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Thursday, October 26, 2006

Frivolity

Those of us who have observed the way the legal system works are fortunate to be entertained by stories of completely frivolous lawsuits or arguments.  I thought it would be fun to invite commenters to post their stories of abuses of the courts' resources.  I hasten to add that I do not mean to refer to litigants who present an argument about which reasonable people can disagree in the context of the times, but where there can be virtual consensus among the sane population that the argument has no chance of success.  Here are two examples of what I mean:

When I was clerking, a criminal defendant sought leave to appeal to our court, contending that several "of [his] constitutional rights were violated [at his trial].  I just don't know which ones."

Another time the prosecution defended a trial judge's decision not to issue a circumstantial-evidence charge to the jury, arguing that the evidence presented at trial was "not circumstantial evidence.  It was direct evidence of the circumstances of the crime."

I suppose the classic case in the genre is United States v. Satan and His Staff, 54 F.R.D. 282 (W.D. Pa. 1971), and I am told that there are additional cases in which plaintiffs tried to sue the Prince of Darkness.  Please submit additional examples of such humor in the comments.

Posted by Michael Dimino on October 26, 2006 at 04:44 PM in Culture | Permalink

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Another time the prosecution defended a trial judge's decision not to issue a circumstantial-evidence charge to the jury, arguing that the evidence presented at trial was "not circumstantial evidence. It was direct evidence of the circumstances of the crime."

I used to practice labor law, representing public employee unions in a big Eastern city. The chair of the civil service commission--a notorious nitwit--would routinely overrule hearsay objections, explaining "It ain't hearsay, he's here, and he said it."

But I suppose that's an example of something other than frivilous litigation. The most frivilous case I ever brought was on behalf of a fellow -- a guy with lots of money from whom the firm hoped for other, more serious work -- who wanted to sue the cemetary where his parents were buried, because they failed to maintain the ivy on their graves. To placate this big fish -- and totally against my better judgment -- I filed a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress. In the complaint, I alleged, among other things, that, by letting the ivy die, the cemetary had caused my client to violate the Fifth Commandment. The attorney for the cemetary very kindly agreed not to seek sanctions.

Posted by: The Continental Op | Oct 27, 2006 12:27:45 AM

Don't forget the "motion to kiss my ass," filed in Washington v. Alaimo, 934 F. Supp. 1395 (N.D. Ga. 1996).

Posted by: axios | Oct 27, 2006 4:58:00 PM

I once was assigned to perform a deposition of a plaintiff who was brought an action against her dentist pro se alleging among other things that her dentist assaulted and/or negligently caused her serious physical and mental injury. I was representing the dentist via his insurance policy. At the deposition the plaintiff testified that after sitting in the dentist chair the dentist's assistant in attemping to place the apron on her accidently pinched part of her breast with the alligaor clip. The assistant immediatly removed the clip and apoligized profusly according to plaintiff. Plaintiff noticed a red disclororation on her breast that lasted for several days. Plaintiff never received any medical treatment except approx. 10 minutes applying an ice pack to her area at the dentist's office. After about an hour of questions at he deposition I asked plaintiff if she wanted to try to settle the case since the whole thing seemed so trivial. Plaintiff initially wanted $100,000 to settle. I called my insurance company in the hope that if they would authorise some very small amount of settlement money maybe we could keep from wasting everyone's time with this for the next several years. I thought if they could agree to give her $500 this would end the matter. Plaintiff kept holding out and to my surprise the insurance comp. finally agreed to pay her $10,000 in settlement. I tried to argue against this but the insurance company wanted to matter setttled and off thier open claims list. So the moral of the story "why not sue".

Posted by: pjpy1 | Oct 27, 2006 9:17:11 PM

John Schwenkler has a great list of such cases at:
http://members.aol.com/schwenkler/wcc/

Posted by: Anonc1 | Oct 30, 2006 1:34:08 PM

When I was clerking, there was a pro se prisoner with a unique theory: Any reference printed in all caps was to a corporation rather than a legal person; his indicment had printed his name in all caps, and therefore referred to a (non-existent) corporation; and therefore his imprisonment was illegal.

(Note to any prospective litigants who might stumble across this webpage: This sort of claim has absolutely zero chance of winning, no matter who the judge is.)

Posted by: Stuart Buck | Oct 30, 2006 4:24:22 PM

"When I was clerking, a criminal defendant sought leave to appeal to our court, contending that several 'of [his] constitutional rights were violated [at his trial]. I just don't know which ones.'"


Without supporting evidentiary facts, I would find the above conclusion problematic. Obviously, if the person was non-disabled, assuming there was access to a law library, I would agree. But, if the person had a serious cognitive disability, the conclusion that this establishes the appeal as frivolous without considering: (1) any reasonable accommodations or interpreter than might be necessary, or (2) appointment of a guardian and/or legal counsel, would be inherently discriminatory based on disability. And, in that case, I would disagree.

Depending on the type, nature, and seriousness of a cognitive disability, the person might know his constitutioonal rights were violated, but not be able on an individualized basis to articulate this to the satisfaction of a court.

Yet another reason the states really need to require mandatory continuing legal education in disability awareness and disability rights. Many people just truly do not understand about disabilities from the perspective of people who have them, and how they affect their ability to function effectively in the courts.

Posted by: Mary Katherine Day-Petrano | Nov 2, 2006 2:53:24 PM

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