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. You can put your photos anywhere you like... When someone steals it they know it doesn't belong to them. And, a man getting a divorce is automatically not a nice guy...? That's ridiculous. Since when is need of money a conflict of interest? That would mean that no one should have a job unless they are already financially solvent without a job... A photographer is also under no obligation to use a watermark (again, people know when a photo doesn't belong to them) or provide contact information. Hey, he didn't make it easy for me to pay him so I'll just take it! Well heck, might as well walk out of the grocery store with a cart full of food because the lines are too long and you don't find that convenient. "Only in Indiana." Oh, now you're passing judgement on an entire state... What state do you live in? I need to characterize everyone in your state as ignorant and opinionated. And the final bit of ignorance; assuming a photo anyone would want is lucky and then how much does your camera have to cost to make it a good photo, in your obviously relevant opinion?

  2. Seventh Circuit Court Judge Diane Wood has stated in “The Rule of Law in Times of Stress” (2003), “that neither laws nor the procedures used to create or implement them should be secret; and . . . the laws must not be arbitrary.” According to the American Bar Association, Wood’s quote drives home this point: The rule of law also requires that people can expect predictable results from the legal system; this is what Judge Wood implies when she says that “the laws must not be arbitrary.” Predictable results mean that people who act in the same way can expect the law to treat them in the same way. If similar actions do not produce similar legal outcomes, people cannot use the law to guide their actions, and a “rule of law” does not exist.

  3. Linda, I sure hope you are not seeking a law license, for such eighteenth century sentiments could result in your denial in some jurisdictions minting attorneys for our tolerant and inclusive profession.

  4. Mazel Tov to the newlyweds. And to those bakers, photographers, printers, clerks, judges and others who will lose careers and social standing for not saluting the New World (Dis)Order, we can all direct our Two Minutes of Hate as Big Brother asks of us. Progress! Onward!

  5. My daughter was taken from my home at the end of June/2014. I said I would sign the safety plan but my husband would not. My husband said he would leave the house so my daughter could stay with me but the case worker said no her mind is made up she is taking my daughter. My daughter went to a friends and then the friend filed a restraining order which she was told by dcs if she did not then they would take my daughter away from her. The restraining order was not in effect until we were to go to court. Eventually it was dropped but for 2 months DCS refused to allow me to have any contact and was using the restraining order as the reason but it was not in effect. This was Dcs violating my rights. Please help me I don't have the money for an attorney. Can anyone take this case Pro Bono?

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