Abuse of process
is a cause of action in tort arising from one party making a malicious and deliberate misuse or perversion of regularly issued court process (civil or criminal) not justified by the underlying legal action
. It is a common law intentional tort
. It is to be distinguished from malicious prosecution, another type of tort that involves misuse of the public right of access to the courts.
The elements of a valid cause of action for abuse of process in most common law jurisdictions are as follows: (1) the existence of an ulterior purpose or motive underlying the use of process, and (2) some act in the use of the legal process
not proper in the regular prosecution of the proceedings. Abuse of process can be distinguished from malicious prosecution, in that abuse of process typically does not require proof of malice, lack of probable cause in procuring issuance of the process, or a termination favorable to the plaintiff, all of which are essential to a claim of malicious prosecution. "Process," as used in this context, includes not only the "service of process
," i.e. an official summons or other notice issued from a court, but means any method used to acquire jurisdiction over a person or specific property that is issued under the official seal
of a court. Typically, the person who abuses process is interested only in accomplishing some improper purpose that is collateral to the proper object of the process and that offends justice, such as an unjustified arrest or an unfounded criminal prosecution
. Subpoenas to testify, attachments of property, executions on property, garnishments, and other provisional remedies
are among the types of "process" considered to be capable of abuse.