10 of the strangest lawsuits making headlines

The following lawsuits exemplify the lighter, and sometimes bizarre, side of the legal world.

Boy

Bothersome Burping

After a 13-year-old boy in Albuquerque, N.M., allegedly “burped audibly” in class, his teacher called a school resource officer and complained the boy was disrupting her lesson. The seventh grader was then promptly handcuffed and carted off to juvenile detention, according to a civil rights lawsuit filed against an Albuquerque school principal, a teacher and a city police officer.

According to the lawsuit, “Criminalizing of the burping of a thirteen-year-old boy serves no governmental purpose. Burping is not a serious disruption.” During a risk assessment given by the jail staff, the boy scored a -2 on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being extremely dangerous. Therefore, he was never charged for his burping.

Marley

Family Feud

Reggae king Bob Marley’s widow, Rita Marley, and nine children are suing his half brother, Richard Booker, over Booker’s use of the Marley name to promote an annual Miami music festival and gather profits from businesses in Jamaica. Filed at the end of November, the suit claims Booker violated copyright and trademark laws by using Marley’s name, photographs, lyrics and symbols, which could deceive customers into thinking they are endorsed by Marley’s family. The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages, as well as an end to using Marley-related references.

Toothache

Tormenting Toothache

A 42-year-old man filed a class-action lawsuit against his dentist over an anti-defamation contract she made him sign when he saw her because of a bad toothache. The contract prohibited Robert Lee from posting negative reviews and comments online about his dentist, Stacy Makhnevich, and allegedly gave her copyright ownership of critical posts.

Though Lee said thought little of the contract at first, he later found that Makhnevich had overcharged him by about $4,000 and submitted his records to the wrong insurance company. Lee posted complaints, which prompted Makhnevich to demand their removal and threaten to sue Lee for infringing on her copyright provisions. According to the suit, she began sending $100 invoices for fines every day to Lee, who incurred about $4,600 worth of fees.

“It is outrageous that a patient would have to sign away his constitutionally protected right to get treatment for a toothache,” said Paul Alan Levy, the lawyer representing Lee. The suit is seeking to end all such gag patient contracts.

Madonna

Noisy Madonna

Pop superstar Madonna settled a lawsuit with her neighbor, Karen George, who claimed the singer made too much noise in her New York City apartment-turned-rehearsal studio. According to the suit filed in 2009, George had enough of the “blaring music, stomping and shaking walls” that lasted about three hours every day and said she often left her apartment because the noise and vibrations were “unbearable.” Madonna attempted to lower the volume over the years, but ultimately decided to settle with George after efforts to dismiss the lawsuit in August were denied.

Dimmick
Jesse Dimmick / File photograph from The Topeka-Capital Journal

Confused Kidnapper

For most newlyweds, the week following the wedding means relaxing on a romantic honeymoon. Unfortunately for Jared and Lindsay Rowley, fugitive murder suspect Jesse Dimmick ruined their celebration when he broke into their house after crashing a stolen van onto their lawn. Dimmick was fleeing from authorities and held the couple captive as he hid in their home. After the Rowleys fled and police apprehended him, Dimmick filed a lawsuit against his former hostages for $235,000.

Dimmick claims the Rowleys breached a binding, oral contract that stated the couple would hide him from authorities in return for monetary compensation, and blames them for his capture. However, the Rowleys said Dimmick held them at knifepoint and were only able to escape after he fell asleep. Once they did, police entered and accidentally shot Dimmick in the back when a police officer’s rifle was discharged.

In his handwritten suit, Dimmick wrote, “As a result of the plaintiffs breech (sic) of contract, I, the defendant suffered a gunshot to my back, which almost killed me. The hospital bills alone are in excess of $160,000, which I have no way to pay.” The Rowleys seek to have the suit dismissed.

Identity

Suspicious Citizen

Wilbur Jolly, a 41-year-old man from Buena Vista, Ga., filed a lawsuit seeking $10 million from the federal government, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former President George W. Bush, claiming he was tracked through “computer chip inhabitation.” In his lawsuit filed last month, Jolly alleges his “ID” was used by the U.S. without his consent in several circumstances, including a credit report that mistakenly showed he was employed by the federal government. Because of this, he says he can’t get a job or start a business.

Along with his complaint filed without an attorney, Jolly submitted 14 handwritten motions requesting permission to carry a concealed weapon. However, U.S. Magistrate Stephen Hyles swiftly denied the motions in an eight-page opinion, recommending the complaint be dismissed as frivolous.

Jail

Jail Mail

Another dismissed lawsuit involved three Utah jail inmates who claimed Cache County Jail officials violated their constitutional rights by imposing a policy forcing them to correspond via postcards, which the trio said can be read by others. The new policy began in February 2011 and required prisoners to use only postcards, unless they had to send “privileged mail,” such as those between with an attorney or the court. The court tossed their claims after the three were transferred out of Cache County Jail and agreed to dismiss their lawsuit.

Billboards

15 Seconds of Fame

A New York man claims American Eagle Outfitters and Clear Channel’s interactive billboard in Times Square was his idea, according to a story by The New York Post. Jet Thomason filed a lawsuit alleging he came up with the concept in 2003, “before electronic billboards were the thing,” and met with Clear Channel in July 2009 about the “15 Seconds of Fame” billboard, which allows passers-by to see themselves onscreen and post brief messages. He says the companies stole his business plan after he signed a confidentiality agreement, and is seeking $1 million each from American Eagle and Clear Channel.

Avatar

Avatar Objection

It’s not the first “Avatar” lawsuit, and it won’t be the last. After James Cameron’s epic film became the biggest blockbuster ever, writers continue to claim the story as theirs, with the most recent lawsuit filed by Eric Ryder, a former Lightstorm Entertainment employee.

Ryder says the film is a blatant copy of the idea he presented to Lightstorm in 1999. His work, “K.R.Z. 2068,” was a science fiction story that would be turned into an “environmentally themed 3-D epic about a corporation’s colonization and plundering of a distant moon’s lush and wondrous setting.”

Ryder also claims his story included “anthropomorphic, organically created beings that populated the moon,” a “corporation spy,” and “self-contained robotic exterior suits which house a single human operator.” Sound familiar? Ryder believes so and alleges “Avatar’s” production company implied he would be compensated and credited for the material should it “use or exploit” what Ryder created.

Patent

Patent Troll Strikes Again

Yawn. Another day, another patent troll. This time, the achievement goes to Digitude Innovations, an IP licensing company, which sued a whopping eight mobile companies: RIM, LG, Sony, Samsung, Nokia, Motorola, HTC and Amazon.

The lawsuits, filed last week, claim the companies infringed four patents of which Digitude took ownership just last month. The company says it owns more than 550 patents, and announced earlier this year its strategy to monetize patents using an “innovative patent monetization model, where the company will acquire, aggregate, and license key technology areas in a patent consortium through strategic partners.” Innovative indeed.

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