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Morality tale

Almost a year ago, I highlighted the case of Burdge v. Supervalu Holdings.  Burdge had shopped at one of the defendant's stores, paid by credit card, and received a receipt which -- the horror, the horror -- contained the card's expiration date, in violation of Ohio's "credit card truncation" statute.  As I'd mentioned, Burdge was so outraged by this that he shopped at the same store a dozen more times, then sued them under the statute.

Turns out that Burdge and his lawyer had pulled the same scheme at numerous other stores.  The problem was that the statute required proof of actual damages, and Burdge had none.  The trial court in Supervalu threw out the lawsuit, just as courts had done in the previous cases.  This time, though, the 1st District also hit up Burdge and the lawyer for about $3,000 in sanctions, finding that the lawsuit and appeal were frivolous. 

In fact, as I also mentioned at the time, the apparent intent of the lawsuits was to use the statute to get retailers to pony up some money in order to avoid litigation.  In another case, a movie theatre had agreed to settle a case with the pair for $2,500; when the settlement check arrived a day late, the lawyer claimed the settlement was off, and demanded $5,000.  The defendant told the lawyer to get lost, the plaintiff sued, and the court threw it out, which was affirmed by the appellate court.  

Well, it appears that the lawyer has gotten himself a new client, as I'd suggested, but, as the 5th District's decision last week in Stromp v. Fifth Third Bank indicates, is sticking to the same routine.  This time, it was a lawsuit against a tavern.  The parties agreed to settle for $5,500, with payment due by May 30, 2006.  The plaintiffs didn't sign the agreement until May 31, but when payment wasn't made until a week later, the lawyer said the settlement was off, and continued the litigation. 

The plaintiffs even continued it after the court ruled that the settlement was valid and should be enforced.  The trial court didn't cotton to that, and ordered an award of over $10,000 in sanctions against the plaintiffs and their lawyer for pursuing the litigation after the settlement was ordered into effect.  The court of appeals affirmed.

Back in the Supervalu case, the concurring opinion noted

What is particularly disturbing about the contrived nature of this frivolous action, as discussed above, is that. . . an attorney, licensed to practice in this state and sworn as an Officer of the Court, would facilitate this type of exploitive litigation to the detriment of the defendant, the court system, and the practice of law in general.

Well, make mine a double.  Every time one of us files an idiot claim like this based upon some hypertechnical regulatory statute, or sues a school district because little Susie didn't make the cheerleading squad, or comes up with some absurd theory of relief like "reckless and negligent use of a bathtub," it makes the rest of us look like a bunch of cheap whores.  And, because it happens so damned often anymore, the public doesn't need much convincing on that score. 

If you went to law school so that you could file bullshit cases like these, you went for the wrong reason.  And if the courts decide to start hitting you up in the pocketbook for it, well, sooner or later maybe you'll learn your lesson from it.

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