Tag Archive for 'sue'

Man Held in Jail for 5 Days Without Food or Water Sues Feds

Share on TwitterSubmit to StumbleUpon

Well, this is embarrassing. A few weeks ago, a young man was arrested by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and held in a jail cell for five days, with no human contact, food, water, or even a toilet. And this was after he was told that he would be released without being charged, just as soon as the authorities finished up some paperwork on his case.

But when 23-year-old UC San Diego engineering student Daniel Chong sat alone for several hours, he started to get annoyed. As the hours turned into days, he began to fear for his life. After all, going just a few days without water can cause severe health problems, which could quickly become life-threatening.

When he was finally found in his cell, Chong was delirious and weak. He was taken to the hospital, where doctors said he was close to suffering kidney failure, and was so dehydrated that he was having trouble breathing. He had to spend 3 days in intensive care, and was hospitalized for a total of 5 days. I’m no doctor (obviously), but it sounds like he wouldn’t have survived another day or two in that cell.

Indeed, the article linked above indicates that, after a few days, the solitude, hunger, thirst, and fear truly got to him, and he began to lose his mind. He even tried to take his own life by breaking his glasses and cutting his wrist with the broken glass. Thankfully, he did not succeed in this attempt.

Well, he is now suing the federal government for $20 million, to compensate him for this ordeal.

While some people may argue that this is excessive (and if the federal government is smart, it will end up settling with him), and goes well beyond simply compensating the victim for his injuries. However, it’s impossible to put an exact dollar amount on the amount of mental and physical anguish that Mr. Chong must have suffered in his ordeal. What he went through is something I would never wish on my worst enemy.

And if this lawsuit ensures that such blunders never happen again, I’d say it would be worth every penny that the government has to pay out. Because, frankly, the fact that this happened is an absolute disgrace to the federal government, and an embarrassment to all of us.

Think about it: a person (who was ultimately never charged with a crime) almost died of thirst in federal custody, because everyone involved in his arrest and detention apparently just forgot about his existence. Some might say that he was a criminal, and we shouldn’t be shedding any tears for him.

To that I have two responses: first, he was never actually charged with a crime, let alone convicted of one. Second, even if he had been convicted of a major drug-related crime, it would in no way excuse what was done to this man. After all, in this country we generally pride ourselves on the fact that we don’t engage in cruel and unusual punishment. And if starving/dehydrating somebody half to death doesn’t constitute “cruel and unusual” punishment, I’d love to know what does.

Incidents like this harm the legitimacy of law enforcement in the public’s eyes, as well as the legitimacy of government in general. And we seem to be going through a phase where the public’s faith in the government’s ability to (or interest in) doing its job is at a historic low. And these types of incidents certainly don’t help matters.

Now, I don’t think the individual DEA agents involved in this incident left the victim in the jail cell on purpose. It probably was an honest (albeit very serious) mistake. Chances are, they were overworked, and lacked some of the administrative and logistical support they needed in order to keep track of the people in their custody. Such a scenario, in this era of government austerity and across-the-board budget cuts, is easy to imagine.

I think this incident, and similar ones, are partially a symptom of our broken drug laws. The United States imprisons more people than any other country on Earth. A large plurality of the people in federal and state custody in the U.S. were convicted of drug charges – casualties of the “war on drugs” that the government initiated in the 1980s. The fact is, American drug policy has resulted in the incarceration of more people than the system was designed to handle, leading to overcrowding of prisons, skyrocketing costs, and, occasionally, tragic incidents like the one discussed in this article.

While I don’t pretend to have a perfect solution to the overlapping problems of drug abuse and over-incarceration, I think a few simple reforms could reduce these problems significantly. For example, it’s glaringly obvious that our mass-incarceration approach to the drug problem has failed. It has overcrowded the prisons, led to skyrocketing law enforcement costs, and it does not appear to have done much to curb illegal drug use.

A good first step would be to stop relying on prisons as the primary method for dealing with the illegal drug problem, and focusing instead on treatment and rehabilitation programs, which can cost far less than prison, and be far more effective in reducing drug use. Furthermore, I’d like to see possession of small amounts of recreational drugs such as marijuana decriminalized.

Of course, I’m not saying that reforming our drug laws would solve the very separate problem of government incompetence, but by arresting fewer people, the burden on a large number of government employees (such as DEA agents, for example) would be reduced, which would almost certainly reduce the occurrence of incidents like this one.

Incoming search terms for the article:

Facebook Involved in an Unusual Lawsuit between Uncle and Nephew

Share on TwitterSubmit to StumbleUpon

Family feuds have been a common form of entertainment on television.  Many of us have tuned in to watch shows like Family Feud, Modern Family, Growing Pains, etc.  In the legal realm, family feuds have comprised of a practice termed family law.  Attorneys who practice family law are considered to have a “tough heart” by many because it is not easy watching families endure events such as divorces and custody battles.  Speaking of families and lawsuits, a recent lawsuit of a nephew sewing his uncle for harassment over Facebook pictures gives new meaning to the term “family feud.”

A man from Minnesota named Aaron Olson sued his uncle because his uncle had posted childhood pictures of him, in front of a Christmas tree, in a rabbit costume.  Rather than untagging himself from the picture, or calling his uncle and politely asking him to remove the picture, Aaron sued his uncle for harassment in a Minnesota district court.

Olson’s claim was based on the fact that the pictures were “innocuous family photographs.”  Posting such photographs on Facebook establishes a platform for mean comments to be directed towards Olson.  The court dismissed this case, and the Court of Appeals of Minnesota denied Olson’s complaint.

The Judge in the Court of Appeals of Minnesota stated that harassment occurs when words have some sort of adverse effect on the safety, security, or privacy of another person.  Therefore, mean or disrespectful comments do not constitute harm to one’s safety, privacy or security. The court ruled that the district court was correct in stating that the evidence submitted by Olson (the Facebook pictures of him in a rabbit costume, in front of a Christmas tree) did not satisfy the requirements to prove harassment.

This lawsuit is probably the most ridiculous one I have heard of to date.  The obvious lesson to take away is that if you have a minor issue with a relative, talk to them.  The power of effective communication can do wonders, keep people out of court, and put the money spent on potential litigation back into your pocket!

More importantly, when frivolous suits are brought into court, it is a misuse of the judicial system and a waste of judicial resources.  People should realize that the judicial system is there to tend to complex matters that cannot be solved in the home or office environment, not minor family feuds over embarrassing photos.

So, a few tips to people out there.  Before thinking about going to court, evaluate the basis of your lawsuit.  If your lawyer explains things to you, you will be hit with a hefty legal bill.  Rather than depending on your lawyer, think about how much merit you have in your claim.  Next, think about solutions that do not involve litigation.  Often, litigation complicates matters before reaching a resolution.  If there is a quicker way to achieve some closure out of court, go for it.  Lastly, confide in a close confidant to see if your potential claim passes the “straight face test.”  Specifically, after conveying your claim to your confidant, examine their expression.  If it is not of a straight face, and rather is one of disgust, surprise, or awkwardness, it is likely that your lawsuit is frivolous.  Avoid filing it and resolve matters in the comfort of your own home!

Incoming search terms for the article:

Can Pay-What-You-Want Businesses Sue Non-Paying Customers?

Share on TwitterSubmit to StumbleUpon

With the ever omnipresent ghost of Christmas commercialization turning the Season of Giving into the time of year where corporate fat cats can get their poorly run companies back into the black just enough to justify taking their huge bonuses, it nice to see that some businesses still know what it means to give back to their community.

Not only is Curtis Masters’s benevolence, in the form of his pay-what-you-want plumbing services, a much needed lifeline for poor Texans with a plumbing problem or two, but Masters’s kindness is also doing wonders to repair the stereotypical image of the shady plumber.  That kind of PR is priceless.  Masters has apparently been operating his business this way for over 15 years.  But according the 63-year-old plumber, the move to a pay-what-you-want operation wasn’t so much a strategic marketing move, but rather a call from God.  Masters states that he was told by God to use his master (ba-dum-bump) plumbing skills to help people in need and that he believes as long as he functions like this, God will provide for him.  Regardless of your views on religion, you have got to admire Masters’s commitment to his beliefs and his customers.

Now what Masters is doing is obvious very generous, especially in this current economic recession of ours; but what caught my eye about the story was the more obvious fact that there are probably a lot of people out there who would be perfectly happy letting Masters walk away with nothing for his work.  In fact, in the new report Masters even states that he has had some customers who seemed like they could pay more, but instead paid nothing for very complex work he did for them.  Of course this is to be expected when one functions on a pay-what-you-want business model.  Healthy fast food chain Panera Bread learned this the hard way after it had to shutter its third pay-what-you-want experiment in Portland, Oregon after it was getting too many non-paying customers and local homeless shelters started sending their hungry clientele its way.

But still, it seems a little wrong that people could easily take advantage of Masters’ kindness.  One of my friends asked me after reading this story if Masters could opt to take any legal action against any customers who he felt paid him less than what he should have gotten.  This is a question that seems like it should have an easy answer, but it turns out that like most things in law, the answer is a little more complicated and ultimately unclear.

When parties decide to exchange promises to perform duties in exchange for money or something in return, a contract is formed.  In legal terms, this contract formation process is called offer, acceptance and consideration.  If any of those factors are missing, a contract isn’t formed.  In addition, even when a contract is not clearly laid out, courts can infer that an implied-in-fact contract was created and award damages for a breach of contract.  An implied-in-fact contract usually arises in situations where services are exchanged for pay, as in Masters’ plumbing work.  These types of contracts occur when a party is unjustly enriched by receiving a benefit that they didn’t pay for, but knowingly accepted.  In these cases, a court can award the party that gave the benefit the fair market value for his or her work.

So it would seem that under an implied-in-fact contract theory, Masters and other do-gooders could possibly recover payment from entitled deadbeats too cheap to cough up some dough.  Masters provided a plumbing service, his customers authorize and allow him to work on their pipes, and they are obviously enriched by the services he offers because their plumbing is fixed.  All this appears to be grounds for a court to infer the formation of an implied-in-fact contract.  But the problem comes in when you factor in how Masters and other pay-what-you-want businesses functions.

Masters tells his customers up front in person and in writing that they are allowed to pay whatever they can afford for the work he provides.  Courts have long held that parties are free to contract in whatever way they wish as long as the parties both enter their contract knowingly without undue influence and that the agreement itself is legal.  From this perspective, an argument can easily be made that Masters, and other businesses like his, entered into the contract fully aware that he could come out of the other end with nothing, and that furthermore he expected that it could happen.  So in this sense, Masters wouldn’t have any recourse against non-payers.

What’s the answer?  Like I said, it’s not clear.  But it definitely would be an interesting case for a court to decide since there are good arguments to be made on both sides.

What do you guys think of pay-as-you-go business models?  Should cheapskates be forced to pay if they can afford it and how much?

Incoming search terms for the article:

Kidnapper Sues Hostages For Breach Of Contract

Share on TwitterSubmit to StumbleUpon

It’s probably true that we’d all like to think that people are inherently honest and good, especially when it comes to business.  It would be so much easier to make deals in our society if everyone just did what they promised to do.  But man, you can’t trust anyone anymore.  Call me old-fashioned, but I think that if you cut an agreement to hide your kidnapper from the police, you’d dang well better keep.  Unfortunately though, a pair of Kansas hostages just didn’t seem to get that memo.

Seriously though, despite the sarcasm in that last paragraph, the headline and story is actually true.  A Denver native by the name of Jesse Dimmick (AKA “The Stupidest and Possibly Nicest Kidnapper Ever”) broke into the house of Jared and Lindsay Rowley.  Dimmick told the Kansas couple that he was being pursued by someone trying to kill him and conjectured that it was most likely cops.  The fuzz was on his tail, but just wanted to interrogate him over a death that occurred.  Dimmick then tried to strike a deal with the couple where he’d give them some cash if they would agree to let him hide out in their home until the heat was off.  And like any person whose home was just intruded upon by a man wanted for questioning in a murder, the Rowleys let Dimmick stay in their home and fed him until he fell asleep before calling the cops.

Dimmick was picked up by police and was eventually convicted of two counts of felony kidnapping among other things.  But in a twist, Dimmick is now suing the Rowleys for breaching the alleged oral contract he claims they made with him.  He wants $235,000 for his emotional distress and to cover his hospital bills since he was shot by police during his apprehension.

As you can see, this story is interesting on so, SO many levels.  The capper would have been if Dimmick actually found a lawyer to represent him in this insanity; then this lawsuit would have gone down in history as terrible lawyer joke number 101.  But alas he appears to be going at his lawsuit pro se.  Surprisingly, Dimmick appears to know at least basic contract law.  Dimmick claims in short that the three contract requirements of mutual assent, offer and acceptance, and consideration were met since he proposed money for sanctuary.  However the prison law library books must have had their contract defenses section pulled out since he completely missed that illegal contracts are unenforceable.

We’ve talked about breach of contract nightmares before, but not the illegality exception to contracts since, well, I just figured everyone probably already knew that a contract to commit a crime is illegal and thus unenforceable as a matter of law.  But Dimmick didn’t seem to get that memo.

Even if the Rowleys had agreed completely in good faith to Dimmick’s offer, Dimmick still wouldn’t have a leg to stand on because last time I checked, harboring a wanted criminal isn’t something done on the up and up.  Not to mention the fact that the reality of the situation was one in which it would be hard to argue that the Rowleys were in any other position other than duress.  A crazed guy breaks into my house, oh sure, I’ll agree to whatever you say man, just don’t go Mel Gibson or worst yet, Jerry Sandusky on me.

The Rowleys’ attorney has motioned for Dimmick’s case to be dismissed, but is also arguing that even if the case goes forward, a contract still doesn’t exist because the essential terms, like the amount of money Dimmick promised to give, were never specified.  Laying out the essential terms of a contract, as many of you already know, is a requirement before any contract can become binding.

But you know what the biggest irony is in this case?  It’s the fact that it’s actually a dispute over contract formation.  Many lawyers in practice will tell you that arguments over whether a contract exists or not are usually nowhere to be found in the real world.  Most contract cases are over the terms of a contract since that’s where the trouble usually starts.  In the words of Oscar Wilde, “Life is not complex.  [People] are complex.”  Dimmick’s formation, if it actually goes forward, would’ve probably thrown the court in a tizzy, not to mention the hilarious media circus that would undoubtedly surround it.  However, we’ll probably never get to see any of this.

Incoming search terms for the article:

Renter’s Woe: The Nightmare of Tenant Eviction Litigation Lists

Share on TwitterSubmit to StumbleUpon

Having just moved into a new apartment this weekend, I couldn’t help but think how many wonderful and interesting things there are to do in this world that beats the hell out of the mind-numbing mundanity of moving.  It sucks so much, in fact the only thing that sucks more than the process of moving is finding a place.  It’s a task that I’m sure takes its toll on everyone who has to do it, so I’m sure as heck glad that as far as I know, California doesn’t keep a list of renters involved in eviction litigation like New York.

Not that I’ve ever been sued in a landlord-tenant case before.  Seriously, I haven’t.  To all potential landlords out there who I may have to rent from one day, know that I’m not joking.  Because I don’t want to end up like James Whelan, the tenant who is suing in the link above.

This was news to me, but apparently in some states, like the aforementioned New York, the government keeps a running tally of all tenants that have been sued for eviction.  The list is open for viewing to the public and, in theory, may sound like a good idea.  Landlords are given notice of potentially bad tenants so that they can avoid renting to people who habitually cannot make their rent.  These “professional tenants” can often end up causing landlords to lose thousands of dollars in uncollectable rent.  The rub is that the list includes all tenants who have been sued for eviction, even the ones who won their eviction cases against their landlords.

You can probably see the problem here.  If a vindictive landlord wants a tenant out and wrongfully sues to evict him or her, the innocent tenant ends up on the list regardless of whether or not they were in the wrong.  Even if the tenant wins the case, chances are the landlord won’t be renewing the tenant’s lease and so when the tenant goes apartment hunting, he or she may find they’ve been blacklisted by landlords who see the tenant’s name on the list.  That’s the situation Whelan, a New York renter, was trying to avoid by preemptively suing to keep his name off the eviction litigation list.  Should he win his lawsuit, it would likely stop New York from continuing its practice of naming names.

But, for anyone renting in New York or any state with a similar practice, Whelan’s lawsuit probably does little to relieve your anxiety.  The fact of the matter is that the practice itself isn’t necessarily illegal or unconstitutional per se.  Every time anyone files any lawsuit in America, both parties’ names are listed for public viewing.  Such general docket information has always been public information and nowadays is even usually viewable online.  Certainly the details of people’s lawsuits can always be sealed with both parties and the court’s consent, but generally the names of the parties and indeed the existence of a lawsuit will still remain in public record.

However, this fact doesn’t make the tenant eviction litigation list from feeling any less sleazy and exploitative.  Most states that have such lists in place usually sell it to private companies who often resell it to members in the real estate industry who in turn use the list’s information for tenant screening purposes.  There’s definitely money to be made for states that have these tenant eviction litigation list, so it’s probably likely that the practice won’t be going away without a fight.

But for now, what can you do if you find yourself in an oh-so-precarious situation ala Whelan’s?  It’s sad to say, but short of trying to change the law like Whelan is doing, there’s probably not much you can do other than hope for the best and try to keep on your landlord’s good side.  It’s hard enough finding a good place to rent when you have good credit and a litigation-free record.  It took me a little over a month to finally find my new digs; I can only imagine how long it would’ve taken me if I had to deal with having to explain why my name was on a don’t-rent list (again, potential future landlords, please note I have a perfect credit rating and have never been evicted in my life).

Incoming search terms for the article: