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Even More Funny Things That Happened On the Way to the Courthouse Print E-mail
by John Browning    Fri, Nov 1, 2013, 10:13 AM

          The legal system isn’t always about high-minded serious notions about justice, empowering the powerless, punishing the guilty, and righting wrongs.  It has its lighter moments, too, as the following examples illustrate.


Must Be Present to Win


          It’s a pretty basic concept, drilled into us from the very first church raffle (where you “must be present to win”) to the wisdom of Woody Allen (who said “90% of life is showing up”) to basics of litigation, which dictate that to recover money damages for being in an accident, you had to have actually been there (for starters).  But that concept was lost on attorney John Bruster Lloyd and his clients, Luke Cash and Ami “Summer” Gallagher.  Lloyd filed suit on behalf of Cash and Gallagher against Carnival Cruise Lines alleging that they were among the roughly 3,000 passengers stranded at sea amidst challenging sanitary conditions and limited food in February 2013 when the Carnival Triumph lost power.  There’s just one problem: the couple was never on board.  Lloyd admits that he “screwed up,” and has since filed an amended pleading in which the couple is still asserting claims against the cruise line for breach of contract, but which omits all that “suffering on board” stuff.  Carnival representative Jennifer de la Cruz stated “That this lawsuit was even filed, alleging the plaintiffs suffered injury and mental anguish during a cruise they weren’t even on, is truly shameful and reprehensible.  Further, the fact that the suit also alleges misrepresentation and fraud is quite ironic.”


Getting In the Last Word


          The Dallas Cowboys are still embroiled in litigation over the Super Bowl ticket fiasco, but even the wins come with a drawback.  After seeking nearly $200,000 for the costs of having to produce documents in the pending federal lawsuit, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones came away with only $25,025.  Then the plaintiffs’ attorney, Michael Avenatti, added insult to injury when he stated that “Hopefully, Jerry will take the $25,000 and hire a G.M. so the Cowboys have a shot at playing in the Super Bowl for the first time in nearly 20 years.”  Ouch!  Flag on the play for unnecessary roughness.


A Drink by Any Other Name Still Gets You Drunk


          I’ve written before about “trademark bullies”—the companies and their lawyers who send overzealous, heavy-handed letters to small businesses accusing them of trademark infringement.  One recent example is CH Distillery, a popular bar/restaurant/micro-distillery in Downtown Chicago’s West Loop.  After their popular “OxyContin Cocktail” (a mix of London dry gin infused with Lapsang Souchong tea, ginger, honey, and lemon—no pharmaceuticals included) began attracting buzz, the distillery received a cease and desist letter from lawyers for Purdue Pharma, the Stamford, Connecticut-based drug company that makes the potent painkiller.  Choosing to make lemonade with the lemons they received, CH Distillery has renamed the drink the “Cease and Desist” cocktail.  And apparently, with all the publicity, the drink and the bar are more popular than ever.  Thanks, big impersonal pharmaceutical company and your humorless legal toadies!


Speaking of Names


          I’ve also written before about unusual case names, many of which are derived from government seizure cases, where the practice is to name the item or animal seized as the “defendant”—see, for example, U.S. v. Article Consisting of 50,000 Cardboard Boxes, More or Less, Each Containing One Pair of Clacker Balls, 413 F. Supp. 1281 (D. Wisc. 1976).  One recent one, which went all the way to the South Dakota Supreme Court, involved an officer’s decision to impound a bunch of cats he found roaming around the car in which a woman had been living.  The officer, noting “a strong pet odor emanating from the vehicle,” impounded the felines, resulting in a case that now lives on in the annals of justice: South Dakota v. Fifteen Impounded Cats, 785 N.W.2d 272 (S.D. 2010).


There’s Always Room for Jell-O


          From crazy cat ladies, we move to another figure many of us have encountered—the lunchroom food thief.  The bane of any workplace, the person who steals the food of others from a communal workplace refrigerator has a special place in Hell reserved for him.  While some of us deal with such a problem in one way (say, lacing a “bait” dish with liberal amounts of laxatives, placing it in the fridge, and waiting for hilarity to ensue), others take it very seriously.  Like “calling the cops” seriously.  On October 11, 2013, a Pennsylvania warehouse employee of Wakefern Food Corporation called police to the scene of a crime—the theft of his strawberry Jell-O snack by “a person or persons unknown.”  According to Pennsylvania police, “the incident remains under investigation.”  What, no CSI team?


You Drove Me to This


          Romanian Radu Dogaru, one of six individuals on trial for a 2012 $24 million art heist from the Kunsthal Museum in Rotterdam, has admitted his guilt in the theft.  But Dogaru and his defense lawyer now want to pin the blame on the Dutch art museum itself.  They are threatening to sue the museum for negligence and failing to adequately protect the works by Monet, Picasso, and Gauguin, saying the museum made the robbery “too easy.”  Now I’ve seen everything.


A Punny Judge


          Finally, it’s time to revisit the topic of judges who like to include humorous references in their judicial opinions.  The latest is U.S. District Judge James Boasberg in Washington, D.C., who recently ruled on whether a nonprofit group, Scenic America, could challenge the Federal Highway Administration’s authority to issue guidance on the construction of digital billboards.  Ruling that Scenic America did have standing, Judge Boasberg decided to have fun writing the opinion, peppering it heavily with roadway references.  He pointed out that the FHA “shifted gears” and “gave the green light” for issuing guidance that “paved the way” for digital signs, while Scenic America “bypassed” some legal routes before it “collided head-on” with federal law.  The judge noted that the nonprofit group wanted “to put the brakes” on certain sign regulations, while critical motions were “throwing up roadblocks” to it efforts.  Although the case was “at a crossroads,” the court ruled that Scenic America’s arguments were “fueled by concrete harm,” bringing an “end of the road” for federal highway decision making.  Accordingly, Judge Boasberg ruled, the Court “declines to take either exit proposed by [the government] and orders that the case should speed on to its next turn.”


          I guess this case got Judge Boasberg’s motor running.

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