“Could You Love Me a Little Less, Judge?” (Kent)

Another ad hominem-laced love letter to lawyers from former U.S. District Judge Samuel Kent, Galveston, TX. This one was a maritime personal injury case in which defense counsel moved for summary judgment on behalf of his client Phillips Petroleum.

Note that, in insulting the lawyers throughout, Judge Kent emphasized that the lawyers for both sides were “likeable” and that he had “affection” for them:

[Judge Kent begins the order by stating the case, then proceeds as follows.]

[T]he Court notes that this case involves two extremely likable lawyers, who have together delivered some of the most amateurish pleadings ever to cross the hallowed causeway into Galveston, an effort which leads the Court to surmise but one plausible explanation. Both attorneys have obviously entered into a secret pact—complete with hats, handshakes and cryptic words—to draft their pleadings entirely in crayon on the back sides of gravy-stained paper place mats, in the hope that the Court would be so charmed by their child-like efforts that their utter dearth of legal authorities in their briefing would go unnoticed.

Whatever actually occurred, the Court is now faced with the daunting task of deciphering their submissions. With Big Chief tablet readied, thick black pencil in hand, and a devil-may-care laugh in the face of death, life on the razor’s edge sense of exhilaration, the Court begins.

[The court discusses summary judgment law, followed by several caustic remarks about the quality of defense counsel’s (representing Phillips) filings, including the statement that “[a] more bumbling approach is difficult to conceive.” Then the court tears into plaintiff’s counsel.]

Plaintiff responds to this deft, yet minimalist analytical wizardry with an equally gossamer wisp of an argument, although Plaintiff does at least cite the federal limitations provision applicable to maritime tort claims. … Naturally, Plaintiff also neglects to provide any analysis whatsoever of why his claim versus Defendant Phillips is a maritime action. Instead, Plaintiff “cites” to a single case from the Fourth Circuit.

Plaintiff’s citation, however, points to a nonexistent Volume “1886” of the Federal Reporter Third Edition and neglects to provide a pinpoint citation for what, after being located, turned out to be a forty-page decision. Ultimately, to the Court’s dismay after reviewing the opinion, it stands simply for the bombshell proposition that torts committed on navigable waters … require the application of general maritime rather than state tort law … The Court cannot even begin to comprehend why this case was selected for reference. It is almost as if Plaintiff’s counsel chose the opinion by throwing long range darts at the Federal Reporter (remarkably enough hitting a nonexistent volume!). …

Despite the continued shortcomings of Plaintiff’s supplemental submission, the Court commends Plaintiff for his vastly improved choice of crayon—Brick Red is much easier on the eyes than Goldenrod, and stands out much better amidst the mustard splotched about Plaintiff’s briefing. But at the end of the day, even if you put a calico dress on it and call it Florence, a pig is still a pig. Now, alas, the Court must return to grownup land. [Court resolves issue on its own.] …

Take heed and be suitably awed, oh boys and girls—the Court was able to state the issue and its resolution in one paragraph … despite dozens of pages of gibberish from the parties to the contrary! …

After this remarkably long walk on a short legal pier, having received no useful guidance whatever from either party, the Court has endeavored, primarily based upon its affection for both counsel, but also out of its own sense of morbid curiosity, to resolve what it perceived to be the legal issue presented. Despite the waste of perfectly good crayon seen in both parties’ briefing … the Court believes it has satisfactorily resolved this matter. Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED …

Bradshaw v. Unity Marine Corp., 147 F. Supp. 2d 668, 670–72 (S.D. Tex. 2001). Thanks to Ira Rosenau.

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Andrew Jay McClurg is a law professor whose teaching and research interests include tort law, products liability, legal education, privacy law and firearms policy. He holds the Herbert Herff Chair of Excellence in Law at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law.
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