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Tales Stranger than Fiction:

"Get That (Ripped Off) Feeling. Toyota."

Thousands of customers who were victims of an alleged sales tax scam filed a class action suit against a Tennessee Toyota dealership where they claim salespersons were trained to cheat them out of $2,000 each. The dealership denies the allegations, but settled the suit by giving $1,200 coupons toward the purchase of a new car to the customers. The coupons will expire in March, 2004. The lawyers who brought the suit will receive $1.3 million dollars. The state division of consumer affairs also received an undisclosed cash settlement. Tyrone King, a former finance manager with the dealership who went public with the scheme said, "I think the customers should be refunded some money. I don’t think a coupon means anything to them. Ninety percent of them can’t even buy another car in two years anyway."

—Source: The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN)

"Pocket Full of Kryptonite"

DC Comics has filed suit against hair care company Wella Corp. over its new hair gel called "Kryptonite." DC Comics alleges Wella’s trademark infringement is "usurping the commercial magnetism of Superman." Wella Corp. insists that its gel, which went on sale in January, has "only positive effects on human beings." The company makes no claim for its effect on Superman.

—Source: The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN)

Just Sue It

Herman Williams has filed a lawsuit against the athletic shoe store Foot Action, claiming that when he went to the store for an advertised sale on a new Michael Jordan sneaker he was trampled by a crowd that stormed the entrance. Williams alleges that the store was negligent because it "took no action to control the crowd or ensure an orderly sale." Williams is seeking over $15,000 for "pain and suffering of both a physical and mental nature." Williams’ wife, Mary, is also suing, claiming she has been "deprived of her husband’s services, comfort, society and attention" as a result of his alleged injuries.

—Source: The Tampa Tribune

Suing Fahrfegnugen

New York’s Court of Appeals ruled that Shauna Alami can sue automobile manufacturer Volkswagen for liability in her husband’s fatal car accident. Silhadi Alami was driving a 1989 Jetta while drunk (his blood alcohol content was twice over the legal limit) crashing into a utility pole. Mrs. Alami is claiming that the Jetta was defective because it was not equipped with lap belts and part of the frame was not "crashworthy" and these defects caused the fatal injuries in an accident her husband otherwise would have survived. In his lone dissent to the ruling Judge Albert Rosenblatt cited a previous state court decision that ruled a commission of a crime precluded recovering damages in an accident. The appeals court ruling does not exclude the driver’s intoxication from being an issue in the case, but allows the lower court to decide on comparative fault of the driver and Volkswagen.

—Source: The Associated Press

Colin Kennedy’s "European Vacation"

Colin Kennedy, a sophomore at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, is suing the school for discrimination and mental anguish. Macalester denied his application to study abroad in Germany because he did not maintain the required 2.5 grade point average during his first two semesters. Kennedy alleges that the school is at fault for his low GPA, because it did not accommodate his depression, which he claims is a disability. Kennedy is currently traveling on his own in Europe waiting for the court to reconsider an injuction (already denied by one judge) that would allow him to join his classmates in Germany for the remainder of the program. The family is also seeking an undisclosed amount in monetary damages.

—Source: The Pioneer Press

"Hey Now You’re a Rock Star, Get the Show On, Get Paid"
-- Smashmouth

Merrily Goodell is accusing pop band manager Lou Pearlman of violating child labor laws. Goodell alleges in her complaint filed with the Florida Department of Labor that when her sons, Clay and Ryan, were members of the now-defunct band, "Take 5," Pearlman violated multiple statutes, including prohibition from working more than 6 consecutive days, before 7:30 a.m. or after 6:00 p.m., and failing to notify parents of their children’s activities. Goodell also claims that her sons’ royalties have never been paid from the two albums produced by the band. Pearlman’s company, Trans Continental Entertainment, is under investigation by Florida authorities. He alleges that, along with two other record companies, $2 million was spent in start up costs for the band, including advances, recording costs, wardrobe, education and meals. Trans Continental Vice President Scott Bennett commented, "Merrily Goodell is obviously fishing for something, whether it’s money or whether she’s jealous or upset that her boys didn’t become rich and famous like some of the other bands Lou has worked with." The company claims that any royalties went to offsetting expenses for development of the band. Pearlman has also been involved in litigation with other bands he has represented, such as the Backstreet Boys and ‘N Sync, over contract disputes and accusations of deception.

—Source: The Associated Press

Fit or Fat?

Jennifer Portnick of San Francisco, California has filed a discrimination complaint against a leading exercise company, Jazzercise, Inc., after they denied her franchise application to become a fitness instructor. Jazzercise rejected her application until she develops "a more fit appearance." Maureen Brown, director of franchise programs said, "Jazzercise sells fitness… People must believe Jazzercise will help them improve, not just maintain their level of fitness. Instructors must set an example and be the role models for Jazzercise enthusiasts." Portnick, however, believes that her situation falls under San Francisco’s "short and fat" law which says that weight cannot be a factor in hiring if the job can be performed and commented, "I wanted to be judged on my merits, not on my measurements." Portnick is reported as weighing 240 pounds and wearing a size 18. She currently teaches six high-energy, low-impact classes per week and is certified by the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America. San Francisco’s Human Rights Commission will mediate the complaint.

—Source: The San Francisco Chronicle

Heads I Win, Tails You Lose

Norman Bresinski is considering filing judicial misconduct charges against Michigan Circuit Court Judge Helen Brown. Bresinski had temporary custody of his grandchildren during a bitter custody dispute between his daughter and her ex-husband, David Bousquette, which resulted in custody being awarded to Bousquette just before Christmas. Unable to agree on a Christmas visitation schedule with the children, the parties went before Judge Brown, who flipped a coin to decide this dispute. Custody over Christmas was awarded to Bousquette, who won the toss calling "heads." Bresinski, a former police sergeant commented, "In 22 years of being in local, state and federal courts, I’ve never seen anything like this. She made a mockery of the judicial process."

—Source: The Associated Press

This Little Piggy Went to Town

Steven Thompson of Painesville, Ohio, was arrested for disorderly conduct after shouting obscenities at a county police officer and calling him a "pig." Thompson pleaded guilty to the charges and Judge Michael Cicconetti sentenced him, instead of jail time, to stand for two hours in a pen with a 350-pound pig on a city sidewalk while holding a sign that read "This is not a police officer." The award-winning purebred pig was loaned to the city by a local farmer.

—Source: The Associated Press

Fire in the Court

Silverio Moreno of New York is suing Pearl Gordon, the owner of Long Island General Supply Co. for injuries Moreno allegedly received in a fire that occurred at the hardware store. Despite the fact that the fire began after Moreno’s son and a friend vandalized the building and knocked over a can of gasoline, Moreno claims the store "carelessly and negligently caused the building to explode." Moreno discovered the boys at the scene while the fire was blazing and instructed them not to say anything about it. Randy Gordon, who runs the store commented, "This mad guy is suing us after his son was trespassing on my property, painting graffiti and spilling their gasoline under our door?" Moreno is seeking $2 million for unspecified injuries.

—Source: The New York Post

Robbing Peter to Pay Paul

Donald S. Guthrie was arrested in January, 2002 after robbing the M & T Bank in Avis, Pennsylvania at gun point. While Guthrie was fleeing the scene of the crime, he crashed his car and hitched a ride with an unwitting "Good Samaritan" who later saw a news report on the robbery and turned Guthrie in to police and told them where he lived. When Guthrie was questioned about the robbery he claimed he had only robbed the bank to stay out of jail. He needed the money to cover a post-dated check he had written to his bail bondsman for earlier charges he was facing on burglary of a coin-operated laundry.

—Source: The Associated Press

Smooth Move

Raymond Jastrzab was tired of his co-workers allegedly eating his homemade lunches. To teach them a lesson, he decided to bring in brownies with an extra kick. They were laced with laxatives, and Jastrzab left them out on the table in the company dining room. John Anthony saw the brownies and helped himself, only to later suffer from severe nausea, dehydration, diarrhea and cramps so severe that he sought medical attention. Jastrzab was fired after the incident, and a court ruled that he was guilty of willful misconduct and ineligible for unemployment. Anthony is also now suing him for an undisclosed amount of damages for his pain and suffering.

—Source: Associated Press

Jailhouse Rock

Robert Lewis Brown decided to marry his girlfriend while he was being held in a Genesee County, New York, jail awaiting extradition to California for parole violations. Officer Eric Olson discovered after the jailhouse wedding that Brown was not only a "fugitive from justice" but from his first wife in California who had been sending letters to various sheriffs departments in New York state searching for him. Brown has since been arraigned on additional felony charges in Genesee County of bigamy and falsifying the marriage license.

—Source: Associated Press

TLC — Tender Loving Cash

Kaziah Hancock sued the True and Living Church of Jesus Christ of Saints of the Last Days (also known as TLC), in Manti, Utah, for breach of contract. Hancock, a former member of the church, sold her home in 1996 and donated over $200,000 from the sale to TLC, following the doctrine of the church that members should turn their wealth over to the church, in return for promises -- including meeting Jesus Christ in the flesh. Jim Harmston, founder and prophet, also promised the church would purchase a home for her close to the church. After making only one payment on the new home, Harmston claimed to have had a revelation that forbade the church from continuing any payment. Don Redd, representing Hancock, submitted notes that described the property agreement which he claims constituted a written contract. Hancock was awarded $270,000 by a jury. Mark Middlemas, attorney for Harmston said they will appeal. The pastor’s wife, Elaine Harmston, was quoted saying, "God’s people have always been persecuted and right now is no different."

—Source: The Salt Lake Tribune

Upsetting the Apple Cart

George and Carol Trickett moved their family to the countryside of Orwell, Vermont seeking peace and quiet. They are now suing their neighbor, Peter Ochs who owns the apple orchard next door. The Tricketts claim that Ochs’ orchard generates excessive truck traffic, foul odors and pollution. Ben Davis, with the Vermont Public Interest Research Group believes that parents should have a right to protect their family’s health and that they should not have to be told "I’m sorry, but this is a farm and this farmer can do what he wants." Rep. Don Davish (R — Cavendish), expressing his concerns over the now common situation in Vermont with families leaving urban areas for the countryside only to come head to head with the farmers who have been there for generations, commented, "The thing that disturbs me is that people move here after an operation has been here for years. They should not have the right to complain." The Vermont State Supreme Court has agreed to hear the dispute between the Tricketts and Mr. Ochs.

—Source: The Associated Press

Are Those Real or On Loan?

Jennifer Gilpen, a former waitress at The Jacksonville Landing Hooters in Florida, wanted breast augmentation surgery, but she couldn’t afford it. So Somchart "Nick" Fungcharoen, a retired engineer on disability from the Army Corps of Engineers, and a regular customer of hers, offered to pay for the surgery because "she served me and was nice to me." Fungcharoen now claims that the $3,940 he charged to his government-issued credit card for the implants was only a loan and she is avoiding his requests for repayment. Gilpen, now a police officer with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, alleges that Fungcharoen never told her it was a loan and during the months after her surgery while she continued to serve him, he never requested any payment from her. Fungcharoen admits that there was no signed contract and is awaiting Judge Harold C. Arnold’s decision in small claims court.

—Source: The Florida Times-Union

Take the Money and (Don’t) Run

Jeffrey and Kimberly Clark of Brunswick, Maine owned and operated a website selling Beanie Babies. In September, 2001, Oklahoma Coin Exchange, Inc. purchased their website for $37,750. But a bank error credited the Clark’s account for the amount of $377,750 and before First Union Bank could correct the mistake, the Clarks went on a month-long spending spree, shopping at Victoria’s Secret, paying off credit card debt, and purchasing inventory for another Beanie Baby venture. First Union Bank has filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court to recover the money, but the Clarks’ lawyer, John F. Barnicle, claims that they never intended to keep the money and planned on repaying the bank once the amount owed was established. "I disagree with the bank’s characterization that the Clarks went on a spending spree. If they felt they were in the wrong, then why are they still living in Brunswick? Why didn’t they just take off with the money?" he commented. A federal judge has frozen their assets until the suit reaches trial.

—Source: The Associated Press

Bringing Up Baby

Barbara Newman and David Rosenthal, a former couple from Golden, Colorado could not reach an agreement on their daughter’s name, so they went to court to have a judge decide. Kyleigh Madison Ella Newman is the name on her birth certificate, but Rosenthal wanted his name hyphenated with Newman’s to reflect his parentage. Newman felt that as the primary caregiver, the last name of the baby should be the same as hers and offered to insert Rosenthal as the fourth in the series of five names, claiming that Kyleigh already was learning and responding to her original name. Rosenthal argued that was inconsequential and commented, "Quite frankly, she responds to ‘Punkinhead,’ too." Jefferson County District Judge Stephen Munsinger ruled in favor of Rosenthal and ordered his name to be hyphenated with Newman’s. The court battle cost both the unemployed mother and father over $30,000 in legal fees.

—Source: Associated Press

Steal From the Rich and Give to Your Friends

John Loan of Manhattan, New York, is accused by his employer, Alliance Capital, of embezzling more than $3 million and has been indicted by a grand jury on charges of grand larceny. Loan was a banquet manager for Alliance, with a salary of $225, 000, accused of submitting false bills from a fictitious company that he created called Beautiful Parties. His lawyer, Arthur Aidala, alleges that the only purchase Loan made for personal use was a stereo and the rest of the money went to helping others "in need." Friends who testified in court on his behalf dubbed him "Robin Hood." Included in his claims of charity are paying for friends’ medical expenses, trips to the healing waters at the shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes in Italy, scholarship money, rent, a record label company and contributions to Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign. Loan is currently being held on $1 million bail.

—Source: The New York Post

Not a Criminal, Just Playing One in the Movies

Alleged mobster Danny Provenzano of Bergen County, New Jersey, claims that the charges brought against him on racketeering and conspiracy to commit murder are made up by his accusers and that he only portrays a criminal as an actor in a movie. Prosecutors allege that Provenzano, great-nephew of the late Anthony "Tony Pro" Provenzano of the Genovese crime family, used violence, kidnapping and death threats to extort $1.5 million from a former business associate. Provenzano’s recently released mafia movie "This Thing of Ours" depicts a New Jersey crime family that he stars in with some scenes that refer to the criminal charges and his indictment. "It’s fiction… Organized crime, from what I know, does not exist," insisted Provenzano. He faces up to 60 years if convicted.

—Source: Associated Press

Blowing Smoke at The Fatty Shack

Brian Lee Morrison’s shop, The Fatty Shack, sold water pipes (also known as "bongs"), screens and related items at Bill’s Flea Market in Virginia Beach, Va. In 1999, a state trooper informed Morrison that he was in violation of a law that prohibits the sale of drug paraphernalia. When the state trooper returned to inspect Morrison’s shop only to discover he had increased his inventory of illegal drug paraphernalia, he charged Morrison with violating the law. After conviction on the misdemeanor, Morrison appealed, claiming that the items were clearly intended for tobacco use only and he didn’t know they were being purchased for illegal use. Morrison argued that a sign posted in his store stating that a customer’s use of certain language, such as "bong" or "weed," would result in removal from the premises protected him. The appeals court upheld the charge, with Circuit Judge H. Thomas Padrick stating, "If I put a sign on a dog that says ‘I’m a cat,’ that doesn’t mean it’s a cat." Morrison’s lawyer, Michael J. Woods, believes that the case could end up in the Virginia State Supreme Court on constitutional grounds.

—Source: The Associated Press

The Herky Jerky

Carl Youngblood went to a convenience store to purchase beef jerky. The clerk at the store became suspicious when Youngblood lingered in the aisle while making his selection. After Youngblood purchased a canister of jerky and proceeded to leave the store, the clerk detained him, alleging he had removed jerky from another canister and added it to the canister he had purchased. Youngblood was arrested for shoplifting, but the charges were dismissed. He then sued the convenience store for violating his civil rights. The trial court granted summary judgment to the convenience store, adding that Youngblood may have a tort rather than contractual cause of action for the jerky he had purchased that was confiscated at his arrest.

—Source: The National Law Journal

The Customer is Always Right — Most of the Time

In December, 1998, Lynne Meyer went to Wal-Mart in Montgomery, Alabama, to make a quick purchase. She was in a rush and when faced with long lines, she asked management to open another checkout line. When the Wal-Mart clerk, Valerie Watts did not open her register fast enough, Meyer asked if she could hurry up. Watts opted to take her time even more slowly, to which Meyer responded by hitting her. The clerk then grabbed Meyer by the hair and struck her head numerous times. She was fired for violating Wal-Mart’s no-fighting policy. Although Meyer sued Wal-Mart over the incident, a jury found in favor of the retailer. Meyer appealed to the State Supreme Court, but they upheld the original verdict with the determination of the jury that Watts’ actions were "wholly personal motives having no relation to the business."

—Source: The National Law Journal

[Posted: January 11, 2002]

Give Me a "P"
Give Me a "E"
Give Me a "R"
Give Me a "V"

Forty-four former Philadelphia Eagles Cheerleaders have filed suit for damages against members of 29 NFL teams. The cheerleaders claim that from 1983 to this year, players of visiting teams spied on them while they showered and dressed through a hole in a door which separates the cheerleaders’ shower room from the visiting team locker room and also through cracks in the walls. The plaintiffs’ lawyer, Michael J. McKenna, said, "If you put your eye up to it, you can see plenty." The cheerleaders allege that it was considered "one of the special perks of being a visiting team of the Eagles." Neither the NFL nor the players have given any response to the lawsuit. The Eagles are not listed as a defendant, presumably because they did not use the visiting team locker room.

—Source: Newsday

[Posted January 11, 2002]

Making Lemonade Out of Lemons

George Mantis, of Cobb County, Georgia, took his 2001 Volkswagen GTI to Jim Ellis Motors for some minor repairs. Mantis alleges that his car problems were not satisfactorily addressed by the dealership and complained to other Volkswagen owners in an Internet post on a VW website. Jim Ellis Motors responded to the posting with a lawsuit against Mantis for libel and a request for a restraining order against him and the website host. Ultimately, the dealership and Mantis settled out of court. According to another website posting by Mantis, Jim Ellis Motors apologized to Mantis and pledged "renewed commitment to customer care."

—Source: The Atlanta Journal and Constitution

[Posted January 11, 2002]

Sex, Drugs and Barbeque

In January, 2000, after a night of drinking and smoking marijuana, Greg Harvey of Texas decided he wanted to satisfy his party-induced munchies with some barbeque from an after-hours club. He made a u-turn which resulted in a car accident with Keith Broadnax who sustained neck and head injuries. Broadnax sued Harvey for punitive damages despite Harvey’s denial of liability. However, when Broadnax’s lawyer asked Harvey, "...[A]s you were headed for the after-hours club, you didn’t care how many people you hurt, or how many people you killed. All you cared about was getting that barbeque, right?" to which Harvey replied, "Right." Broadnax was awarded $25,000.

—Source: The National Law Journal

[Posted January 4, 2002]

Guest Unleashes Lawsuit on Hostess

In December of 1998, Bren Norris was visiting Casol Wright in her Pacifica, California home. While returning one evening from walking Wright’s dog, Norris tripped and fell in the driveway over the 4-foot dog leash causing her to lose consciousness. Her injuries — a swollen eye and severe headaches — were diagnosed as "post-concussive syndrome." Norris sued her hostess, alleging that her fall was caused by Wright’s negligence in controlling her dog when the dog ran in front of them and Wright yanked the leash, resulting in Norris’ fall. Wright denied negligence, claiming that Norris ran up the driveway and inexplicably lost her footing, causing her to fall. A jury awarded Norris $140,000.

—Source: The National Law Journal

[Posted January 4, 2002]

For more Tales Stranger than Fiction,
visit The Jester's Courtroom Archive:
2001: July/Aug ll Sept ll Oct ll Nov ll Dec

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