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Judicial Follies: An additional Thanksgiving mix-in


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    We once again have Thanksgiving coming up this week. Unlike Hallowe’en and Christmas, it’s not normally a holiday one associates with court disputes. Just personal disputes. As Johnny Carson once put it, “[On Thanksgiving] [p]eople travel thousands of miles to be with people they only see once a year. And then discover once a year is way too often.”

    Indeed, Thanksgiving is a day when most Americans stay home and gorge themselves into insensibility. And that’s just on football. But there are some court disputes arising from the holiday, while others touch on Thanksgiving-related topics — like turkeys. A sampling:

    • In the oddly-named 1938 case of Tate v. Ogg, the Supreme Court of Virginia had to decide if one rural neighbor, Mr. Tate, was entitled to get a court order prohibiting his neighbor, Lucy Ogg, from allowing her domestic animals, “more especially the turkeys,” from trespassing on his land and destroying his crops. While it doesn’t appear that Mrs. Ogg was doing so deliberately, she also wasn’t making much of an effort to keep them penned up.

    The court made a lengthy review of the law of animal-keeping, and noted that even if there were rules requiring to fence out a neighbor’s cattle and the like, those rules didn’t apply to turkeys. The court stated that it would “take judicial cognizance of the fact that it is the nature of a turkey to chase a grasshopper, or other bugs, or insects, without paying much attention to fences or boundary lines.” Nevertheless, a court of equity “will not dignify such occasional chase with a restraining order.” Judgment for the defendant, Mrs. Ogg.

    • Staying with our turkey theme, there was a Texas case involving a fellow hired to perform crop-dusting on land located near a farm where a neighbor raised a flock of nearly 2,000 turkeys. Aerial crop-dusting, of course, requires an airplane to make a series of low passes over the land being sprayed. The pilot came a little too close to the turkey farm, however, and when the crop-duster “buzzed” nearby, the turkeys — who apparently thought it was a gigantic hawk or something — went “hysterical,” racing around their pens, into fences, and into troughs, eventually getting injured or killed.

    I was going to say, “Wow — what a bunch of turkeys!” but . . . .

    The jury awarded the turkey farmer a little over $500 for the lost turkeys.

    And in the future, our crop-duster pilot was likely a lot more careful about what he “buzzed” on the ground.

    • A case that got lots of publicity about a decade ago (though the eventual result is a little hard to track down) involved a Georgia couple who thought the perfect Thanksgiving gift for their seven children would be to give all the children their own tattoos. Well, only 6 out of the 7; they decided that the youngest, who was 10, would have to wait another year. But they didn’t take them to a tattoo parlor — no, they did it themselves using a homemade device equipped with a piece of metal guitar string as the needle.

    Just what every kid wants: body art that looks like it was done by his prison cellmate.

    The children’s biological mother noticed the tattoos when their visitation ended, and reported it to the state’s child welfare authority. It turned out that in Georgia, it’s illegal to give tattoos to anyone under 18, and also for anyone to do so without a license. So the tattoo-happy couple were charged with reckless conduct, cruelty to children, and giving tattoos without a license.

    Couldn’t they just have given the kids extra helpings of pumpkin pie instead?

    • Speaking of pie (Thanksgiving always brings up food associations), a small company called Utah Pie once got into a court fight with three larger piemakers, including Carnation and Pet who tried to enter the Utah pie market but found that Utah Pie’s hold on the market was (according to internal documents of one of the companies) an “unfavorable factor,” that “d[u]g holes in our operation” and pose[s] a constant “check” on it’s performance. The case reached the U.S. Supreme Court, where former college and NFL football star Byron “Whizzer” White had the, um, frozen pies dumped in his lap.

    Brrr!

    White ultimately ruled in favor of Utah Pie. It’s refreshing to see that, among all of the important things that the Supreme Court does, like taking away women’s right to bodily autonomy and ensuring carnage on the streets by loosening our gun laws, the Supreme Court also has time for a frozen pie dispute.

    Because really . . . who doesn’t have time for pie?

    Frank Zotter, Jr. is a Ukiah attorney.

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