Thursday, April 17, 2014

Guest Blogger,Henry Lowenstein: Yes, We Have No Bananas!

Appellate Court Goes Bananas!:   Banana Lady "Slips" In Credit Union Lawsuit

Our students in the Legal Environment of Business courses often ask us if there is any control to what appears to be frivolous, abusive litigation against individuals and firms, often merely to simply try and pressure money settlements to avoid the expensive legal fees involved in litigation.  Every now and then, a litigant crosses the line such that a court rises to protect the integrity of the judicial process and halt for that moment abuses of the system.   Such was the case this week from the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in the matter of Conrad (aka “Banana Lady’) v. AM Community Credit Union (Case No. 13-2899, April 14, 2014.   Click here for the link to the story as reported by the Chicago Sun-News with link to the opinion by the Chief Judge, Richard Posner.

The “Banana Lady” represents an extreme example of abuse of the judicial system that not only was costly to defendants but in clogging the courts and impeding the effectiveness of the judicial system.  It also points out the growing intolerance of Federal courts to questionable if not de minimus attempts to improperly use intellectual property law (in this case copyrights) as a tool to bully questionable settlement payments rather than protect legitimate intellectual property values.  This case can be used in classes to emphasize both points and the costs to business of succumbing to settlements that encourage simply more litigation.

In the case of the “Banana Lady,” the Court of Appeals signals its intolerance and opinion (complete with pictures) that such suits will receive from the court the old song, Yes, We Have No Bananas and intolerance for like frivolous and vexatious lawsuit behavior in the future.  Those who try in the future will find Federal judges….well… .going bananas!  

I hope you enjoy this story and the serious lesson it leaves other than a judicial banana peel on the judicial floor.

Editor's Note: I have previously expressed the opinion that "frivolous lawsuits" typically share 3 common characteristics: 1) They are filed without the aid of counsel, 2) there is likely some level of mental illness exhibited by the Plaintiff, and 3) they are flushed out of the system without causing millions of dollars in taxpayer and/or defense expenses.

With respect to the "Banana Lady" case: 

1. From Judge Posner's decision:  "Proceeding pro se, Conrad has sued several credit unions in this case."

2. From the Chicago Sun-News Article: Banana Lady . . . has a history of making wild claims in her court filings, including comparing her legal opponents to the Unabomber and alleging that they hung out at the Kennedy Compound in Hyannis Port, Mass.

3. From Judge Posner's decision:  The district judge granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss the case.

Although the case did go on appeal to the Court of Appeals, it still was disposed of in a reasonably expeditious fashion without closing the courthouse doors to people who believe they have legitimate grievances. Frivolous lawsuits do have the effect of ameliorating what might otherwise become dangerous expressions of rage and frustration. Given the plaintiff's history in this case, Judge Posner's orders are absolutely justified.

Banana Boat Song:

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Heigl Harried By Pilfered Picture

If the reported facts are correct, it looks like former Grey's Anatomy star, Katherine Heigl, has a slam dunk of  a commercial appropriation suit.  Apparently the actress was photographed, without her authorization, by papparazzi standing in front of a Duane Read Pharmacy Store.  The chain apparently then used the photograph in digital marketing schemes through Facebook and Twitter.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Genius of the Common Law

The genius of the Common Law is in its ability to adapt general legal principles to specific, often unpredictable, factual circumstances.

According to the New York Post, the son of a resident in a Long Island, New York nursing home discovered among his mother's possessions a picture of his 85 year-old mother stuffing money into the underpants of a male stripper.  According to allegations, the son determined that the nursing home had on more than one occasion provided male strippers as entertainment for the residents.  In his lawsuit, it is alleged:

“Plaintiff Bernice Youngblood was placed in apprehension of imminent, offensive, physical harm, as she was confused and bewildered as to why a muscular, almost nude man, was approaching her and placing his body and limbs, over [her],”

That sounds like the language of an assault claim.  I imagine, there is likely a negligence count as well. Intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress are also potential claims based on extreme and outrageous conduct.

The plaintiff probably has some problems of proof.  If it is true as described in the article that "Youngblood’s attorneys argue she 'lacks the mental and physical capacity' to protect herself," then it may be difficult for her to testify as to any damages that were suffered.  Even if the lawsuit is not ultimately successful, it hopefully serves as notice to other similarly situated businesses about conduct that might create liability exposure. Hopefully our Legal Environment courses help students to recognize that in the great number of businesses the suggestion of "hiring strippers" should send up a whole host of red flag warnings.

The quote below comes from the website of the East Neck Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. I am not sure if patients understood the facility's meaning of "therapeutic recreation."

·                   Therapeutic Recreation
    At Cassena Care, we believe in the power of socialization and recreational activities as part of our efforts to restore health. Our therapeutic recreation program helps our patients work on mobility and other skills outside of their other speech, physical, or occupational therapy sessions, and it also gives them a chance to develop friendships essential to feeling joyful and self-confident.

Here is the photo that ignited the lawsuit:

Video report:

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

There Oughta be a Law . . .

...against texting and driving.  Oh, wait, in most places, there is. Yet the statistics of those who continue to engage in this deadly behavior are staggering:

source of image:

But often, to be effective law must be paired with education.  Education in the form of PSAs or other public awareness campaigns have proven to be effective in curbing conduct.

This video is part of a recent campaign against distracted driving.  Warning: disturbing images!

Friday, April 4, 2014

UPS Pink Slips Likely to Result in Extra Special Deliveries

According to the Huffington Post, UPS has fired hundreds of workers who staged a solidarity protest for a fired worker. The really troubling part of this story is:

Twenty of the workers were notified of their dismissal on Monday. The remaining 230 were told they would be fired as soon as replacements are trained.

Is this a sustainable model for continuing business? If you were worried about the quality of package handling before this debacle, imagine your packages now being at the mercy of 230 lame-duck, ticked-off employees with nothing to lose by taking their frustrations out on your packages in order to get back at the company.  I thought managers were supposed to be rational actors in an effort to limit liability exposure.  UPS just lit a neon sign that says, "don't use our services until we train a bunch of new employees or your packages are likely to be stomped into slivers."

UPS package handling without the extra added incentive of being fired:

Thursday, April 3, 2014

"I Quit!" Through Interpretive Dance Shared by Dawn Swink

ALSB member Dawn Swink from the University of Saint Thomas sent in the link for this video.  What will the employees boss think?  Or, more appropriately, what will the ex-employees prospective bosses think? Social Media is powerful.  Not always in a positive way.

Click here to go the video and story at Find Law.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

When Will They Ever Learn?

Hey everyone, did you know that the things that you post on the internet can be seen by lots of different people; professors, significant others, prospective employers, probation officers. . . ?