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The Not-So-Little Mermaid

Amy Gunderson has filed a lawsuit seeking undisclosed damages in federal district court against New York City, claiming police wrongfully arrested her and violated her First Amendment rights during last year's annual Mermaid Parade in Coney Island. The parade features floats and topless women costumed as mermaids. Gunderson, wearing only a thong and body paint, was issued a summons when she refused to cover up. Former parade judge and civil rights attorney Ronald L. Kuby, who represents Gunderson, accuses former Mayor Rudy Guiliani of "overreacting to the free-spirited festival." He commented, "I think (current Mayor Michael Bloomberg) has a different view of bare breasts than Mayor Guiliani." Kuby claims that the illegal exposure law allows for women to expose their breasts when participating in an "artistic exhibition," stating his client is no more guilty than Kathleen Turner in the Broadway show "The Graduate" where she is fully nude for 20 seconds.

—Source: The New York Times

Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has overturned a lower court's ruling that a group of Floridians had no cause of action to sue ABC-TV for discrimination against the handicapped. The original complaint claims that the automated telephone call-in quiz used to qualify participants for the television game show "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" does not provide accommodations for deaf, blind or paralyzed people, thereby violating Title III of the American's With Disabilities Act by failing to ensure "that no individual with a disability is denied services or treated differently than anyone else." Michael Lanham, attorney for the plaintiffs, said they are seeking to change the audition process to allow the use of a Telecommunications Device for the Deaf (TDD) line, voice-command telephone devices and the option to speak with a live operator.

—Source: The Orlando Sentinal

Natural Born Lawsuit

In 1995, Patsy Byers was shot and paralyzed in a robbery attempt by Sarah Edmondson and Ben Darras, who claimed their crime spree was brought on after repeatedly watching the movie "Natural Born Killers." Byers' family filed a lawsuit against Warner Bros. blaming the movie maker for their daughter's paralysis. A lower court dismissed the charges in March, 2001 and the family appealed. The Louisiana Appeals Court upheld the lower court's decision earlier this month, ruling the film was "entitled to First Amendment freedom of speech protection because nothing within the movie advocated or incited viewers to commit violent activity." The Byers have not decided if they will appeal to the Louisiana Supreme Court.

—Source: Reuters

MTV Reality TV: Welcome to Reality Court

James and Laurie Ann Ryan of Washington, DC, have filed a $10 million lawsuit against MTV and the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada, claiming invasion of privacy, emotional distress and fraud. While on vacation in Las Vegas the Ryans entered their hotel room and "discovered what appeared to be a dead human body covered and surrounded by blood…." They attempted to leave the room but were stopped by two men posing as security guards who detained them until a man costumed as a paramedic arrived. Only then did Ashton Kutcher, the co-producer and host of MTV’s pilot series "Harassment," inform the Ryans that it was nothing more than a reality tv show prank. An MTV spokeswoman has said that the episode, which was filmed for the series pilot, has not aired and the series’ future is uncertain.

—Source: Reuters

But Was the Ham Hurt?

Suzanne Vasquez sued a Bradenton, Florida, Wal-Mart, claiming that a 13-pound ham hanging from a display fell on her head, causing her to develop epilepsy and migraine headaches. After hearing elaborate technical testimony from an engineering expert, who said the ham could not have fallen the way Vasquez said it did, and from a neurologist, who could find no signs of epilepsy, the jury found in favor of Wal-Mart. Vasquez, who had previously rejected a Wal-Mart settlement offer in her quest for a $500,000 award, is considering an appeal.

—Source: The Bradenton Herald

Pomp and Circumstance

A high school senior who failed her required English class was permitted to retake a test five hours before graduation after the family hired a lawyer and threatened to sue if the school did not take "whatever action necessary" to allow the student to graduate. Were litigation to have proceeded, the teacher would have had "all information regarding [her] background, [her] employment records, all of [her] class records, past and present and dealings with this and other students…" made public. Despite that threat, the teacher protested the test re-take, stating she had given opportunities for make-up work that were not attended, school policy does not allow for seniors to retake English tests and it would be unfair to other seniors who must attend summer school in order to receive their diplomas. An undisclosed school official made the decision to allow the student to retake the test, which she passed. Chris Thomas, director of the Arizona School Board of Legal Services, believes that the threat of lawsuits by parents is becoming more common, commenting that "[the parents] hope the school district will just give in because they just don’t want to go through litigation." The student, whose name was withheld for privacy purposes, was permitted to graduate with her class.

—Source: The Arizona Republic

Chocolate — A Clear and Present Danger?

The American Environmental Safety Institute has filed a lawsuit accusing chocolate makers of violating California’s Proposition 65 requiring manufacturers to warn consumers of products containing dangerous chemicals. The group alleges that chocolate contains "potentially dangerous levels of lead and cadmium," which can "retard mental development in children younger than six and … harm the fetuses of pregnant women." California Governor Gray Davis’ Prop. 65 advisory board, the FDA and other scientists have determined that chocolate products are safe. Michele Corash, attorney for the chocolate companies, asserts that this is nothing more than "shameless scare tactics" by the group. The institute’s lawsuit seeks, in addition to warning labels on all chocolate products, restitution for consumers and civil penalties as high as $2,500 per day per violation.

—Source: The San Diego Tribune


Michael Airington has filed suit against his former employer, JR’s Bar & Grill in Washington, DC. Airington, the drag queen host of "Feygele Fued" alleges that JR’s owner Eric Little is hindering his ability to advertise his show. "Feygele (which means homosexual in Yiddish slang) Feud," a spoof of television’s "Family Feud," is now playing at Hamburger Mary’s, another local eaterie. Little counter-sued, claiming that "Feygele Feud" was developed while Airington worked at JR’s and is Little’s "intellectual property," and is requesting that Hamburger Mary’s show be shut down. U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson (of Microsoft case fame) has directed the parties to settle the matter among themselves in 60 days.

—Source: Washington Post

Bite This

An unnamed plaintiff sued a Florida McDonald’s franchise and Tyson Foods claiming that he developed temporomandibular joint (TMJ) syndrome after biting into a chicken nugget. Alleging that chicken cartilage contained in the nugget caused his injury, he claimed "strict liability and negligence" and sought over $200,000 for medical bills and pain and suffering. The defense argued his condition had been pre-existing and a jury agreed, finding for both of the defendants.

—Source: The National Law Journal

Bringing Up Baby II

Heather Seslar has filed a lawsuit against her doctor and is seeking compensation for the cost of raising her child after becoming pregnant despite undergoing a sterilization procedure. Although Dr. Kenneth Chaffee has not been found negligent, Seslar’s complaint is currently being evaluated by Indiana’s medical malpractice review process to determine whether she has grounds to sue Chaffee in state court. Seslar’s lawyer, John Grimm, believes that if Chaffee is found to be negligent he should be responsible for damages equivalent to the cost of raising the child. Seslar is also asking the Indiana Supreme Court to give all Indiana residents the right to sue doctors for the "costs of raising an unexpected child" as a result of an improperly performed sterilization.

—Source: The Associated Press

Wildlife Watering Holes

A $41 million claim against the Department of Interior and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been filed by the families of eleven immigrants who died while illegally crossing the U.S. border from Mexico into Arizona. The claim alleges that the government agencies knew that there was a history of deaths in the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge and should have made water stations available to avoid death or serious injury to people crossing the border illegally. They also claim that the U.S. Border Patrol shut down easily accessible areas of the Arizona border which forced illegal aliens to enter through more dangerous territory. A humanitarian group requested, and was subsequently denied by the government, the placement of water stations in the area as provided for wildlife in other parts of the desert. A spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service denies that the placement of these water stations would have been able to help those who perished in the refuge since the proposed location of the water area was "12 miles and two mountain ranges away from where the migrants were found dead."

—Source: The Washington Times

Death, Taxes Still Not Optional

Steven Swan is suing former Libertarian presidential candidate Irwin Schiff for $7 million after having followed Schiff’s personal tax advice. Schiff believes that federal income tax is optional and spoke with Swan at great length to describe his theory. Swan alleges he read Schiff’s books, applied the theories to his own real estate business and began his own seminars to teach others how to avoid paying federal income tax. After being forced to close his business and having his bank accounts levied, Swan unsuccessfully tried Schiff’s suggestion to sue the IRS in retaliation. Now Swan believes Schiff is "guilty of misrepresentation, fraud and negligence." Schiff commented, "My books point out that I went to jail for four years…. If I told [Swan] to go rob a bank, would he do it? What is he, an idiot?"


"Say My Name… Say My Name…"

Frederick James, claiming to have copyrighted the use of his name, submitted a bill for $151 million to the judge and public defender in court proceedings to decide his competency to stand trial for drug and firearm possession violations. James alleges that his name was used 302 times during the court proceedings with a charge of $500,000 every time his name is written or spoken. U.S. copyright law does not allow names to be legally protected, despite James’ belief that his name is his "private property." U.S. District Judge Michael J. Reagan ruled that James is not mentally impaired and can represent himself against the marijuana and weapons charges.

—Source: Associated Press

Baby Name Law Unconstitutional?

Margaret McGilvray and Dan Redmond have filed suit against the District of Columbia, challenging the constitutionality of a law that is keeping them from receiving a birth certificate for their 3 month old son, Alexander. Margaret and Dan decided to give their baby Margaret’s surname as his last name and Dan’s surname as a middle name. However, a District regulation issued May 1, 2000, stipulates that in the case of married parents the baby must carry the paternal surname, and the Department of Health has rejected their application for a birth certificate for Alexander. The couple believes that this city rule violates their right to privacy, free speech and discriminates against women. "I’m not some strong-armed feminist trying to make my husband name our child after me," said Margaret McGilvray. "We would just like to name our son without the District of Columbia telling us what we can and can’t name him." They are requesting that the court mandate that the District drop the regulation and allow them to legally name their child as they choose — Alexander Hanley Redmond McGilvray.

—Source: The Washington Post

Not Yet a Woman, Not Quite a Man

The Kansas Supreme Court recently nullified J’Noel Gardiner’s marriage to now deceased Marshall Gardiner, rejecting any claims to his estate. In 1999, Gardiner, age 85, passed away without a will. Under Kansas state law J’Noel, age 40, was automatically given a portion of his $2.5 million estate. Gardiner’s estranged son, Joe, challenged J’Noel’s right to a share of the estate, alleging that the marriage was not valid in Kansas since J’Noel is a transsexual, and not legally a woman, despite extensive cosmetic surgery and a Wisconsin state-approved birth certificate identifying J’Noel as female. The judges’ decision read, "J’Noel remains a transsexual, and a male for the purposes of marriage under [Kansas] law. We recognize that there are people who do not fit neatly into the commonly recognized category of male or female…. However, the validity of J’Noel’s marriage to Marshall is a question of public policy to be addressed by the legislature and not by this court." It is unknown whether J’Noel Gardiner will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

—Source: Reason Magazine

Adoption Fraud?

George and Kathy Sirca are suing Medina County, Ohio for $1.6 million for compensation of medical bills and emotional distress as a result of raising their adopted son, John. After waiting on a list for three years, the county allowed the Sircas to adopt John, who had been their foster child. They allege that they were the victims of fraud because they county never informed them of his birth mother’s mental illnesses, which included schizophrenia and drug abuse. Diagnosed with bipolar and adjustment disorders, John is now unable to care for himself and the Sircas are unable to provide for him. His violent history dates as far back as grade school, with incidents such as pulling a knife on a classmate, stealing and drug abuse. County lawyers argue that children do not come with a warranty.

—Source: The Associated Press

"We Must, We Must, We Must Increase Our Bust"

Mathie Garcia sued her plastic surgeon, Gordon Mitts, for medical malpractice after breast reconstruction surgery in 1999. Garcia underwent the elective surgery to remove her implants and lift and reduce her breasts. She claimed that Mitts’ performed the surgery incorrectly, resulting in a larger breast size. Mitts alleged that he informed Garcia of the various surgical options and she chose the one that would cause the least scarring. He also stated that due to previous scarring and large breast cavities the use of larger implants was necessary. The jury found in favor of Mitts 9 — 3.

—Source: The National Law Journal

All Fired Up

Valerie Schwartz, of Vero Beach, Florida, sued Indian River County for negligence after allegedly being attacked by a swarm of fire ants that blew out of a public park restroom hand dryer. Schwartz claimed that while fending off the ants she fell on the concrete floor of the restroom, causing injury to her back, neck and knee. A jury deliberated for less than 30 minutes, determining her story was inconsistent, without enough evidence to support the claim. Lyman Reynolds, the attorney who represented the county, pointed out that hand dryers produce a lot of heat and are not a "nice, cozy environment for ants to live in," and there have been no other reported incidents. Schwartz’s lawyer, Russell Thacker, said he does not plan to appeal the verdict, seeing more and more an "inherent cynicism among potential jurors (about personal injury lawsuits)."

—Source: The Stuart News/Port St. Lucie News

Going Nuts Over Nuts

Ruth McHenry sued Longhorn Steaks after she slipped, fell and broke her leg in the Atlanta restaurant. McHenry claimed the restaurant created a hazard with its tradition of employees and customers throwing empty peanut shells on the floor. A Fulton County Superior Court judge had initially granted summary judgment for the restaurant, but in February the Georgia Court of Appeals reversed that decision, ruling a jury must decide whether or not the plaintiff exercised reasonable care. The court determined McHenry did not see the shells on the floor and the restaurant had "superior knowledge because it instituted and perpetuated such custom and practice." Judge Gary Andrews stated in his dissent that evidence of McHenry’s "equal knowledge of the condition was plain, palpable and undisputed."

—Source: The National Law Journal

Screaming Over Ice Cream

Wilbur Troutman of Hartford, Connecticut has filed suit against Mr. Softee truck owner Felix Rios, for violating the town’s noise ordinance. Troutman alleges that the music broadcast over the loudspeaker of Rios’ ice cream truck invades his privacy and is disruptive to the community, citing incidents including a wedding ceremony that was halted due to the noise interference. A Hartford ordinance prohibits audible amplification within 300 feet of a person and the use of loudspeakers for advertising, which Rios has been cited four times for violating. His attorney, Ron Johnson, claims that the ordinance is unconstitutional, violating Rios’ First Amendment right to free speech. He will be filing a motion to dismiss the case and is challenging the vagueness of the statute. Rios is facing up to 25 days in jail.

—Source: CNN

Mikey Doesn’t Like It

Loretta Smith has hired a lawyer and is claiming racial discrimination against Michael Jordan after he personally cancelled her book release party, which was to be held at Jordan’s Washington, D.C. restaurant. Smith’s book, "Mr. Jordan Goes to Washington," is a part-fact, part-fiction account of Michael Jordan’s life after the Bulls, including fictionalized stories of Michael Jordan’s domestic issues with wife Juanita, including gambling and adultery. Just before the big party, Michael Jordan allegedly ordered the restaurant to cancel the party and refund Smith her $750 deposit. Smith claims Jordan is "refusing to perform the contract on the basis of race." Estee Portnoy, spokeswoman for Michael Jordan commented, "It’s an unauthorized account about Mr. Jordan, and he felt that by hosting a book signing, it would appear as if he were endorsing it…. My understanding is that when the people at the restaurant made the agreement they didn’t know what the book was about."

—Source: The Washington Post

How About A Little Shake With Your Fries

Kelly Woods sued fast food restaurant, Burger Street, in Garland, Texas for malicious negligence after being served french fries seasoned accidentally with degreaser mistakenly put in a salt shaker. She claims that the chain failed to train its employees properly in the handling and labeling of hazardous chemicals. The employee responsible for the incident testified it had been a "stupid, honest mistake" and that she had been trained thoroughly by Burger Street. After two hours of deliberation, the jury found Burger Street was not liable.

—Source: The National Law Journal

"Do You Yahoooooooooooo?"

Wylie Gustafson is suing internet company Yahoo Inc. for copyright infringement of his yodel. In 1996 Gustafson was paid $590 to record the "Ya-hooo" yodel. He claims that he agreed to record his yodel for the internet start-up at lower than union rates for use in one commercial. Three years later he heard his yodel in a commercial during the Super Bowl and contacted Yahoo. He informed the company that he had not given permission for the yodel to be used in additional commercials. Yahoo sent him another check for $590, but has allegedly continued to use the yodel without permission from Gustafson. He commented, "They totally ignored the fact that it is a creation and it’s a copyrighted thing. They just ran with it.… Getting taken advantage of is part of the business. But this is way beyond the scope of what I consider fair." He is seeking $5 million in compensation. Yahoo did not comment on the pending litigation.

—Source: The Chicago Tribune

Swing Batter Batter

While pitching for his Pittsfield, Illinois High School baseball team, Daniel Hannant was struck in the head by a baseball. The opposing team’s batter hit a line drive directly at Hannant on the pitchers’ mound causing a serious head injury. He is suing the Louisville Slugger bat manufacturer, Hillerich & Bradsby, for more than $1 million. Hannant alleges that the design and construction of the aluminum AIR ATTACK bat was intended to hit a baseball faster and harder than the traditional wooden bat, and as a result he was unable to protect himself quickly enough to avoid being struck. Hannant claims that Hillerich & Bradsby failed to observe safety hazards and failed to adequately warn users of potential bodily injury.

—Source: The Chicago Tribune

"Let’s Get Drunk and Sue"

In March, 2000, while on spring break in Mexico, Amber Kulhanek was videotaped taking her shirt off in a wet t-shirt contest. When her image appeared a few months later on a late-night commercial for a "Wild Party Girls" video advertisement, she filed a $5 million lawsuit against the video producer, AccroMedia, for using the video without her consent. She claims that the embarrassment and harassment that resulted from friends and family seeing the commercial showing her with her bare breasts covered only by a red banner proclaiming "Too Hot For TV" caused her to drop out of school. She won her case when the defendant didn’t appear for the hearing. Last week, Judge Charles Ramsey threw the verdict out after determining that her lawyer, David Sergi, had incorrectly identified the video maker as both Acro Media and Arco Media in his complaint, in addition to not properly notifying the company of the court date. Judge Ramsey’s ruling allows for a new trial in the case. A lawyer for AccroMedia commented that privacy protection "does not extend to people who take their clothes off in public." Kulhanek alleges that the video maker encouraged her to drink excessively and she was incapable of consenting to being videotaped.

—Source: The Austin American Statesman

Donkeys, Elephants and Politics, OH MY!

The Washington, D.C. Statehood Green Party has filed for a temporary restraining order against the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities "Party Animals" project. The project, set to launch this month, has 200 plastic donkeys and elephants decorated by various artists that are ready to be placed throughout the city. After considering other symbols -- including pandas, squirrels and the Washington Monument -- the commission decided on the elephant and donkey theme as most appropriate. The Green Party believes that its icon, the sunflower, should also be included after the party received six percent of the D.C. vote in the last presidential election. Tony Gittens, the executive director of the commission, commented, "The ‘Party Animals’ project is an arts project. It’s not a political project."

—Source: The Washington Post

Shakedown that Booty

Meredith Berkman has filed a $50 million lawsuit against Robert’s American Gourmet Food, Inc., manufacturer of Pirate’s Booty, a rice and cheese snack food. Berkman claims "emotional distress" and alleges that the manufacturer’s misprinting of the nutritional values on Pirate’s Booty caused her "weight gain…mental anguish, outrage and indignation." Pirate’s Booty was recalled in January after the Good Housekeeping Institute found that instead of the 120 calories and 2.5 grams of fat per serving stated on the nutrition label, it contained 147 calories and 8.5 grams of fat. The company announced that the mistake was caused by new machinery that erred in three of its snacks — Pirate’s Booty, Veggie Booty and Fruity Booty. They have since adjusted the nutritional value of the snacks which now only contain 5 grams of fat per serving. A statement on their website announced, "These changes have made Pirate’s Booty a more consistent and better snack."

—Source: The Associated Press

"When the Moon Hits Your Eye…"

Gloria Gonzales sued CiCi’s Restaurant for injuries that occurred after she was allegedly hit in the head by a pizza pan on its way to a table while she was standing in the restaurant’s buffet line. She claimed that she suffered from whiplash and headaches as a result of her injury and was seeking $3,500 in medical expenses. Although Gonzales claimed that she informed an employee of the incident, CiCi’s had no record of it and countered that the incident could not have occurred as Gonzales alleges. They also asserted that even if it had occurred as she contended, that it was "virtually impossible to injure anyone with a pizza pan." The jury ruled unanimously that the restaurant was not negligent.

—Source: The National Law Journal

McCoy v. Hatfield

The legendary Hatfield and McCoy feud, which started in 1865, has moved its shoot outs from the hills of Kentucky to the courtroom. Bo and Ron McCoy have filed a lawsuit against John Vance, a Hatfield descendant, demanding the right to access a McCoy family cemetery which adjoins Vance’s property. The only entrance to the cemetery is on a 30-foot road that Vance claims is his driveway. Ron McCoy has determined from old deeds that the road was actually originally deeded to the cemetery. Despite a letter requesting admittance from Ron McCoy’s lawyer Joseph Justice (a Pikesville McCoy), Vance continues to restrict entry to the burial site and has numerous "No Trespassing" signs posted. The plot includes the graves of the infamous Tolbert, Pharmer and Randolph McCoy who were gunned down 119 years ago by the Hatfields. Bo McCoy commented on the suit saying, "We personally don’t think this is of interest only to the McCoys. A lot of Hatfields we’ve talked to want to see the site, too." There has been no comment on whether this dispute will affect recent attempts to reconcile the two families, including their annual three-day reunion picnic.

—Source: The Washington Times

Off With His…Television!

New York Federal Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein sentenced Edward Bello on a recent conviction of credit card theft. He ordered the removal of all seven television sets in Bello’s home for the duration of his 10-month home detention, in addition to the payment of 10 percent of Bello’s annual income to banks and merchants for restitution of the $27,000 in stolen credit card charges. Judge Hellerstein justifies the television ban as a way to "create a condition of silent introspection… to induce [Bello] to change his behavior, to adhere to the right and to eschew the wrong." Bello is appealing the decision, claiming it violates his First Amendment rights and constitutes censorship.

—Source: The Associated Press

"And the Winner Is…"

Barbara Scheurman has filed a lawsuit in Michigan’s 40th District Court against the Ms. St. Clair Shores teen pageant. Scheurman’s daughter, Jennifer, was a contestant in the event, but was not the lucky winner of the $200 savings bond and crown. The winner was 14-year old Gabriella Anderson who was permitted to repeat her dance routine to Jimi Hendrix’s "Fire" after running off the stage crying during her first attempt. Scheurman claims that she is not suing because her daughter didn’t win -- she believes the first runner-up in the contest deserves the title -- but to get back the money she has spent on her daughter’s past pageant entries because she feels the judging was tainted. Mary Jane Amicarelli, executive director of the pageant, denies the allegations. The contest has no affiliation with the Miss America pageant.

—Source: The Detroit Free Press

Too Many Deer for PETA?

On November 16, 2001, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) campaign members Dan Shannon and Jay Kelley were returning from an "anti-hunt tour" when a deer ran into the highway in front of their PETA-owned car, causing a collision. PETA’s legal counsel, Matthew Penzer, sent a letter to the director of New Jersey’s Division of Fish and Wildlife, Bob McDowell, notifying him that Kelley and Shannon were reserving "the right to bring an action for damages and/or injuries sustained" in the accident. The letter states PETA’s position that the state’s Department of Environmental Protection Fish and Wildlife Division and The Fish and Game Council are responsible "as a result of their deer management program, which includes, in certain circumstances, an affirmative effort to increase deer population." The total amount of damages is unknown. Damage to the car is reported to have exceeded $6,000, and was unusable for two months.

—Source: The Washington Times

Dwarf Tossing Suit Tossed

A judge has dismissed David Flood’s suit challenging a Florida law banning "dwarf tossing" (Click here to read previous Jester: Dwarf Seeks Right To Be Tossed). Judge Steven D. Merryday said the law Flood claimed was unconstitutional "neither prohibits nor permits any particular conduct," but only requires that the state liquor authority expand "rules prohibiting unspecified acts." With no rules currently on the books, Flood has no standing to sue. Flood commented after the ruling, "I’m going to have a toss." When the rules are enforced, Flood will sue based on his 14th Amendment rights to equal protection.

—Source: The National Law Journal

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