It started with Sindram v. Reading, a malpractice claim against a doctor who performed surgery on his fingernail. Then there was Sindram v. W & W Associates, a dispute over repair work on his car, swiftly followed by Sindram v. Taylor, Sindram v. Maryland, Sindram v. Ahalt, Sindram v. Consumer Protection Commission, Sindram v. Garabedi, and Sindram v. Steuben County.
If the rallying cry of every American who believes his legal rights have been violated is that he will pursue the case "all the way to the Supreme Court," Silver Spring resident Michael Sindram has taken that to new heights.
In the last three years, he has filed 42 separate petitions and motions with the high court, 24 in the October 1990 term alone.
Yesterday, in In re Sindram, the court sought to stem the torrent of Sindram litigation. It refused to consider Sindram's latest legal missive -- a request that the justices order the Maryland courts to give expedited consideration to his efforts to expunge a $35 speeding ticket from his driving record -- unless he pays the normal $300 Supreme Court filing fee.
The court -- in only the second such action in its history -- said it would no longer accept "pauper's" petitions from Sindram seeking such "extraordinary writs." He had asked the justices to grant him indigent status and excuse him from paying the filing fee because he made just $2,600 in the last year as a defense investigator for the D.C. court system.
The justices said he would remain free to file as an indigent in making normal requests that the court consider his cases -- if, the court added ominously, he "does not similarly abuse that privilege." The court's action elicited dissents from three justices, who called it "unfair, discriminatory and petty."
Sindram, who told the court that he had "recently been unconstitutionally imprisoned for an extended period of time," was at the Montgomery County Detention Center yesterday after his arrest last week for being a fugitive from Alexandria, where he allegedly failed to appear for a court hearing on charges of practicing law without a license.
In an interview at the visitors room at the detention center in Rockville, Sindram, a tall, wiry 33-year-old who described himself as a "legal sophisticate" partial to quoting Aristotle and Oliver Wendell Holmes, denied that any of his filings are frivolous.
"Quantity does not dictate quality," he said. Sindram described the ruling as "an outburst from the court that shows a lack of professionalism" and said the justices were "sending a dangerous signal: If you don't have money, you can't obtain justice."
Sindram, who learned of the court's action through a television report, said he graduated from high school in New York state and learned about the legal system through his work during the last five years as a court investigator. Sindram said the reason he files so many cases is: "If I have a legal claim, the court is the constitutional vehicle to resolve said claim."
Issuing the order in an unsigned opinion, the justices said, "The goal of fairly dispensing justice . . . is compromised when the Court is forced to devote its limited resources to the processing of repititious and frivolous requests."
This risk, they said, is greater with those who are granted indigent status, "because they are not subject to the financial considerations -- filing fees and attorney's fees -- that deter other litigants from filing frivolous petitions."
Sindram, they said, was a classic example of this syndrome. He had already challenged his speeding conviction in five different state and federal courts on 27 prior occasions.
Now, he was at the Supreme Court with the request for a writ of mandamus (an unusual order from a higher court that essentially tells a lower court to straighten up) filed less than three months after he appealed to the Maryland Court of Appeals.
Three dissenting justices -- Thurgood Marshall, Harry A. Blackmun and John Paul Stevens -- said Sindram was only a "minor inconvenience" and that the court's punishment of him was an unwise departure "from our generous tradition of welcoming claims" from those too poor to pay the filing fees.
"By closing our door today to a litigant like Michael Sindram, we run the unacceptable risk of impeding a future Clarence Earl Gideon," Marshall said, referring to the indigent Florida man whose case resulted in the landmark 1963 ruling that states must provide lawyers for all persons charged with serious crimes who cannot afford their own counsel.
Marshall said the court had "greatly exaggerated" the risk posed by "hyperactive" litigants like Sindram, adding that countless such petitions are quickly disposed of each year and that "indigent litigants hardly corner the market on frivolous filings."
In fact, he suggested, "because clever attorneys manage to package" frivolous filings from paying clients "so that their lack of merit is not immediately apparent, we expend more time wading through frivolous paid filings than through frivolous in forma pauperis filings."