Court Crosses Line in Making Fun of Mentally Ill Plaintiff

In Searight v. New Jersey, the plaintiff sued the State of New Jersey alleging that the state unlawfully injected him in the left eye with a radium electric beam. As a result, he asserted that someone began talking to him inside his brain.

The court rejected the claim as time-barred by the statute of limitations, but also observed that proper jurisdiction for unlicensed radio communications would lie with the FCC. The court also offered plaintiff a terribly insensitive self-help suggestion. Here’s an excerpt from the opinion:

The allegations, of course, are of facts which, if they exist, are not yet known to man. Just as Mr. Houdini has so far failed to establish communication from the spirit world …, so the decades of scientific experiments and statistical analysis have failed to establish the existence of ‘extrasensory perception’ (ESP). But, taking the facts as pleaded, and assuming them to be true, they show a case of presumably unlicensed radio communication, a matter which comes within the sole jurisdiction of the Federal Communications Commission, 47 U.S.C. § 151, et seq.

And even aside from that, Searight could have blocked the broadcast to the antenna in his brain simply by grounding it. See, for example, Ghirardi, Modern Radio Servicing, First Edition, p. 572, ff. (Radio & Technical Publishing Co., New York, 1935). Just as delivery trucks for oil and gasoline are ‘grounded’ against the accumulation of charges of static electricity, so on the same principle Searight might have pinned to the back of a trouser leg a short chain of paper clips so that the end would touch the ground and prevent anyone from talking to him inside his brain.

Sounds like poor Searight was suffering from schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is a cruel neurological brain disorder that affects 2.2 million Americans. is a fan of judicial humor, but this one never should have seen the light of day. Many of the most unusual and sometimes amusing judicial opinions occur because of the unusual or weird parties involved. But this court went out of its way to humuliate Searight. In fairness, it was 1976. Society has much more awareness of and sensitivity to mental illness, although we still have a long way to go. is a good source info about the condition suffered by people like Searight.

Searight v. New Jersey, 412 F. Supp. 413, 414–15 (D.N.J. 1976). Thanks to Lihwei Lin.

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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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