ruling: The Rama (Choshen Mishpat 14:5) rules that if litigants agreed to adjudicate in a distant place and only one showed up, the one who did not go has to pay the expenses of the one who did. The Yeshu’ot Yisrael (14:14) derives that, similarly, a plaintiff must pay for making spurious claims that did not need to be adjudicated at all. In other words, the general rule that one side cannot make the other side pay for expenses related to adjudication is only true when that party’s arguments in court were presented with a belief that they were correct. In this case, one dayan accepted fully the approach of the Yeshu’ot Yisrael and said that by approaching a matchmaker while he was making claims of reconciliation, the husband demonstrated that his claim was disingenuous.
In contrast, a second dayan countered that the gemara (Sanhedrin 31b) from which we infer that a defendant does not have to compensate a plaintiff for expenses uses the term “hatokef et chaveiro badin.” Rashi comments that it is talking about a plaintiff who makes life particularly difficult for the defendant. Since the whole discussion is on whether to make the defendant pay for the plaintiff’s expenses, the clear implication is that the plaintiff does not have to pay the defendant. This is despite the fact that the plaintiff is described as a troublesome litigant. The first dayan countered that although the plaintiff is described as being argumentative, it is referring to a case where the plaintiff won and, thus, the claim was certainly not spurious.
The second dayan said that in order to prove that the plaintiff’s claim was illegitimate, one needs a high level of certainty that there was no possibility he was sincere. In this case, it is possible that the husband wanted to keep his options open. If his wife agreed to reconcile, he would be satisfied and if that did not work out, then he had already begun looking for a new wife. While this does not show healthy signs of a loving husband, it does not prove that the entire adjudication before court was a hoax. However, the second dayan agreed that the claim that he did not approach the matchmaker turned out to be an absolute lie, and the husband has to pay the wife for the expenses the wife outlaid to prove that he had indeed approached one.
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