It seems that nearly every person who works with the law will, at some point in their career, come across a memorable case that stays with them. The circumstances could be inspiring, outrageous, or in my case, humorous. I have already written about my favorite case, Nickerson v. Hodges, 146 La. 735, 84 So. 37 (La. 1920), so I decided to conduct a survey among some of my colleagues in the Law Library of Congress Public Services Division to see if they would share their favorite case with our readers.
William Mahannah, Assistant Legal Reference Librarian – Bill recommended National Federation of Independent Business, et al., v. Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services, et al., 123 S.Ct. 2566 (U.S. 2012). This case is widely known for upholding the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act, but Bill finds it intriguing for another reason. Though joining with the majority to uphold the act, Chief Justice Roberts rejected the argument that the mandate was a valid exercise of the Commerce Clause power. Chief Justice Roberts instead characterized the mandate as a valid exercise of the power to tax, signaling that the expansive view of the Clause that has prevailed since the New Deal is subject to a renewed challenge.
Jim Martin, Senior Legal Information Analyst– Jim chose a series of interrelated cases that began with the Dodge-Morse case. This Gilded Age case concerns a divorce, and is less remarkable for its own set of facts than it is in revealing the antics of the lawyers involved, including the subornation of perjury, witness intimidation, and blackmail. The case ultimately resulted in the implosion of the well known firm Howe & Hummel, and led to the publication of two books on their ethical shortcomings: Scoundrels in law: the trials of Howe & Hummel, lawyers to the gangsters, cops, starlets, and rakes who made the Gilded Age and Howe & Hummel, their true and scandalous history.
Matthew Braun, Acting Reading Room Coordinator– Matthew chose Faber v. Sweet Style Mfg. Corp., 242 N.Y.S.2d 763 (N.Y. Sup. 1963). The plaintiff in this case sought rescission of a contract based on the ground that he lacked “sufficient mental competence” to enter into the contract on account of his manic-depressive episodes. The evidence presented by his psychiatrist is what makes the case memorable: “Previously frugal and cautious, he (the plaintiff) became more expansive beginning in August, began to drive at high speeds, to take his wife out to dinner…In a short period of time, he purchased three expensive cars for himself, his son and his daughter, began to discuss converting his Long Beach bathhouse and garage property into a twelve story cooperative and put up a sign to that effect, and to discuss the purchase of land in Brentwood for the erection of houses…”
Debbie Keysor, Senior Legal Research Specialist – Debbie chose Palsgraf v. Long Island Railroad Co., 162 N.E. 99 (N.Y. 1928). Anyone who has a recollection of their first year torts course is sure to remember Palsgraf. A passenger carrying a package jumped onto a moving train, and when pushed aboard by a guard, dropped his package of fireworks. The resulting explosion knocked down scales at the other end of the platform, severely injuring Mrs. Palsgraf. The case held that a defendant only owes a duty to those who, given the circumstances, are in a reasonably foreseeable zone of danger. Unfortunately, Mrs. Palsgraf was not found to be in that zone of danger, since it could not be reasonably foreseen that the guard’s interaction with the man carrying the package could imperil Mrs. Palsgraf.
John Cannan, former Law Library of Congress Legal Information Analyst, and current Drexel University Research and Instructional Services Law Librarian – John selected Fisher v. Lowe, 333 N.W.2d 67 (Mich. App. 1983). John says this case is useful for teaching headnotes. A quick glance at the opinion demonstrates why. Not only was the opinion written in verse, the West headnotes that summarize the points of law decided in the case are also written in verse. The opinion is as follows: “We thought that we would never see A suit to compensate a tree. A suit whose claim in tort is prest Upon a mangled tree’s behest; A tree whose battered trunk was prest Against a Chevy’s crumpled crest; A tree that faces each new day With bark and limb in disarray; A tree that may forever bear A lasting need for tender care. Flora lovers though we three, We must uphold the court’s decree.”
Now you know some of our favorite cases, please leave a comment and tell us which cases are memorable for you.