Updated April 13, 2011.
Prepared by Jen Locke.
Updated by Cheryl Nyberg, Amanda Runyon (2007), and Shannon Malcolm (2006).
With contributions from Joe Hylkema, Keith Clemens, and Randal Gilbert.
This page identifies and describes humorous court opinions and related sources. Westlaw links to opinions are restricted to users with individual IDs and passwords. University of Washington faculty, students, and staff outside of the School of Law and Library visitors may find most of these same opinions in LexisNexis Academic.
The two precedents pertinent to case were Wire v. NLRB and Tire v. NLRB – thus inspiring Judge Goldberg to verse.
In the opening sentence of this case about fertilizer and tax deductions, Judge Goldberg quotes Ecclesiastes:
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;” a time to purchase fertilizer, and a time to take a deduction for that which is purchased.
In the opening sentence of this case about the cotton set-aside program, Judge Goldberg recites:
Some farmers from Gaines had a plan.
It amounted to quite a big scam.
But the payments for cotton
began to smell rotten.
T'was a mugging of poor Uncle Sam.
The ASCS and its crew
uncovered this fraudulent stew.
After quite a few hearings,
the end is now nearing--
It awaits our judicial review.
A parody of Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven,” beginning:
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary
Over many quaint and curious files of chapter seven lore
While I nodded nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door,
“Tis some debtor” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door-
Only this and nothing more.”
Ah distinctly I recall, it was in the early fall
And the file still was small
The Code provided I could use it
If someone tried to substantially abuse it
No party asked that it be heard.
“Sua sponte” whispered a small black bird.
The West headnote is also in verse.
United States v. One 1976 Ford F-150 Pickup, 599 F. Supp. 818 (E.D. Mo. 84)
District Judge Wangelin wrote the opinion in verse:
The defendant herein is a truck,
The vehicle is a pick-up,
Alleged by a fed
To be found in a bed
Of marijuana, caught in the muck.
The promoter of boxing match brought suit against restaurant and bar owners for allegedly displaying fight for patrons without paying promoter for broadcast rights. Judge rendered his decision (and footnotes) in verse. Here is a sample:
The genesis happened on an April night
When plaintiff promoted a boxing fight
And transmitted it live for the usual fee
For paying subscribers to watch on T.V.
The bout was between Messrs. Holmes and McCall
Whose pugilistic talents are well-known to all.
The match evoked international attention
But the outcome herein shall go without mention.
Defendants allegedly exhibited the match
In their respective taverns for their patrons to catch.
Plaintiff's complaint is based on that section
Installed in the Code for easy inspection
Which forbids such transmissions, recorded or live:
47 U.S.C. Section 605.
The motion now before us has stirred up a terrible fuss.
And what is considerably worse, it has spawned some preposterous doggerel verse.
The plaintiff, a man of the sea,
after paying his lawyer a fee,
filed a complaint of several pages to recover statutory wages.
Footnotes and headnotes are also in verse.
Counsel having had his say,
Would seem to say: “New trial, no way.”
Forthright counsel I commend
For bringing this appeal to end.
He has served his client well:
A worthless issue would not sell.
Dropping his quixotic quest
Serves his client's interests best.
To press a cause of rank frivolity
Would not fill this court with jollity.
Though counsel was a courtroom terror,
He could not seed the case with error;
So nothing now could be much grander
Than witnessing his posttrial candor.
Lawyers tend to look facetious,
Pressing issues merely specious.
Frank candor sure beats false bravado,
Defending Claudio Rosado.
This is how I see the moral:
Instead of never-ending quarrel,
A broken record, crying “foul”,
It's sometimes best to throw the towel.
Thus, before the bar of court
This defendant must report.
He shall have to do his time,
For punishment must fit the crime.
And that will have to end this rhyme.
Employment discrimination case brought against the Army and Air Force Exchange Service. Footnotes 1 and 46 are parodies of “Let it Snow” and Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven.”
The acronym for the A rmy and A ir F orce E xchange S ervice- AAFES-rhymes, albeit very poorly and Ogden-Nashedly, with the words “ gave us ” (or, more correctly, “ga f e us”). Therefore, it is somewhat understandable that a party distraught with the delay of this hard working, but overburdened Court, might well-at least during the Holiday Season, when spirits are high-send an attractive female to these chambers, carrying numerous balloons of festive colors, with this message in verse (sung, of course, to the tune of “ Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow ”:
“Oh the case is Shafer v. AAFES
We recall the trial you gave us
Do you remember, yes or no?
Let us know
Let us know
Let us know
“Oh the age of this case is gallful
Your procrastination awful
Our impatience we must show
Let us know
Let us know
Let us know
“Would you finally give the word
Now we're down on our knees, pretty please?
And we heard from a little bird
You'll even add on attorney's fees
“Oh we've spoken as long as we dare to
One final question have we for you
Are we shafted, yes or no?
Let us know
Let us know
Let us know”
However, this “motion” was not accompanied by a certificate of service, a brief, an order or a certificate of conference, as required by Local Rules 2.1(e) and 5.1(a)-(c). Accordingly, it will not be considered for purposes of this opinion. See, however, footnote 46. Please!
Twitty Burger went belly up
But Conway remained true
He repaid his investors, one and all
It was the moral thing to do.
His fans would not have liked it
It could have hurt his fame
Had any investors sued him
Like Merle Haggard or Sonny James.
When it was time to file taxes
Conway thought what he would do
Was deduct those payments as a business expense
Under section one-sixty-two.
In order to allow these deductions
Goes the argument of the Commissioner
The payments must be ordinary and necessary
To a business of the petitioner.
Had Conway not repaid the investors
His career would have been under cloud,
Under the unique facts of this case
Held: The deductions are allowed.
Opinion recites the prosecuting attorney’s closing argument – a parody on ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas:
The proffered evidence showed that the jailer at the Detention Center gave vodka to the inmates on the night of the escape. The effect of the inebriating beverage on the appellant and his fellow inmates was colorfully portrayed by defense counsel in closing argument to the jury as follows:
‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the jail
Not an inmate was stirring, they couldn't make bail.
The stockings were hung by the cell door with care
In hopes that St. Nicholas would soon be there:
The inmates were huddled alone in their beds
While visions of freedom danced in their heads
And guards in their uniforms and John in his rack
Had just settled down for a long winter's nap,
When up on the roof there arose such a clatter,
John sprang from his bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window he flew like a flash,
Tore open the cell door and threw up the sash.
When what to his wondering eyes should appear
But a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick
He knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his courses they came,
And he whistled and shouted, and called them by name:
Now, Macquire, now Bass, now Fillingame, Newman,
On, Ingram, on Suggs, on Crosby, and Helton.
To the top of the porch, to the top of the wall
Now dash away, dash away, dash away all.'
Opinion written in verse – as Judge Evans states in his opinion, “This opinion is placed in rhyme because approximately one year ago, in Savannah at a very convivial celebration, the distinguished Judge Dunbar Harrison, Senior Judge of Chatham Superior Courts, arose and addressed those assembled, and demanded that if Judge Randall Evans, Jr. ever again was so presumptuous as to reverse one of his decisions, that the opinion be written in poetry. I readily admit I am unable to comply, because I am not a poet, and the language used, at best, is mere doggerel. I have done my best but my limited ability just did not permit the writing of a great poem. It was no easy task to write the opinion in rhyme.” Opinion includes references to other decisions in verse. Headnotes also in verse.
Opinion written in verse inspired by the holding of the case – that a juror could not be disqualified even though his wife was cousins with both the plaintiff’s and defendant’s wives.
‘Foul, foul play,’ the defendant cried.
‘That I by kinsman be not trammeled
Let the issue again be tried
Before another jury impanelled.
Remember how from John at Runnymede
The Charta was forced and wrested
That no matter what the issue or the deed
By my peers it must be tried and tested.
With juror mine adversary durst
Try the cause, whose wife is second cousin to my wife
And to plaintiff's wife a first.
A new trial, sire, I demand to settle strife.'
‘No foul play do I find or see,'
The judge replied. ‘Foreman's wife to thine
And to plaintiff's wife may kinsman be,
But to Doug and thee no kinship do I find.
Thus, it doth not appear
For any cause or reason told
That the juror was not thy peer
The case to try and verdict mold.
Moreover, when kinships we sought to learn
It doth not appear that as best befits
One who would a kinsman spurn
Thou revealed that cousin did on the panel sit.
Thy day in court thou hast had,'
The judge asserted, ‘and law commands
That, no error made, whether good or bad,
The issue tried and settled stands.'
Decision rendered as a result of a car accident between a Chevy and a tree. Judge Gillis wrote the opinion as a parody of Joyce Kilmer’s poem, “Trees.”
We thought that we would never see
A suit to compensate a tree.
A suit whose claim in tort is prest
Upon a mangled tree's behest;
A tree whose battered trunk was prest
Against a Chevy's crumpled crest;
A tree that faces each new day
With bark and limb in disarray;
A tree that may forever bear
A lasting need for tender care.
Flora lovers though we three,
We must uphold the court's decree.
Headnotes are also in verse.
Gallatin County v. D & R Music & Vending, Inc., 676 P.2d 779 (Mont. 1984) (Sheehy, J., dissenting)
Case about electronic poker machines. Sheehy wrote his dissent in verse.
Case about a jilted fiance who brought an action for emotional distress after the defendant reneged on the betrothal. Opinion concludes:
And so closes this sad story,
At least in the books of the Court,
As the Court finds that Plaintiff has not alleged
That which is an actionable tort.
The within cause is hereby ordered dismissed
With the Plaintiff bearing the cost,
And with this advice in the parting,
Love never won can't be lost.
Headnotes also in verse.
Porreco v. Porreco, 811 A.2d 566 (Pa. 2002) (Eakin, J., dissenting)
Case involving prenuptial agreement and a cubic zirconium engagement ring. Judge Eakin wrote his dissent in verse, causing his brethren to write concurring opinions questioning the prudence of writing an opinion in rhyme.
A groom must expect matrimonial pandemonium
when his spouse finds he's given her a cubic zirconium
instead of a diamond in her engagement band,
the one he said was worth twenty-one grand.
Our deceiver would claim that when his bride relied
on his claim of value, she was not justified
for she should have appraised it; and surely she could have,
but the question is whether a bride-to-be would have.
The realities of the parties control the equation,
and here they're not comparable in sophistication;
the reasonableness of her reliance we just cannot gauge
with a yardstick of equal experience and age.
This must be remembered when applying the test
by which the “reasonable fiance” is assessed.
She was 19, he was nearly 30 years older;
was it unreasonable for her to believe what he told her?
Judge Eakin wrote this opinion in verse about a premarital contract gone awry. See Porreco v. Porreco (above) and Liddle v. Scholze, 768 A.2d 1183 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2001) (a case concerning emus), for other opinions written by Judge Eakin in verse.
Wolff v. New Hampshire Dep't of Corrections, 06-cv-321-PB (D.N.H. 2007).
When the plaintiff filed a hard-boiled egg as part of his request for a preliminary injunction, Magistrate Judge James R. Muirhead, replied Seussilly:
No fan I am
Of the egg at hand.
Just like no ham
On the kosher plan.
This egg will rot
I kid you not.
And stink it can
This egg at hand.
There will be no eggs at court
To prove a clog in your aort.
There will be no eggs accepted.
Objections all will be rejected.
From this day forth
This court will ban
Hard-boiled eggs of any brand.
And if you should not understand
The meaning of the ban at hand
Then you should contact either Dan,
the Deputy Clerk, or my clerk Jan.
I do not like eggs in the file.
I do not like them in any style.
I will not take them fried or boiled.
I will not take them poached or broiled.
I will not take them soft or scrambled
Despite an argument well-rambled.
No fan I am
Of the egg at hand.
Destroy that egg!
Today I say! Without delay!
Chemical Specialties Manufacturers Association, Inc. v. Clark, 482 F.2d 325, 328 (5th Cir. 1973) (Brown, J., concurring). Contains names of detergents.
In this case involving federal prohibition of nonstop flights between Washington National Airport and any airport within a 1,000-mile perimeter, Judge Brown obliquely referred to various airlines and their slogans.
Contains name of sodas; written by Judge Brown).
In this case about the IRS hoping to collect an overpayment to a Chapter 7 debtor with the name “Kellogg,” Judge Goldberg wrote, “This case makes plain the proposition that Kellogg does not have a monopoly on flakes. Indeed, it is Kellogg’s opponent, the United States Government acting through the Internal Revenue Service … which has committed two scoops of errors, allowing a case which should have been a snap, to dissolve into a series of crackles and pops.”
Mentions the titles of at least 200 movies.
In the opening sentence of this case about an ex-girlfriend who trashed her ex-boyfriend’s home after he married, Judge Deen references the adages “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” and “diamonds are a girl’s best friend.” His brethren did not find his opinion amusing.
The plaintiffs argued that a girdle should be considered a “burglar tool.” The judge responded by making puns inspired by the word “girdle”.
People v. Arno (1979) 90 Cal.App.3d 505, 153 Cal.Rptr. 624 (1979)
Itemized list in fn. 2 spells out "schmuck."
Case about Blackie the Talking Cat – who said to a judge, “I love you.”
Case involving a cattle drive.
Ordinance prohibiting horseback riding not discriminatory even though it applied only to the riding of horses and not to elephants, kangaroos, and tigers.
Opinion discusses “the code duello” among dogs.
City of Canadian v. Gutherie, 87 S.W. 2d 316 (Tex. Civ. App. 1932).
The sad story of a one-eyed bay mare, ruthlessly shot "between the bad eye and the one not so bad. In other words, in the vernacular of gangland, when Panhandle Pete's pistol popped, she petered, for which the poundkeeper paid Pete a pair of pesos." Poetry ensues:
Comes now the plaintiff, appellee,
And moves this Honorable Court to see,
That House Bill Number 304
Threw open wide the Court House door,
Of County Court in Hemphill County
Where Guthrie sought relief and bounty,
And recompense and generous meed,
For his departed wayward steed,
Cut down in all her youthful pride,
When she was taken for a ride."
Plaintiff claimed that state’s electronic surveillance system is tuned directly into his brain.
Dismissing a complaint charging that plaintiff, by reason of his illegal incarceration in jail, had been deprived of the office of the President of the United States.
Plaintiff alleged that Reagan, as President of the United States, caused “civil death” without litigation, deprived him of his right to vote, and caused false arrests." He also requested an investigation of the White Line Fevers From Mars and included a poem in his complaint.
Plaintiff alleged that Satan caused his misery and downfall.
Defendant charged with catching butterflies in a national park. The opinion quotes verse by Lewis Carroll and Wordsworth.
Case involving the collision of railroad train with ship.
Pleadings were allegedly drafted in crayon on the back of gravy-stained placemats and, according to Judge Kent, the briefs contained no relevant legal authority. "Before proceeding further, the Court notes that this case involves two extremely likable lawyers, who have together delivered some of the most amateurish pleadings ever to cross the hallowed causeway into Galveston, an effort which leads the Court to surmise but one plausible explanation. Both attorneys have obviously entered into a secret pact--complete with hats, handshakes and cryptic words--to draft their pleadings entirely in crayon on the back sides of gravy-stained paper place mats, in the hope that the Court would be so charmed by their child-like efforts that their utter dearth of legal authorities in their briefing would go unnoticed. Whatever actually occurred, the Court is now faced with the daunting task of deciphering their submissions. With Big Chief tablet readied, thick black pencil in hand, and a devil-may-care laugh in the face of death, life on the razor's edge sense of exhilaration, the Court begins."
It should be noted that Judge Kent's admonitions can be viewed as an inappropriate exercise of power. For a discussion of the the problem, see Steven Lubet, "Bullying from the Bench," 5 Green Bag 11 (2001).
Case involving a house (on a golf course) that was peppered with stray golf balls to the extent that 16 panes of glass were broken, the family dog became so distressed at the sight of golfers that the dog needed to be placed in a new home, and an average of 200-300 golf balls landed in the yard a year.
An action seeking rescission of a contract to purchase a house widely reputed to be possessed by poltergeists. The court held that a grant of equitable relief is warranted where the buyer, not a “local” and unfamiliar with the local folklore, could not readily have learned that the home he had contracted to purchase was haunted.
Action for damages to wife resulting from fright and shock upon being chased by defendant’s trespassing bull.
Department of Revenue v. James B. Beam Distilling Co., 377 U.S. 341 (1964) (Black, J., dissenting)
Justices Black and Goldberg disagree as to the relative merits of bourbon and scotch in the dissent.
Judge Evans "As Joe Friday would say, let's get to the facts. We will, but unlike Sergeant Friday, it won't be "just the facts" as we'll mix in some observations and findings along the way."
Regina v. Ojibway, 8 Crim L.Q. 137 (Toronto1965), reprinted in Stevens v. City of Louisville, 511 S.W.2d 228, 230-31 (Ky. Ct. App. 1974)
A fictitious case in which the defendant was convicted under the Cruelty to Small Birds Act for shooting his lame horse (the horse was covered in feathers from a down pillow).
Arnold S. Jacobs, An Analysis of § 16 of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, 32 N.Y.L. Sch. L. Rev. 209 (1987). HeinOnline
Contains 4824 footnotes and 491 pages.
Andrew J. McClurg, The World’s Greatest Law Review Article, New Law Journal, Aug. 18, 1995), reprinted in ABA Journal, Oct. 1995, at 84. HeinOnline
John G. Browning, Saying it with Style, Tex. B. J., Feb. 2011, at 152. Funny case names (e.g., Schmuck v. United States, Batman v. Commissioner, Juicy Whip v. Orange Bang, Death v. Graves).
Laura Krugman Rey, Laughter at the Court: The Supreme Court as a Source of Humor. 79 S. Cal. L. Rev. 1397 (2006). HeinOnline
Mary Kate Kearney, The Propriety of Poetry in Judicial Opinions, 12 Widener L.J. 597 (2003). HeinOnline
Thomas E. Baker, A Compendium of Clever and Amusing Law Review Writings, 51 Drake L. Rev. 105 (2002). HeinOnline
Thomas E. Baker, A Review of Corpus Juris Humorous, 24 Tex. Tech L. Rev. 869 (1993). HeinOnline
Judge Alex Kozinski & Eugene Volokh, Lawsuit, Shmawsuit, 103 Yale L. J. 463 (1993). HeinOnline
Michael Saint-Onge, Legal Levity, Law Libr. Lights, Jan./Feb. 1992, at 9. HeinOnline
Susan K. Rushing, Student Essay, Is Judicial Humor Judicious? 1 Scribes J. Legal Writing 125 (1990). HeinOnline
George Rose Smith, A Critique of Judicial Humor, 43 Ark. L. Rev. 1(1990). HeinOnline
Marshall Rudolph, Judicial Humor: A Laughing Matter? 41 Hastings L.J. 175 (1989). HeinOnline
Adalberto Jordan, Imagery, Humor, and the Judicial Opinion, 41 U. Miami L. Rev. 693 (1987). HeinOnline
Judges Say the Darndest Things (Fred Schackelford, comp. 2004). K184.J83 2004 at Good Reads
Corpus Juris Humorous (John B. McClay & Wendy L. Matthews eds., 1991). K183.C67 1991 at
Contains a compilation of “humorous, extraordinary, outrageous, unusual, colorful infamous, clever and witty reported judicial opinions and related materials dating from 1256 A.D. to the present.”
Rodney R. Jones & Gerald F. Uelmen, Supreme Folly (1990). K184.J665
1990 at Good Reads
Humorous quotations from actual trials and cases, interesting historical anecdotes from court cases, and funny incidents that have happened to famous jurists.
R. Perry Sentell, Jr., Torts in Verse: The Foundational Cases, 39 Georgia L. Rev. 1197 (2005).
Presents the author's verse, rhymes, and poems capturing the essence of foundation cases studied in torts classes. "Law student retention is considerably aided by humanizing the material."
Janet Skreen, The Lighter Side of the Law, Wash. St. B. News, May 2005, at 64.
Fun in the family law setting.
Legal Humor from the Washington State Bar News and other sources.
All of these books are in the Good Reads collection on L1 unless another location is indicated.