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Op-Ed

Reality and illusion

April 18, 2022

It's bad enough that I have a surly cat. I don't want her suing me. Also, you shouldn't try tricks on a trickster.

Milt Policzer

By Milt Policzer

Courthouse News columnist; racehorse owner and breeder; one of those guys who always got picked last.

One of my cats doesn’t like to be touched. Should she sue me for harassment because I keep trying to fondle her? Should I sue her for failure to pay rent?

Cats are not people but neither are corporations. The same is true for lakes. I was reminded of this last week after The New Yorker posted an article about a lake, a marsh and two streams in Florida suing to stop a construction project.

I can empathize. I wouldn’t want to have buildings put up on me either.

Before discussing this further, I have to stop for a moment to think about a lake, a marsh and a stream walking into a bar. The bartender refuses to serve them and says, “You guys have had enough to drink.”

Sorry. My mind had to go there. And now back to the serious subject at hand.

Why shouldn’t lakes and trees and animals have just as much right to sue as corporations or trusts? Are they any less human? I think you could argue that corporations are less human (and less worthy) than lakes and cats and they get to sue. It doesn’t seem fair.

I should note that the New Yorker piece kind of gives the wrong impression of the Florida lawsuit. The headline reads: “A Lake in Florida Suing to Protect Itself.”

But the suit, filed in Circuit Court in Orlando a bit less than a year ago, quotes an Orange County (the one in Florida) charter amendment that says that public agencies and citizens of the county “shall have standing to bring an action in their own name or in the name of the Waters” to stop pollution. So the bodies of water aren’t really suing — but we knew that already.

Be that as it may, the concept is that people could sue on behalf of anything, real or fictional. That’s just as well — lakes and dogs are notorious for not paying their legal bills.

The immediate problem I see with this is that people — or bodies of water and animals — could sue back. The Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico have a lot to answer for.

I badly want to see precedent set in Cat v. Dog.

Maybe, just maybe, we ought to bring litigation back into the realm of reality. We don’t need these legal fictions. Human beings should be allowed to sue to protect the environment whether they live in that particular environment or not. We’re all, at least indirectly, affected by the degradation of the planet.

There are other legal fictions we can do without. My pet peeve — on whose behalf I’d like to sue — is corporations. Would we have had an opioid crisis if people rather than fiction could be held liable? Why isn’t anyone from the Perdue Pharma family being tried for mass murder? Why aren’t damages for misleading stock sales coming out of the pockets of the real human misleaders?

Personal consequences might be a better deterrent of a lot of bad stuff.

But I could be wrong. Maybe the planet should sue all of humanity. We probably deserve it.

Now you see it. Those of you who enjoy magic will want to avoid reading a ruling from the Nevada Supreme Court called Cox v. Copperfield that appeared (not magically) last week. It explains a trick by magician David Copperfield. The illusion will be spoiled.

Also spoiled, according to the ruling, was the trick apparently used by a guy who sued Copperfield because he was injured while volunteering for a magic trick. He showed up in court apparently needing help walking — but got caught on video walking without any help outside the court.

Yet another trick spoiled.

It’s probably not a good idea to try to fool a professional magician.

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