Citing Springsteen

by:  Peter J. Gallagher (@pjsgallagher) (LinkedIn)

Springsteen 2
Continuing with a Bruce Springsteen themed week as I return to regular blogging . . .

A few years ago, I wrote an article — Courts Can Make Better Use of 'The Boss" — about judges citing Bruce Springsteen's music. Here are the opening paragraphs:

Springsteen usually comes in third — behind Bob Dylan and the Beatles and slightly ahead of Paul Simon — on the list of musicians whose lyrics are most frequently cited in legal articles and judicial opinions. Several law review articles, and at least one symposium, have been dedicated to the characters in his songs, particularly those on the margins, living in the darkness on the edge of town.

These individuals are appealing to law professors and commentators, particularly those interested in social justice, because, as professor Abbe Smith noted in her article “The Dignity and Humanity of Bruce Springsteen’s Criminals,” Springsteen “takes the least popular, least sympathetic among us, and offers up their stories to teach us something about ourselves.” However, when judges cite Springsteen, something seems to get a little lost along the way.

The article then noted how one judge used the lyrics to "No Surrender" to describe a party's approach to discovery and another quoted "Badlands" in an insurance dispute about bags of coffee. Since I wrote this article, a few more judges have quoted Springsteen in their opinions, with mixed results.

One of the recent cases involved a repeat player! In my article, I noted that, in a 2011 decision, a Florida federal court judge had compared a party’s aggressive approach to discovery to the song "No Surrender" from "Born in the U.S.A.": “A ‘no surrender’ mentality may be perfectly appropriate for a Bruce Springsteen rock and roll song, but it is frequently unhelpful in litigation, as illustrated by the unfortunate scenario here.” Four years later, the same judge made a similar comparison in a different case: 

In the well-known “No Surrender” song released on his “Born in the U.S.A.” album, Bruce Springsteen noted, “Well, we made a promise we swore we'd always remember, no retreat, baby, no surrender.” Springsteen's “no surrender” philosophy may be fine for a rock and roll song about the importance of being true to one's own dreams and beliefs, but it is frequently unhelpful in litigation. It is particularly inapplicable and inappropriate here.

Miami Yacht Charters, LLC v. Nat'l Union Fire Ins. Co. of Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, 2015 WL 520846 (S.D. Fla. Feb. 9, 2015). Kudos to the judge for citing Springsteen, but I am still not sure if the comparison fits. 

In several other recent cases, however, the references to Springsteen were a better fit:

  • a California judge referred to "57 Channels (And Nothin' On)" when sympathizing with cable customers in a putative class action against the cable companies, among others, over licensing fees that increased the customers' bills: "With apologies to Bruce Springsteen, we appreciate the lament of cable television subscribers who feel that although they now receive 10 times 57 channels or more, mostly nothing's on that they wish to view." Fischer v. Time Warner Cable Inc., 234 Cal. App. 4th 784, 798 (2015); and
  • a federal judge in Pennsylvania cited "Glory Days" as an example of "a middle-aged man's wistful recollection of his youthful vigor." Flood v. Nat'l Collegiate Athletic Ass'n, 2015 WL 5785801 (M.D. Pa. Aug. 26, 2015).

As I was a few years back, however, I remain surprised at the lack of references to Springsteen's music from New Jersey state or federal court judges.

Rova Farms – From Born to Run to Bad Faith

by:  Peter J. Gallagher (@pjsgallagher) (LinkedIn)

SpringsteenI am in the middle of reading “Born to Run,” Bruce Springsteen’s memoir. I am about one-third of the way through and so far, so good. I just finished reading about “the only full-scale truly scary bar brawl [of Bruce and the band’s] club lives.” It happened in Rova Farms, a “Russian social club on the outskirts of town.” (In Springsteen’s life, like in his songs, the important things always seem to happen on the outskirts of town.) The brawl started right before the band broke into “Santa Clause is Coming to Town,” and ended with the police being called and several people being taken out on stretchers.

Like nearly all New Jersey lawyers, I know Rova Farms as a thing – a “Rova Farms letter” or a “Rova Farms claim” – not a place. It was interesting to read a story about the place behind the thing. For the uninitiated, Rova Farms Resort v. Investors Ins. Co. of America, was a case involving a visitor to Rova Farms who was injured, not in a bar brawl, but from diving into a shallow portion of a lake on the resort. He sustained serious spinal cord injuries and was paralyzed. The resort’s insurance carrier refused to tender the full, $50,000 policy limit to settle the claim. The case went to trial and the jury returned a $225,000 verdict. The resort then sued its carrier for the full amount of the judgment, alleging that it acted in bad faith by not settling the claim within the policy limits.

The New Jersey Supreme Court agreed, holding that an insurer’s bad-faith failure to settle within policy limits renders it liable for the full amount of the judgment, including any portion in excess of the policy limits. As a result of this decision, defendants in New Jersey will usually send a “Rova Farms letter” to their carriers when a plaintiff offers to settle a case within policy limits. The letter puts the carrier on notice that, if it does not settle within the policy limits, the insured will look to the carrier to pay the entire judgment. Of course, the obligation to do so only arises when the carrier acts in bad faith, but, needless to say, this letter tends to change the dynamic between insured and insurer.   

Back to Bruce . . . As far as New Jersey courts are concerned, Rova Farms is far more popular than Springsteen. The case has been cited more than 3,800 times in New Jersey alone. A search of all state and federal court opinions for Bruce Springsteen yields 87 hits, and only 5 of those are from New Jersey courts. Local hero indeed.

Havanese Day! Statements on duped dog buyer’s blog not defamatory

by:  Peter J. Gallagher (@pjsgallagher) (LinkedIn)

HavaneseIn Roberts v. Mintz, defendant bought what he believed was a "healthy, nine-month old, purebred Havanese," but what he got was a two-year old dog that was not a purebred Havanese, and was suffering from various health problems. Defendant complained and plaintiffs offered to refund his money in exchange for the dog. Defendant refused. He wanted the refund, but he wanted to keep the dog because he had already incurred $800 in veterinary fees and because he had become fond of the dog, which he named Moose.

One month after buying Moose, defendant began posting about his experience with plaintiffs on his blog. As you probably guessed, the posts were not positive. Eventually, plaintiffs sued in connection with six specific statements defendant made on his blog, which, among other things, accused plaintiffs of being members of a "notorious ring of South Jersey dog grifters," alleged that plaintiffs had been convicted of animal cruelty, claimed that plaintiffs' lived in a "run down farmhouse with 6 children," and described plaintiffs as "despicable human beings" who ran a "fraudulent puppy mill." Defendants also posted that they had heard from others who were "unwittingly scammed" by plaintiffs. Individuals who claimed to be plaintiffs responded to some of the posts in the comments sections of the blog, calling defendant a "liar" and a "jerk," and claiming that he "suffered from 'rage syndrome,' a behavioral condition that afflicts canines."

In lieu of answering plaintiffs' complaint, defendant moved for summary judgment, seeking to have the complaint dismissed. He also served plaintiffs with a frivolous litigation letter. Plaintiffs cross moved for summary judgment and also sought an injunction preventing defendant from defaming them. The trial court granted defendant's motion. It held that plaintiffs were barred from suing in connection with several of the statements because the one-year statute of limitations had expired. In doing so, it rejected plaintiff's claim that the statute of limitations should have been tolled because defendant had committed a continuous tort. The trial court found that the remaining statements were "opinions, epithets, and hyperbole," and were therefore "not sufficiently factual to be actionable."

Defendant then moved for sanctions, and the trial court granted the motion. Although it did no award defendant all of the sanctions he sought, it did award him $25,000 — assessed against both plaintiffs and their counsel — because plaintiffs filed their complaint without sufficient evidentiary support and because several claims were barred by the statute of limitations. 

Both sides then appealed — plaintiffs seeking to reverse the trial court's decision dismissing their complaint, and defendant seeking to reverse the trial court's decision to award him less in sanctions than what he requested

Continue reading “Havanese Day! Statements on duped dog buyer’s blog not defamatory”