Our Self-Help Santa dropped off a bundle of issues yesterday that we’ve seen before here at shlep. Rather than further interrupt our last-minute wrapping and packing, we’re going to quickly say “Have a great, self-actualized, Merry Christmas,” and pass these chestnuts on to you while they’re still warm.
In a post Friday morning at Overlawyered.com, titled “Teri Smith Tyler v. Carter, pro se” (Dec. 22, 2006), Walter Olson outdid his website teammate Ted Frank’s recent recycling of stale pro se case. As we noted four days ago, Ted spotlighted the “whacky,” two-year-old, Ward v. Arm & Hammer case last week (as did ATL‘s David Lat). Walter took his time machine back yet another decade, after a reader reminded him of the Tyler case (opinion, 151 F.R.D. 537), which was decided in the Southern District of New York in 1993.
According to Judge Charles S. Haight, Ms. Tyler filed a complaint “alleging a bizarre conspiracy involving the defendants to enslave and oppress certain segments of our society. Plaintiff contends she is a cyborg, and that she received most of the information which forms the basis for her complaint, through ‘proteus’, which I read to be some silent, telepathic form of communication.” It’s another amusing pro se suit, alright, but — as I wrote in a Comment at Overlawyered — Walter left out two very important points:
- The need to drag up such an old decision helps demonstrates just how rare these “whacky” pro se cases are in reality; and
- Judge Haight handled this case appropriately, creating a very good precedent. Explaining why he chose to dismiss the case sua sponte [on his own, rather than at the request of the parties] as frivolous, Judge Haight’s opinion states: “A plaintiff asserting fantastic or delusional claims should not, by payment of a filing fee, obtain a license to consume limited judicial resources and put defendants to effort and expense. . . . The author of claims as irrational as these cannot be regarded as subject to the economic incentive to refrain from frivolous actions imposed by filing fees and court costs upon rational paying litigants. Similarly, a sua sponte dismissal of a complaint such as this cannot reasonably be said to deprive such a plaintiff of the opportunity of “clarifying his factual allegations so as to conform with the requirements of a valid legal cause of action.” Neitzke [v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319] at 329-30. If this Court cannot order sua sponte dismissal of this complaint under Rule 12(b)(6), no district court can ever dismiss sua sponte any complaint under the Rule. I do not think that is the law.”
The right to file your case without a lawyer is no different than all the other rights we have as Americans: it can and will be abused on occasion, but it is far too important and central to our liberties to be unreasonably curtailed in general in an attempt to prevent the rare abuses. When everyone can be his or her own lawyer, some folk might think we are indeed “way overlawyered,” but we shleppers believe it means that we’re marvelously un-lawyered when we choose to be.
Meanwhile, over at Volokh Conspiracy (the well-deserved winner as the Best Law Blog in The 2006 Weblog Awards), Todd Zywicki wonders “Why Such a Large Drop in Bankruptcy Filings?” (Dec. 20, 2006; via Carolyn Elefant at Legal Blog Watch) Prof. Zywicki posits a few possible reasons and asks readers for their ideas and Comments. As we stated in our “bankruptcy law self-help” posting on Oct. 16, much of the reduction in filing since the new bankruptcy law went into affect in 2004 can surely be explained by the public’s misunderstanding of the bankruptcy new Act (BAPCPA) — a situation welcomed by many proponents of the so-called reform. Far too many people do not understand that Sec. 7 is still available to anyone making less than the median income in their state. In addition, potential bankruptcy petitioners are often deterred these days by the new, higher fees charged by lawyers since the more-complicated BAPCPA procedures went into effect. (also see the Comment to the VC post by Scott B. Riddle, of the Georgia Bankruptcy Law Blog)
Attorney Lawrence Savell also has a question for readers: “Is you blog exposing you to legal liability?” (Law.com, Dec. 22, 2006). After noting the explosion in the use of weblogs, Savell states “as usually is the case with such rapid adoption of technology and communication ability, there is the potential for legal liability.” This article promises “a brief overview of some of the major legal issues presented” in the operation of a weblog. If those issues interest or affect you, we suggest going directly to a more readable and useful source: The EFF Legal Guide for Bloggers, created by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. And, if you are interested in podcasting, don’t forget the online version of the Podcasting Legal Guide (Creative Commons, 2006), which is also available in paperback from from Lulu ($10.83, 42 pp.).
If you’re running late and are about to send e-cards to folks on your Christmas correspondence list (or, if your holiday spirits need a bit of lifting), we suggest a quick stop at the Season’s Greetings Whacky Warning, which is posted by the gents at Michigan Lawsuit Abuse Watch, and is as funny this year as when it was first written. You’ll be sure to offend (and inspire) no one, with their well-filtered and over-lawyered message.
Finally, I need to do a little holiday recycling of my own — sending you the gift of “real” haiku poetry, which can be found at the 2004 Holiday haiku and senryu posting at my original weblog, f/k/a. It contains a couple dozen fine “one-breath” poems, by some of the world’s best English-language haiku poets. Each poem is dedicated to a weblogger at a law-related weblog, but is there to be shared by all. Merry Christmas, and just pass that fruitcake to the person on your left.