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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  3. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  4. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  5. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

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