Weakest Argument in Appellate History?

Stressed out that you just lost a case and have weak grounds for appeal? Cheer up. It could be worse. What if your strongest argument on appeal was that your client’s name was typed in all capital letters in the trial court documents?

That was the situation in R v. Linehan, a case from the Alberta (Canada) Court of Queen’s Bench, where a defendant convicted for failing to file a tax return pinned his appellate hopes on the argument that his name should not have been spelled in all capital letters. Here are some excerpts from his argument:

1. There is no jurisdiction to tax the flesh and blood, of the lawful natural person.

2. GORDON LINEHAN in the charges is a fictional artificial person’s name.

3. GORDON LINEHAN is outside the definition of a proper noun.

4. A proper noun would spell my proper lawful name Gordon Linehan.

5. The new Oxford Dictionary of English published by the Oxford university Press, 1998, states:

Proper Noun. Noun. A name used for an individual person, place or organization spelled with an initial capital letter, e.g. Jane London.

Name Noun. Noun 1. A word or set of words by which a person, animal, place or thing is known, addressed, or referred to: my name is a Parsons, John Parson.

6. The Newbury House Dictionary of American English, published by Monroe Allen Publishers, Inc., 1999, states: “Name N. 1. (C) A word by which a person, place or thing is known. Her name is Diane Daniels.”

7. Plain English. A guide to Standard Usage and Clear Writing. Prentice – Hull Canada Inc. publishers. C. Edward Collins, and Hugh D. Reads, the authors. Both authors are from the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, otherwise known by the acronym (NAIT). Chapter 2 states: Every noun can be classified as either a proper noun or a common noun. A proper noun names a particular person or thing. It begins with a letter. Examples are: Emily, Ford, and December, note capital letters for the first letter, lower case letter for the following. A common noun identifies a person or thing in a general way. It begins with a small letter unless it is at the beginning of a sentence. Examples are: month, car, and education.

8. I found no example in any recognized reference book that specifies or allows the use of all capitalized names, proper or common nouns.

9. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), publication SP-7084 states at chapter 4 in the introduction 4.1 “First we should define terms used when discussing capitalization.” …

Those who lack faith in the legal system, take heart! The argument did not succeed.

R. v. Lineham, (2000) 276 A.R. 383 (Can. Alta Q.B.). Thanks to David Cheifetz

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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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