Divinity Student Has Bone to Pick with A Yale Dog

strange judicial opinions dog puns

It's a dog-eat-divinity student world.

A dog-bite case against the dean of the Yale Divinity School by a divinity student gave U.S. District Judge Gerard Goettel a chance to “let the dogs out” in an opinion leaving no possible wordplay on dogs unpenned or unpunned.

The main issue was whether the Yale Divinity School could be held strictly liable under the Connecticut dog-bite statute as a “keeper” of the dean’s offending canine, Rocky, a Labrador, because the dog was permitted to roam free in common areas of the divinity school residences and chapel.

The court held the dean strictly liable, but let the school off because it didn’t “control” the dog’s activities.

Here’s a compendium of Judge Goettel’s fun canine puns:

“In this dog eat dog world, anything is fair game for litigation in the federal courts.”

“As compensation for her injuries, plaintiff seeks to take a bite out of the defendants’ pocketbooks.”

“[The plaintiff], now an Episcopal priest with her own ministry, obviously has a bone to pick as her injuries required substantial medical care, and Rocky is clearly in the doghouse.”

“In dogged pursuit of damages for her trauma, she filed this suit ….”

“Hounded by Connecticut’s [dog-bite statute] ….”

“The [individual defendants] do not deny that they were keeping Rocky who apparently was not licensed to anyone but had a nose for trouble.”

 “Plaintiff’s analysis is essentially the tail wagging the dog.”

“Rocky’s having access to common areas, without more evidence indicating an intent to give refuge to the dog or to control the dog’s activities on the part of the School is not a sufficient basis to collar the Divinity School.”

As for Rocky, we don’t know his fate, but the judge did offer a weak defense for the nice face-biting doggie in a footnote:

1. There is no indication that Rocky, like the dog in Oliver Goldsmith’s Elegy on the Death of a Mad Dog, “to gain some private ends, went mad and bit the [wo]man.”

Post v. Annand, 798 F. Supp. 189, 190–91 & n.1, 192 (S.D.N.Y. 1992). Thanks to Lillian Gustilo.

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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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