Titles, it has been observed, say a lot, whether you’re talking about books, movies, songs, or television shows. If you go to see a Bruce Willis movie like "Die Hard," "Die Hard With a Vengeance," or "Live Free and Die Hard," chances are that you know you won’t be viewing a weepy, touchy-feely, relationship movie. Lawsuits have their own titles, called "styles," as in "the style of the case was ." Some styles have become etched in our public consciousness, like the landmark desegregation case of . And for a case as well-known and far-reaching in effect as , you know the style wasn’t describing two alternate ways of crossing a body of water. Putting aside iconic Supreme Court decisions, however, the styles of most cases are pretty mundane recitations of who is suing who, and consequently are rather forgettable.
Every now and then, however, you come across some case names that jump out as anything but ordinary (and for those readers who think "he’s got to be making this up," I’m deliberately including the case citations where possible so that the curious among you can actually look these cases up). For example, the Supreme Court decision in , 357 U.S. 349 (1958) didn’t revolve around hot dogs, but the opinion was written by Justice Felix Frankfurter. (California Court of Appeals 1985) sounds like a garden variety divorce case, until you read the court’s line "This case started when plaintiff Oreste Lodi sued himself in the Shasta County Superior Court." If you fancy a classic internal struggle, maybe the case of , 129 Wis.2d 447, 385 N.W.2d 277 (1986), is for you. , 66 Cal. 336 (1985) is more than just a case – it’s also the name of an intersection in Los Angeles.
Some case styles can make you scratch your head quizzically, wondering what they actually could have been about. When I first heard of , 815 F.2d 323 (5th Cir. 1987), I marveled at what strange set of facts could have pitted a children’s charity and an adult entertainment empire against one another. Reading a reference to , 464 U.S. 814 (1983) led me to speculate about this wonderfully-named appellant and the dispute he had. Was he assisted by a hard-boiled detective who cracked the case, or were the facts too scrambled to sort out easily? , 185 F.2d 1964 (Fed. Cir. 1999) was another case that aroused my curiosity, while , 489 U.S. 705 (1989) only made me wonder why the appellant didn’t change his name. And when I hear of Klaxon v. Stentnor, 313 U.S. 487 (1941), my mind wanders to images from Japanese monster movies from the fifties ("Klaxon is about to destroy Tokyo…here comes Stentnor") or Saturday morning cartoon villains. For a case like , 439 F.3d 534 (9th Cir. 2005), however, there’s no such mystery: it’s a tale of alcohol and domestic abuse.
Then there are certain styles that are just creepy enough that you might not want to know more. Such was the case with , 451 F.3d 189 (3rd Cir. 2006). And let’s just say that some plaintiffs have identity issues, as demonstrated by , 1990 U.S. Dist. Ct., W.D. Mich., July 12, 1990 LEXIS 8792. I hear his friends call him "Six," and his favorite movie is "The Shining" (after all, all work and no play makes "I Am The Beast" a dull boy). And you’ve got to love a case called , 54 F.R.D. 282 (W.D. Penn. 1971), where the court dismissed the case against Satan and his minions for lack of personal jurisdiction. Maybe the case should’ve been filed in Washington, D.C.
For those among us whose taste in humor runs to the sophomoric, it’s hard not to snicker at cases like , 667 So. 2d 526; , 14 Ill. 212; , 21 F.3d 422; , 62 Cal.App.3d 389; or , 317 S.W.2d 867. In addition, I’m pretty sure I don’t want to know how the defendant in , 117 Idaho 456, 788 P.2d 857 (1990) got his name.
Still, for sheer wackiness, nothing beats the titles of condemnation cases, in which the federal government sues over items of property that it has seized. Where else could you find, for example, , 40 F.Supp 208 (W.D. N.Y. 1941)? In that case, the product confiscated was held to be in violation of the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act because it in fact was not a cure for drunkenness. If you look you can also find such gems as , 726 F.2d 1481; , 520 F.3d 976 (9th Cir. 2008); , 235 F.Supp 2d 1367 (S.D. Fla. 2003); and my personal favorite, , 413 F.Supp. 1281 (D. Wisconsin 1976).
And you thought law was boring.
John Browning is a partner in the Dallas office of Gordon & Rees, LLP. He may be contacted at: