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Friday, May 09, 2008

The Peevyhouses: The Most Screwed Victims in Case-Law History

BLM photo of coal strip-miningIs it a bizarre ritual of professional self-loathing? As law professors, we delight in training the next generation of lawyers by pouring over case after case in which the great wheels of justice grind some sad sack to a pulp.

But who is the most screwed victim in case-law history?

I solicited nominations back in February. A passionate discussion ensued in the comments. Then, I made the difficult decision of choosing four candidates to put on the ballot in April, and the campaigning followed. The people have spoken, and the ballots have now been counted.

I hereby crown Willie and Lucille Peevyhouse The Most Screwed Victims in Case-Law History

In case you slept through expectation damages in Contracts, in Peevyhouse v. Garland Coal & Mining Co., the Peevyhouses signed a contract allowing Garland Coal & Mining Co. to strip-mine their farm, but with the express guarantee that Garland would restore the farm's landscape once they were done. Having taken what coal they could, Garland then refused to pony up the $25,000 required to remediate the land. The Oklahoma Supreme Court acknowledged the breach, but held that the remedy was limited to the diminution in the value of the farm. How much was that? According to Oklahoma's highest court, $300.

Here was the breakdown in the voting:

4% The Boyds, of Boyd v. Racine Currency Exchange, Inc.
6% Mrs. Palsgraff, of Palsgraff v. Long Island Railroad Co.
9% John Moore, of Moore v. Regents of the University of California
81% The Peevyhouses, of Peevyhouse v. Garland Coal & Mining Co.

Wow - the results were so lopsided!

Um, I meant their victory, not their farmland. But you have to admit, they flat-out leveled the competition, ending up with a landslide. Oh, uh, sorry again. My bad.*

Andrew Carlon nominated the Peevyhouses and John Anderson seconded. Congratulations to you both. The text of Peevyhouse v. Garland Coal & Mining Co., 1962 OK 267 (Okla. 1962) is here.

For myself, I love the Peevyhouse case for its succulent bittersweetness. I've always had the mental image of an elderly Willie and Lucille sitting on their porch overlooking their gorgeous farm. They share some lemonade, revel in their homestead's pastoral effulgence, and smile beatifically. This is it - their little slice of the American dream. And then some nice young man in a seersucker suit walks up. Removing his hat in respect and handing the Peevyhouses a business card, he explains how the Garland Coal and Mining Co. could help them get that extra money they need to send their kids to college.

Oh, the pathos.

But not everyone shares that viewpoint.

Ken Corey-Edstrom, having in mind the finding that the diminution in value of the Peevyhouse's property was just $300, put it this way:

"[T]hat must be one crappy farm."

* Sorry. I usually leave teeth-grating low-hanging puns to circuit court judges.

Posted by Eric E. Johnson on May 9, 2008 at 06:08 PM in Life of Law Schools, Teaching Law | Permalink


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