Cat paws & baby formula

March 25, 2009
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From IL reporter Michael Hoskins:

Every so often, court rulings offer hidden treasurers that tickle the mind with intrigue rather than simple legalese and legal theory. Take Wednesday's two examples from the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. Neither appeal stems from Indiana, but attorneys and readers in general can appreciate the decisions and the humor, mystery, and just fun-natured elements contained within.

It all comes down to “cat paws” and 81,454 cans of powered baby formula.

The first case comes from the Eastern District of Wisconsin, in the appeal of grocery wholesaler Kaloti Wholesale. Judge Richard Posner is the author. But the fun comes with the full title: United States of America, Plaintiff, v. Approximately 81,454 Cans of Baby Formula, Defendant. In case you aren't sure, "defendant" is appropriately attached clarifying any confusion about who or what’s being sued here. The case itself involves a February 2007 warehouse raid that uncovered the many thousands of cans of powered baby formula, which agents believed were stolen from retailers. Labels with the "use by" date were stripped off or altered. The government filed a civil forfeiture suit that's still pending in District Court, but the appellant asked the judge for permission to sell the baby formula on grounds that its "use by" dates were approaching - 80 had already expired, and the rest are slated for expiration by year's end.

Judge Lynn Adelman denied the motion on the ground that the sale might endanger any babies who ate it, and this appeal soon followed. Judge Posner and his panel affirmed that decision.

A second 7th Circuit decision today comes out of the Central District of Illinois in Vincent E. Staub v. Proctor Hospital, an Illinois corporation. This is a military-leave suit filed under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Act, with Staub claiming the hospital wrongly fired him as an angiography technologist. He alleged the hospital discriminated against him based on his Army reservist role, not the insubordination, shirking, and attitude problems cited in his termination.

Authored by Judge Evans, the opinion begins:

"One would guess that the chances are pretty slim that the work of a 17th century French poet would find its way into a Chicago courtroom in 2009. But that’s the situation in this case as we try to make sense out of what has been dubbed the “cat’s paw” theory. The term derives from the fable “The Monkey and the Cat" penned by Jean de La Fontaine (1621-1695). In the tale, a clever-and rather unscrupulous-monkey persuades an unsuspecting feline to snatch chestnuts from a fire. The cat burns her paw in the process while the monkey profits, gulping down the chestnuts one by one. As understood today, a cat’s paw is a “tool” or “one used by another to accomplish his purposes.” Webster’s Third New International Dictionary (1976). More on this a little later."

We won’t trouble you here with a synopsis of the whole opinion - you can read all about the legal issues and theory in the 21 pages. But here’s a spoiler for the ending: The panel reverses and remands the case with instructions for judgment in favor of Proctor Hospital.

These are two favorites we have for the week, but if you’re so inclined, pass along any other fun reads that you’ve noticed.
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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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