Legally Speaking: Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction, Part 2 of 2

John G. Browning Feb. 5, 2009, 7:32am

In last week's column, we looked at some of the stranger legal arguments and defenses that have been raised recently. Sometimes, the sheer irony of the premise of a case is itself stranger than fiction.

After all, who could've foreseen some of the cases that have graced these pages recently, like the anti-kidnapping expert who was kidnapped, or the American Association for Retired Persons (AARP) being sued for age discrimination?

If anything embodies a sense of irony as great as these incidents, it would have to be this recent story out of Alaska. It seems the people behind Standing Together Against Rape, a non-profit group in Anchorage that provides support to sexual assault victims, held a lottery as a fundraiser.

However, they might have reconsidered had they known who would come forward with the winning ticket in the $500,000 Lucky Time Pull Tabs jackpot: Alex Ahsoak, a convicted sex offender with sentences in 1993 and 2000 for sexual abuse of a minor.

Displaying a gift for understatement, the rape victims advocacy group's executive director Nancy Haag told CNN Radio "It's not how we had envisioned the story going."

Occasionally, it's what the plaintiff is seeking that livens up an otherwise mundane lawsuit. For example, in a wrongful death and civil rights lawsuit filed on Dec. 30 the parents of an innocent bystander shot and killed by an Anaheim police officer want the usual money damages for their loss and emotional distress.

But what sets the federal lawsuit brought by the parents of the late Julian Alexander apart is what else they're demanding: that Walt Disney Company officials erect a memorial statue on Disneyland's Main Street in their son's honor. They believe the statue would "serve as a message of healing and reconciliation to the community and a reminder that deadly force should be eliminated from the streets of Anaheim," according to the family's attorney, Richard Herman.

It's a puzzling demand to Disneyland, which is not part of the lawsuit. Suzi Brown, a Disneyland spokesperson, said "Clearly this is a tragic situation, but it has nothing to do with Disneyland."

Other demands by plaintiffs sound reasonable at first, until one examines all the circumstances. Recently, for example, Southwest Airlines was sued by a pilot who had been terminated and who wanted his job back. Not that unusual a request – until you consider that Herbert Grubb, the pilot in question, suffers from sleep apnea and narcolepsy.

The airline's termination of Mr. Grubb was upheld by the U.S. District Court, Northern District of Texas, as well as the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. After all, there are a lot of jobs where I wouldn't necessarily begrudge someone catching a few extra zzzs – but airline pilot isn't one of them.

Divorce cases frequently involve couples squabbling over possessions that one or the other wants back. Dr. Richard Batista, however, has taken such disputes to a whole new level.
Embroiled in divorce proceedings in New York for nearly four years with estranged wife Dawnell, Dr. Batista wants the return of the kidney he gave her in June 2001.

Dr. Batista claims that his wife began an extramarital affair roughly 1-1/2 to 2 years after the kidney transplant operation. With divorce settlement negotiations growing nastier and nastier, the ultimatum seeking either "kidney compensation" or $1.5 million is a "last resort" according to the Long Island surgeon.

Legal observers feel the doctor is on shaky ground in asserting such a claim. As Manhattan matrimonial lawyer Susan Moss puts it, "This is similar to cases where a husband wants to be repaid for the cost of breast implants and such. Our judges are not willing to value such assets, so to speak." And to think lawsuits only used to cost an arm and a leg.

Sometimes the description of a case itself lends insight into how remote its connection to reality really is. This past year, for instance, witnessed the filing of Knights Templar v. Pope Benedict XVI, et al, in which a group purporting to be heirs of the order of the Knights Templar is suing the Catholic Church for illegally seizing the order's assets.

Before you get ready to cast Tom Hanks in the movie dramatization, consider this: the statute of limitations ran out around, oh I don't know, maybe SEVEN HUNDRED YEARS AGO!

Going from the sublime to the ridiculous, the Colombian Coffee Growers Federation announced plans in January to file suit against American cartoon artist Mike Peters, the mind behind the "Mother Goose and Grimm" syndicated comic strip.

Apparently a recent strip joked that because there's a big crime syndicate in Colombia disposing of bodies, there might be "a little bit of Juan Valdez in every can" – literally.

Quick to avoid any comparisons to Soylent Green, and seemingly incapable of taking a joke, the Coffee Growers Federation intends to seek damages for "detriment to intellectual property and defamation." Lighten up, coffee growers, it was a joke. Maybe you should switch to decaf.

Another lawsuit has me thinking that maybe I was too harsh in judging those schools who have eliminated playground games like "Tag" for fear of civil liability. In a recently filed civil lawsuit in San Francisco, Jason Miller is suing the Academy of Art University and others for negligence and products liability.

According to the suit, the plaintiff was participating in a game of "musical chairs" as part of an acting class at the school when a folding chair collapsed beneath him. What's next, duck-duck-goose liability??

Finally, we have a recent lawsuit filed in Jefferson County that has invented a whole new cause of action, previously unknown in Texas law – personal injury through rudeness.

Amy Michelle Modica is representing herself in the lawsuit, in which she alleges that her doctor, Dr. Howard Wilcox, caused her to have a heart attack because of his alleged "rudeness," and "exaggerated sense of self-importance and a feeling of superiority to other people."

Among other things, Modica maintains that Dr. Wilcox caused her additional stress when he opted not to write a letter on Modica's behalf so she could get a handicapped tag.

This is not Ms. Modica's first rodeo; previously, she filed suit against government housing officials and President George Bush alleging that she's being forced into homelessness, and in December she sued attorney Frank Calvert for allegedly "verbally assaulting her with sarcasm."

Among other relief, Ms. Modica wants the doctor to undergo psychoanalysis and to compensate her for "taxi cab money."

Doctors being sued for a poor bedside manner? Lawyers being sued for sarcasm? I'm going to have to find a different line of work.

John Browning is a partner in the Dallas office of Gordon & Rees, LLP. He may be contacted at:

More News