HUMOR October 2021

It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s ... a Lawsuit?

Written by John G. Browning

 

Trial lawyers are, first and foremost, storytellers. And as I regularly remind younger lawyers assisting me with selecting trial exhibits, a picture is worth a thousand words. So if you’re a lawyer filing suit on behalf of a client that’s been damaged by the alleged negligence and trespass of a neighboring business, and that client happens to be a popular comic book shop, what better way to convey your client’s story than in the form of a comic book (or graphic novel, if you prefer)? That was the approach recently taken by Houston lawyer Cris Feldman, of Feldman & Feldman. According to the pleadings in this Harris County district court lawsuit, Feldman’s client is Criss-A-Less, Inc., better known as Third Planet Sci-Fi and Fantasy Superstore. Third Planet’s next-door neighbor is Crowne Plaza Houston River Oaks hotel. Third Planet alleges that the hotel has “long been a location for illicit activities,” such as public disturbances, theft, prostitution, and criminal mischief. According to Third Planet, from balconies on the west side of the hotel facing the comics and collectibles store, hotel guests and visitors have launched projectiles ranging from lit cigarettes and bottles to cinder blocks, luggage racks, and even fire extinguishers at the building housing Third Planet. The lawsuit alleges that such activity has caused fires and extensive property damage to Third Planet’s roof, building, and parking lot. Among other causes of action, Third Planet is bringing claims for trespass, nuisance, and injunctive relief.

But when the defendant filed special exceptions, complaining that it couldn’t sufficiently understand the claims and allegations against it, Feldman decided to amend his pleading in a manner befitting his comic book store client. So, in late June, he filed a third amended petition in “illustrated form”; that is, as a comic book—complete with its own “origin story.” The “cover” depicts the story’s hero—Third Planet owner and avid bowler T.J. Johnson—facing an onslaught of kitchen cutlery and fire extinguishers. Further on, colorfully illustrated panels depict part of the story accompanied by helpful comic book-style word bubbles. While no bites from radioactive spiders, mutants, or superheroes appear, there are panels illustrating the objects flung at Third Planet—complete with vintage sounds (“Krack!!!,” “Smash!!!,” and “Booooom!!!,” for example) straight out of a “Batman” comic. And since the lawsuit is still pending, this “issue” ends with an ominous “To be continued . . .!” panel, just like the comics sold at Third Planet.

The illustrated legal pleading/graphic novel has garnered national attention for its fresh approach. Crowne Plaza and its owners have denied responsibility for the alleged property damage, pointing instead to third parties over whom the hotel has no control. In the meantime, Third Planet has begun selling souvenir copies of its now-viral illustrated lawsuit. But will Third Planet prevail, or will the hotel owners come out on top? I guess we’ll just have to wait for the trial, or the next issue, or the inevitable Marvel or DC Universe movie—whichever comes first.

If filing a comic book for a pleading strikes you as too irreverent or not befitting the solemnity of legal proceedings, what would you think if you were doing legal research, and found not the on-point case you were looking for, but an asparagus recipe instead? That really happened recently to Belgian commercial lawyer Morgan G. Moller. While researching medical product pricing laws in legal database Moniteur Belge, he found—nestled amidst legislation and legal cases—a recipe for baking asparagus (with cream, tomato purée, and Cantal cheese, if you’re curious) that apparently belonged on the cooking website Marmiton. While Moniteur Belge said the mistake would be “corrected immediately,” Moller’s tweeted photo of the oddly placed recipe received thousands of views. Moller himself called it “hilarious,” and said “I’m fed up with people saying Moniteur Belge is useless. You can find anything in there: laws, decrees, cooking recipes, you name it.”

Finally, if you can’t find inspiration in comic books or recipes, how about movies? Alexis Wright, a 2021 graduate of UNT Dallas College of Law, is such a big fan of the film Legally Blonde that she staged a Legally Blonde-themed photo shoot in her school’s moot courtroom a few days before graduation. Her tweet of the shoot went viral, drawing nearly 400,000 likes. Best of all, her tweet drew a congratulatory message from star Reese Witherspoon herself.

What, like it’s hard?TBJ

 

Leah
TeagueJOHN G. BROWNING
is a former justice of the 5th Court of Appeals in Dallas. He is the immediate past chair of the State Bar of Texas Computer & Technology Section. The author of five books and numerous articles on social media and the law, Browning is a nationally recognized thought leader in technology and the law.

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