Weird, True, and Freaky: Law School Edition
Law school can seem scary. And boring. And hard. And when you realize you not only willingly entered this scary, boring, hard institution, but you forked over a whole lot of money to do so, you might begin to ask yourself, “What in the world is the matter with me?” So, for all you 1Ls who have just started or who are about to start, I just want to let you know that mixed in with the all the serious, dry information you are going to read, which may or may not be useful in your future careers, there are some weird, ridiculous cases you will study that are going to offer you some much needed comic relief.
To prove my point, I am going to tell you about some of the more fun cases that stood out so much that I still remember them this long after I graduated. Not only that, but I managed to wade through my murky memory to come up with a case from five of the basic 1L courses…yes, even contracts. I’ll give you plots, but I’m not giving away endings here. There are no spoiler alerts — I don’t want any angry professors coming after me because students weren’t coming to class since I already taught them everything they needed to know.
The Haunted Property
In Stambovsky v. Ackley, 169 A.D.,2d 254, we learn that, yes, ghosts are real…or, well, at least, that a house can be legally haunted. This all began when Jeffrey Stambovsky tried to buy a house from Helen Ackley. Well, I guess it really started before he tried to buy a house from Helen Ackley. Like, say, when she started advertising the house as haunted. And I’m not talking about that one time she told a friend over coffee, I’m talking about real press advertising. That’s right, she put her ghost story in print — in both the local paper and in Reader’s Digest. She did not, however, tell the ghost story in the description of the house, or in the contract, or in any verbal communications that she or her realtor had with Mr. Stanbovsky. And let me tell you, when Stanbovsky found out he had just purchased a bunch of poltergeists, he was less than pleased. In fact, he was so mad he wanted to get out of the contract (so see, really you’re getting two entertaining contract stories here).
Of course, Ms. Ackley tried say the ghosts had moved out — or didn’t exist — or were just a figment of her imagination. In other words, she was all like, “Are you crazy? Of course this house isn’t haunted! Where ever did you come up with such an idea?” (not a direct quote). But the court disagreed. They basically told her, “You can’t go around telling the press you’ve got a ghost, and then all of a sudden claim you don’t just to make a sale. You’ve got a haunted house, so don’t try to deny it.” (Again, not a direct quote.) But here is a direct quote for you: “…as a matter of law, the house is haunted.” Weird, right? But, does the fact that the house is haunted mean that Ackley was required to disclose this?
There is nothing worse than having a family member promise you something only to have him later say, “Haha, sucker, April Fool’s.” In the pivotal case of Hamer v. Sidway, 124 N.Y. 538, William E. Story II found this out the hard way. William E. Story the original, and also the uncle of II, told his nephew that all he had to do to get $5,000 (which is basically a whole lot of money seeing as how this case is really old) was to keep away from tobacco, alcohol, swearing, and playing billiards and cards for money — so basically don’t have fun — until he turned 21.
II really wanted that money, so he accepted and completed the challenge. When he turned 21, he asked for his money and was told the uncle wanted to hold onto it until the nephew was a little older, but he would get it with interest. So the uncle held onto it and held onto it until eventually he died still holding onto it. II transferred his interest to his wife who transferred her interest to someone else who said to the estate something like, “Hey, where’s my money?” They answered by basically saying, “What? You thought that was a real contract? Hahahahahaha…” with the laughter continuing for a while. This, of course, led to the interest holder going to court. But of course I’m not telling you the result of the court case here.
It’s Raining Cows and Torts
Whenever I am having a bad day, I just say “Well, at least a cow hasn’t fallen on my head today.” Because, let’s be honest, nothing that happened to me is as bad as that. On April 15, 1954 Fannie Guthrie could legitimately claim that she had a bad day because she couldn’t say that a cow hadn’t fallen on her head. In Guthrie v. Powell, 178 Kan. 589, Torts students learn about a fun little legal term: res ipsa loquitur. I’m not going to go into the legalese of that, but what I will tell you is this: if someone is on the first floor of a building where a public sale is taking place, has permission to be there, and is just generally minding her own business when unexpectedly (because there is no way to expect this) a six-hundred pound steer located on the second floor falls through the ceiling and lands on said someone, that person likely will sue using the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur.
I told my sister about this case, and she asked me a very logical question, one that most people would ask when hearing about a steer landing on a lady: “Oh no! Was the steer hurt?”
Is Sexual Healing a Criminal (Law) Offense?
Since you all are going to law school, and not medical school, you may not yet know the following wisdom I am about to impart on you: if a “doctor” calls you out of the blue and tells you that you have a fatal disease that can only be cured by an expensive, painful surgery or by having sex with a donor inoculated with the vaccine, do not go have sex with that donor. There is actually no disease for which this is a recognized cure, I’m sorry to tell you. Unfortunately for Ms. R, she did not have me to guide her, and so she, not being a doctor and not being insured, felt she had no choice but to pay this donor to inject her. Turns out, this was all a fraud, so she called rape. But did the judge rule in her favor? Find out in Boro v. Superior Court, 163 Cal. App. 3d 1224.
Satan, Standing, and Civil Procedures
Satan and his staff are all pretty evil. So, it should be a safe bet to say that if you sue the devil, you are going to win (in court — I’m not speculating on what will happen to you when he gets you out from underneath the long arm of the law). However, in order to sue him, you have to be able to find him, because how else are you going to serve him his papers? Short of sending a poor clerk to the pits of hell, what should be done to make Satan pay for his crimes? Well, you can find out how to sue Satan in United States ex rel. Gerald Mayo v. Satan and His Staff, 54 F.R.D. 282, where Mayo claimed that the devil had, among other things, deprived him of some constitutional rights. (Or you can find out that you can’t sue Satan because of the very fact that they couldn’t serve process on Satan, but since I promised no spoilers, I won’t tell you which happened here.)
So see? Law school isn’t always daunting and scary. Unless, of course, you’re scared of Satan, ghosts, and flying cows.