Lawsuit Abuse Fortnightly #6-9

Published July 27, 2007

Moral Question

A Massachusetts man claims his religious scruples caused him to flunk the state’s bar exam.

The man refused to answer one of the hypothetical questions on the exam, which asked for analysis of the legal property rights of a married lesbian couple, Jane and Mary, under Massachusetts law.

By answering the question, the man alleges in a $9.75 million civil rights damages suit, he would be implicitly and explicitly endorsing homosexual marriage and parenting, which he refused to do because it is against his religion. He alleges the question is a “disguised mechanism” to deny bar admission to persons who oppose homosexual marriage and “is tantamount to covert oppression” of his beliefs.

According to one Massachusetts lawyer, however, morals don’t have much to do with practicing law. “Lawyers have to answer questions about legal principles they disagree with all the time, and that doesn’t mean we’re endorsing them,” he said. “You might be somebody who is morally opposed to divorce, but [you] have to interpret the divorce laws of the commonwealth to answer a question about who property is passed to.”

Source: Donna Goodison, “Bar-Exam Flunker Sues: Wannabe Rejects Gay-Wed Question, Law,” Boston Herald, July 6, 2007

The Right to Bare Torsos

Convicted rapists cannot be denied their right to “read” pornographic magazines in their prison cells, according to a Swedish court ruling.

Prison officials sought to ban porn, arguing it increased the risk of assaults on other prisoners and could result in the inmates committing future sexual crimes. The court disagreed, finding the officials failed to prove access to porn would “jeopardize the security of the institution.”

Source: Associated Press, “Swedish Court Grants Jailed Rapists Access to Porn Magazines,” June 26, 2007

The Things We Do for Love

The plaintiff’s lawyer called it “kind of remarkable” the case wasn’t tossed out of court. Even the jury thought the case was “stupid” … but it nevertheless awarded a suburban Chicago man $4,802.87 in damages in a case alleging alienation of his ex-wife’s affections.

The plaintiff’s wife–now his ex-wife–told the Chicago Sun-Times her husband–now her ex-husband–wanted to liven up their sex life by watching her have sex with other men and women. The problem, she says, was she fell in love with one of the other men. So the husband sued.

“That’s what he said would keep our marriage going,” she said. “That was exciting to him.” She added, “If he’d been such a great husband, wouldn’t he protect me instead of making me do these things?” Good question.

Source: Steve Patterson, “Putting a price on love,” Chicago Sun-Times, July 1, 2007

Stuff and Nonsense

The drink maker Snapple claims its products are “made from the best stuff on Earth.” But what does “stuff on Earth” mean, exactly? Does it mean “stuff” that naturally exists? Or is it enough that the “stuff” can be artificially created?

The answer could be worth $100 million to persons who bought Snapple thinking its ingredients were “all natural,” according to a lawsuit filed in early July in federal court in New York City. The suit alleges the high-fructose corn syrup used in the fruit drink is not “all natural” because it does not exist in nature. The suit thus alleges “all natural” is misleading and deceptive to consumers.

Of course, carbonated apple soda and other Snapple concoctions don’t exist in nature, either. Stop us before somebody sues again.

Source: “Griper Suing for $100M,” New York Daily News, July 8, 2007;

War of Words

The Chicago lawyer who in May told a Florida bankruptcy court judge she was “a few French fries short of a Happy Meal” won the battle in the aftermath of his comment–but he lost the war. The judge didn’t revoke his right to appear before her in the particular case involved, as she had originally threatened to do. But it didn’t matter, because the client fired him.

The lawyer also lost his position as head of the firm’s bankruptcy practice. In addition, he had to agree to complete an ethics course, do 200 hours of uncompensated volunteer lawyering, and make a “voluntary” donation to the ethics center at the judge’s alma mater.

The judge rebuked him in court. “There is no jurisdiction in the U.S.–including the district where Mr. Smith regularly practices–where the expression and tone Mr. Smith used on May 7 would fall in the bounds of acceptable behavior,” she said. On legal blogs, this is known as “benchslapping,” a new word in the legal lexicon, apparently coined by the abovethelaw Web site.

Source: Brandon Glenn, “‘Happy Meal’ Lawyer Gets Ruling,” Crain’s Chicago Business, June 21, 2007;

Sweet Surprise

A Michigan woman is suing Mars, Inc., alleging its Starburst Fruit Chews are too chewy. She claims $25,000 in damages. After “maybe about 3 chews … it literally locked my jaw … and it just literally pulled my jaw out of joint” and caused her to develop temporal mandibular joint dysfunction, she said.

Her suit, she said, is not about the money. “I don’t want to see anybody else have to go through what I have gone through from eating a piece of candy that was supposed to be soft chew.”

Source: “Michigan Woman Claims Starburst Candies Are Dangerously Chewy in Lawsuit,” Fox News, June 27, 2007

Poor, Poor Pitiful Lawyers

If you think lawsuit abuse happens because lawyers are greedy and immoral, you might be right. But it’s not the lawyers’ fault, according to a recent article in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

It all starts in law school. First year-students “experience precipitous declines in their mental health” and are trained to favor outward appearances rather than “their own values and moral sense.” As a result, they suffer emotional distress approaching “that of psychiatric populations.” Their perilous mental states are “likely to carry over into professional practice.”

Lawyers themselves are not to blame–they are the victims of “controlling” law professors and teaching methods. So please stop blaming the victim.

Source: Kennon M. Sheldon and Lawrence S. Krieger, “Understanding the Negative Effects of Legal Education on Law Students: A Longitudinal Test of Self-Determination Theory,” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 2007, May 4, 2007

Lawsuit Abuse Fortnightly

Published by The Heartland Institute (312/377-4000), a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization founded in 1984.
Phone 312/377-4000, fax 312/377-5000
Back issues are available online at
Publisher: Joseph L. Bast
Editors: Maureen Martin, Diane Carol Bast

Information on lawsuit abuse can be found on these Web sites:

The Heartland Institute
19 South La Salle Street #903
Chicago, Illinois 60603