As you can imagine, we here at Abnormal Use are big fans of the United States court system. We recognize that it’s not perfect, but, on balance, it does a pretty good job protecting the rights of litigants–both plaintiffs and defendants. We also believe, however, that some lawsuits are just ridiculous. We are not advocating that some people be denied access to the court system. What we might want, however, is for lawyers to sometimes take a step back and ask potential clients, “Do you really want to bring this before a judge?” Below are two lawsuits we found recently that might have benefited from such an inquiry.
The case of the prematurely fading lipstick:
The Wall Street Journal Law Blog recently posted about a new suit seeking class action status against Maybelline, a cosmetics company that sells lip gloss and lipstick lines that it claims will last for 10 hours and 14 hours, respectively. The plaintiffs allege, as you can imagine, that the lip color does not last nearly as long as advertised by Maybelline and have filed suit in Manhattan federal court. That’s right. A New York federal court is going to have to decide if Maybelline has violated federal law, as well as consumer protection laws in New York, Michigan and New Jersey, simply because women might have to re-apply lip color more than once every 10 hours.
The case of the beer bottle in the bar-room brawl:
A Texas appeals court has affirmed the dismissal of a lawsuit seeking to hold Anheuser-Busch liable for an assault suffered by a bar patron. The suit alleged that the long-neck design of the bottle made it too attractive for assailants seeking a weapon; the court agreed with the brewer that the plaintiff had failed to make out a sufficient case to avoid summary judgment.
I would love to see a total bill for the court fees, lawyer time and expenses, and pro-rated judge, court reporter, and bailiff salaries that were incurred just getting this thing thrown out. One of the comments on the Overlawyered blog suggested that the plaintiff’s lawyer be sanctioned under Rule 11. Not sure we’d go that far, but this one definitely doesn’t pass our smell test.
Forum shopping fiasco:
While we’re on the subject of questionable moves in the legal world, I noticed a story in the Wall Street Journal on September 24, 2012 about the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. Apparently, budget cuts prompted Judge Pamela Dembe to throw wide the doors of Philly’s courthouses for lawsuits–and, in turn, open the court’s wallet for filing fees.
As the story noted, lawsuits–primarily in the asbestos and pharma areas–exploded “from 550 in 2008 to nearly 2,700 last year.” A new administrative judge, John Herron, is trying to clean up the mess that Judge Dembe’s invitation created for the court system up there. As Judge Herron commented in the story, “Courts should not be in the business of making money.” In our opinion, such blatant forum shopping should not be condoned–let alone suggested or supported.