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Some defamation cases (in the United States) collapse when the discovery process produces some decisive piece of evidence proving that the supposedly defamed person did what the defendant had claimed. In the US truth is a complete defense to libel.

In some of these cases, it is clear that the plaintiff must have known that the evidence existed and was just hoping it would not be found, or perhaps knew that it might be found, but wanted to harass the defendant legally anyway to force them to incur legal costs as a punishment for criticizing the plaintiff.

Now, when a plaintiff drops such a case once such evidence is found, can the defendant counter-sue the plaintiff for malicious prosecution, on the argument that the plaintiff knew that the defendants claims were based on the truth and was thus suing "maliciously"?

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    Plaintiffs don't prosecute - the sue. Governments prosecute. – Dale M Aug 25 at 23:11
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    @DaleM Malicious prosecution suits can be based on both civil and criminal prosecutions. – Cicero Aug 25 at 23:35
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    A civil prosecution is not the same as a civil lawsuit – Dale M Aug 25 at 23:43
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    And yet, a civil defendant can counter-sue a plaintiff for malicious prosecution: injury.findlaw.com/torts-and-personal-injuries/… – user6726 Aug 26 at 0:15
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    This would vary considerably from one U.S. state to another. Some U.S. states have what are known as "anti-SLAPP" statutes that provide an alternative to a malicious prosecution action and the law of common law malicious prosecution actions varies considerably from one U.S. state to another in most of the important details. – ohwilleke Aug 26 at 23:16
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The practical answer is that it probably wouldn't be worthwhile even if you could.

Number 1 : I don't know the jurisdiction. I'll infer from your reference to the U.S. that you're somewhere in the U.S. or at least inquiring about U.S. law. This is state law, which varies wildly from state to state. Without knowing at least the state you're in, there's no way to say anything about what suit you could file.

Number 2 : "In some of these cases, it is clear that the plaintiff must have known that the evidence existed and was just hoping it would not be found,"

This is key. It may be clear, but that doesn't mean it can meet the required burden of proof to win a lawsuit.

Number 3 : "but wanted to harass the defendant legally anyway to force them to incur legal costs as a punishment for criticizing the plaintiff."

This would just be stupid. This is tort case. The loser pays the costs for both sides.

Number 4 : "plaintiff knew that the defendants claims were based on the truth and was thus suing 'maliciously'"

In a land where most people believe in a big daddy in the sky, it's less than nothing to believe that the plaintiff may have honestly believed in his innocence. Unless he confesses, there's no way to know. And it's incredibly difficult to convince a jury to hold someone liable.

Number 5 : And then there's the issue of what damages (money) you could win. Keep in mind, that the countersuit is in tort, so the loser pays all costs. That's a big risk. What's the potential reward? The plaintiff already paid the legal fees. So you don't need to recover that. What uncompensated costs did the defendant incur? Assuming you could get punitive damages, how much could they be?

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    In the United States, the loser does not normally pay costs in civil lawsuits, so a fundamental assumption of your answer is wrong. – Cicero Aug 26 at 14:06
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    @Cicero Actually the loser usually does pay "costs" in U.S. civil lawsuits, but that term is defined narrowly to exclude attorneys' fees and instead only includes other out of pocket costs often from a narrowly defined list, and in fairness, the question is using the term "costs" colloquially to mean attorneys' fees even though that is not how the term is used in legal language. There are circumstances, however, when attorneys fees can be recovered that are exceptions to the "American rule" regarding attorneys' fees, such as for groundless and frivolous actions and under state anti-SLAPP laws. – ohwilleke Aug 26 at 23:19
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    "it's incredibly difficult to convince a jury to hold someone liable." Juries hold someone liable thousand of times a week. It isn't that hard. "And then there's the issue of what damages (money) you could win." Juries have wide discretion to impose non-economic damages (e.g. pain and suffering and emotional distress) and punitive damages, in cases of intentional misconduct in tort, in most states. – ohwilleke Aug 26 at 23:21
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    "It may be clear, but that doesn't mean it can meet the required burden of proof to win a lawsuit." In a civil lawsuit the burden of proof is a preponderance of the evidence (i.e. more likely than not), and defendants are required to disclose documents harmful to them (e.g. emails and text messages) that are in their control, in discovery, which often very effectively reveal knowledge and intent. Third-parties (e.g. ISPs) can also be subpoenaed to obtain evidence. – ohwilleke Aug 26 at 23:24

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