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What is your Favorite Case? Part 2

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The result of the Star Route trials / F. Graetz. (Published by Keppler & Schwarzmann, June 20, 1883). (Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)
The result of the Star Route trials / F. Graetz. (Published by Keppler & Schwarzmann, June 20, 1883). (Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)

Last December, I set out to discover my law library colleagues’ favorite cases. Some responded with humorous cases and some with landmark cases that forever changed the face of law. I was unable to talk to everyone in December, so this month I resumed my efforts to discover my colleagues’ favorite cases.

Shameema Rahman, Senior Legal Research Specialist – Shameema chose New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 (1964). This case concerns a full-page ad taken out in the New York Times that claimed Martin Luther King, Jr.’s arrest for perjury was an attempt to impede his efforts to encourage integration and ensure African Americans could exercise their right to vote. The ad contained some minor inaccuracies, and a Montgomery City Commissioner filed a libel suit against the Times, basing his suit on an Alabama law that did not require him to prove he was personally harmed by the inaccuracies contained in the advertisement. In a unanimous decision, the United States Supreme Court held that in order for a public official to prevail in such a suit, it was not enough to show that the statement in question contained some inaccuracies. Instead, the public official had to show that the statement in question was made with actual malice, meaning with knowledge that the statement was false or made with reckless disregard for the truth of the statement.

Margaret Wood, Senior Legal Research Specialist – Margaret chose Bradshaw v. Unity Marine Corp., Inc.,147 F. Supp. 2d 668 (S.D.Tex. 2001). An action for injuries sustained while working aboard a docked ship takes an intriguing turn in this case when the Judge expresses his opinion on the quality of the pleadings filed by the parties. The Judge explains,

“Before proceeding further, the Court notes that this case involves two extremely likable lawyers, who have together delivered some of the most amateurish pleadings ever to cross the hallowed causeway into Galveston, an effort which leads the Court to surmise but one plausible explanation. Both attorneys have obviously entered into a secret pact—complete with hats, handshakes and cryptic words—to draft their pleadings entirely in crayon on the back sides of gravy-stained paper place mats, in the hope that the Court would be so charmed by their child-like efforts that their utter dearth of legal authorities in their briefing would go unnoticed. Whatever actually occurred, the Court is now faced with the daunting task of deciphering their submissions. With Big Chief tablet readied, thick black pencil in hand, and a devil-may-care laugh in the face of death, life on the razor’s edge sense of exhilaration, the Court begins.” Bradshaw v. Unity Marine Corp., Inc.,147 F. Supp. 2d 668, 670.

Robert Newlen, Assistant Law Librarian for Collections, Outreach, and Services – Robert chose Marshall v. Marshall, 547 U.S. 293 (2006). At first glance, Marshall v. Marshall appears to be concerned with whether the 9th Circuit properly exercised a longstanding limitation on federal court jurisdiction known as the “probate exception” in deferring to the decision of a Texas probate court. However, if you delve deeper into the facts of the case you will find this case is actually a heated contest between Anna Nicole Smith and E. Pierce Marshall concerning the estate of Anna’s late husband and E. Pierce’s late father, J. Howard Marshall II. Anna claimed that J. Howard Marshall had intended to set up a trust for her benefit, but did not do so because E. Pierce had isolated his father. E. Pierce claimed J. Howard Marshall had already been quite generous to Anna throughout the marriage and had no intention of setting up the trust. Ultimately, Justice Ginsburg, writing for a unanimous court, found the probate exception inapplicable and reversed.

We hope you have enjoyed reading some of our favorite cases. Please share your favorite case in the comments section.

Comments (3)

  1. I don’t know if it’s my favorite case, but I recall loving the first time I read the term “recreational litigation” in an opinion: 727 F.2d 1092.

  2. Hello, Mr. Brammer! Great post today!
    While I concur with your colleague that the Bradshaw opinion is a thing of wonder, my favorite case ever will always be Miles v. City Council of Augusta, Ga., 551 F. Supp. 349 (S.D. Ga. 1982), a/k/a the Blackie the Talking Cat case. It has everything one could possibly want in a great case – a real legal issue, a clearly written decision, the voice of God telling Mr. Miles that the kitten he’s looking at is destined for greatness, the judge deciding to break with protocol and actually visit the cat in question who is talking on the streets of Augusta, and a terrific judicial statement: “Apparently, some cats do talk. Others just grin.” And, for teaching purposes, it can’t be beat: while the headnotes in the West version of the opinion point out all the legal issues (taxation, municipal power, licensing, etc.), they don’t mention that it’s a case about a talking cat, which might be handy for a student to know if planning to base an argument on the case.
    How can anyone NOT love a case that mentions the Cat in the Hat, Sylvester and Felix?

  3. I confess to openly guffawing at Bradshaw. I think I went down the wrong vocational path…nothing this funny ever happens where I work.

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