Legally Speaking: Saying It With Style

John G. Browning Oct. 9, 2008, 8:28am

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 Smith v. Jones." Some styles have become etched in our public consciousness, like the landmark desegregation case of Brown v. Board of Education. And for a case as well-known and far-reaching in effect as Roe v. Wade, 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 Wiener v. United States, 357 U.S. 349 (1958) didn't revolve around hot dogs, but the opinion was written by Justice Felix Frankfurter.

Lodi v. Lodi (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 Brain v. Mann, 129 Wis.2d 447, 385 N.W.2d 277 (1986), is for you. Pico v. Sepulveda, 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 Easter Seals Society for Crippled Children v. Playboy Enterprises, 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 Julius Goldman's Egg City v. United States, 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?

Juicy Whip v. Orange Bang, 185 F.2d 1964 (Fed. Cir. 1999) was another case that aroused my curiosity, while Schmuck v. United States, 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 United States v. Bad Marriage, 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 United States v. Vampire Nation, 451 F.3d 189 (3rd Cir. 2006).

And let's just say that some plaintiffs have identity issues, as demonstrated by I Am The Beast Six Six Six of the Lord of Hosts in Edmond Frank MacGillvray Jr. Now.I Am The Beast Six Six Six of the Lord of Hosts IEFMJN.I Am The Beast Six Six Six of the Lord of Hosts.I Am The Beast Six Six Six of the Lord of Hosts OTLOHIEFMJN.I Am The Beast SSSOTLOHIEFMJN.I Am The Beast Six Six Six.Beast Six Six Six Lord v. Michigan State Police, et al., 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 United States ex rel. Gerald Mayo v. Satan and his Staff, 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 Tutorship v. Booty, 667 So. 2d 526; Woodbury v. Manlove, 14 Ill. 212; Homo v. Cox, 21 F.3d 422; Goodley v. Wank & Wank, Inc., 62 Cal.App.3d 389; or Boner's Administratrix v. Chestnut's Executor, 317 S.W.2d 867. In addition, I'm pretty sure I don't want to know how the defendant in State v. Limberhand, 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, United States v. 11¼ Dozen Packages of Article Labeled in Part Mrs. Moffat's Shoo Fly Powders for Drunkenness, 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 United States v. 2,116 Boxes of Boned Beef, etc., 726 F.2d 1481; United States v. Approximately 64,695 Pounds of Shark Fins, 520 F.3d 976 (9th Cir. 2008); United States v. One Lucite Ball Containing Lunar Material (One Moon Rock) and One Ten Inch by Fourteen Inch Wooden Plaque, 235 F.Supp 2d 1367 (S.D. Fla. 2003); and my personal favorite, United Statesv. Article Consisting of 50,000 Cardboard Boxes More or Less, Each Containing One Pair of Clacker Balls, 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

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