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5 of the strangest lawsuits making headlines

School cult leaders, a $2 undectillion demand, and three more strange suits in the news

Cult Hit

High schools these days teach a number of languages. As a student, you could take Spanish, French, Latin, or even German or Russian at some schools. Or, if you’re a student at Avon High School in Avon, Connecticut, you can learn the secret language of the cult that one lawsuit says your teachers secretly indoctrinated you into. Isn’t learning fun?

According to a 64-page lawsuit filed in federal court, one family claims that three teachers and a guidance counselor engaged in “predatory religious indoctrination” to draw the family’s three daughters into a cult. The lawsuit claims that the two eldest daughters began speaking a “bizarre new language” and “lost their humor and their empathy” as a result of the teachers’ influence. The filing also claims that the cult caused the sisters to “experience fantasies of suicidal ideation and martyrdom.” The suit says the daughters have cut off all contact from family and friends. The family filed a suit after the youngest daughter was able to break away from the cult’s influence.

In addition to the four school employees, CNN reports that the lawsuit names Avon Public Schools as a defendant. The school district said that no complaints had been received in the past, and it has turned the matter over to legal counsel. Wellesley College is also named as a defendant for allowing the children to continue communications with the high school teachers and guidance counselor.

Money

 

The Richest Man Alive

What would you do with $2 undectillion — that’s 36 zeroes — in your bank account? Good luck finding out, because that’s more money than currently exists on Earth. However, Anton Purisima claims that he’s owed that amount in a recent lawsuit that names thousands of defendants, including New York City, Au Bon Pain, Hoboken University, and LaGuardia Airport.

In his suit, Purisima alleges, “Civil rights violations, personal injury, discrimination on national origin, retaliation, harassment, fraud, attempted murder, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and conspiracy to defraud” from the defendants. And what caused all of these allegations? Purisima says he was bitten by a rabid dog on NYC public transit; a “Chinese couple” took photos of him while he was being treated; he’s routinely overcharged for coffee at LaGuardia; and other damages that “cannot be repaired by money.”

According to LoweringtheBar.net, the lawsuit breaks the record for the largest known demand. I think it’s safe to say that he won’t win this particular case, just as he did not win cases against the People’s Republic of China, multiple U.S. banks, and many, many others in a 2013 suit. Still, even with all of the work wasted by filing said suit, the world did learn one thing thanks to Mr. Purisima: A number with 36 zeroes is known as an “undectillion.” Imagine that.

License Plate

 

In Michigan, Infidels Sue You

What exactly constitutes an offensive license plate? Is it a curse word? Is it a derogatory statement about others? Where does the state Department of Motor Vehicles draw the line? The First Amendment issues surrounding license plates may now be coming to the forefront after a Grand Rapids, Mich., judge allowed a lawsuit against Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson and another employee over license plate denials to proceed.

Michigan residents Michael Matwyuk and David DeVarti have field a joint suit against the state officials after the state denied their personalized license plate requests, saying they were “offensive to good taste and decency.” Matwyuk’s proposed license plate would have said “INF1DL,” while DeVarti’s plate would have said “WAR SUX.” Secretary of State officials said that Matwyuk’s denial was an administrative error, while DeVarti’s plate should be denied on sexual grounds.

However, U.S. District Court Judge Gordon Quist rejected both arguments. In his opinion, according to MLive.com, he wrote, “Although the Department of State has adopted internal guidelines for augmenting the statute by providing some definite standards, the guidelines do no alleviate the potential for viewpoint discrimination. In fact, the guidelines, which preclude combinations that are irreverent toward 'sacred things,' including God, and that negatively portray a given racial, religious, ethnic or socioeconomic group, including persons of a particular gender or sexual orientation, explicitly sanction viewpoint discrimination.”

Doctor

 

I Need a Doctor

Dr. Phil McGraw has made a career (literally) out of helping people, most notably on his nationally syndicated TV show. However, one lawsuit filed by Terri and David Myers of Missouri say Dr. Phil harmed their 15 year old daughter more than helped, even when it came to emotional trauma.

According to the lawsuit, the couple’s daughter originally experienced emotional trauma after a male partner with which she was having sex was shot mid-act by a “jealous teenaged male.” After learning that their daughter “started seeking sex online with older men” to deal with the trauma, the couple first turned to the state of Missouri, then finally Dr. Phil for help. Terri and her daughter appeared on Dr. Phil’s show on a Feb. 23, 2013, episode, but the lawsuit claims the TV host “induced them to submit to his brand of blunt ridicule for their not being more vigilant.” McGraw eventually arranged for a free stay at Island View, a residential treatment facility in Syracuse, Utah, but the lawsuit says the facility was a “private prison” where she was physically injured in an altercation with a staff member.

The Salt Lake Tribune reports that the Myers’ lawsuit names the Dr. Phil Organization, Island View Academy, and Bain Capital (Island View is owned by a Bain division) as defendants. In a statement, a lawyer for Dr. Phil said, “Dr. Phil had absolutely nothing to do with any treatment the plaintiffs received after they left the show,” and also that the pair signed releases absolving any action that occurs while on the show.

Tip

 

One Expensive Tip

In September 2013, Red Lobster waitress Toni Christina Jenkins posted a picture to Facebook of one customer’s receipt that infuriated her. In the picture, the customer paid his $44.53 total, but then gave no tip and wrote the racial slur “n----r” on the total line, with the name Devin Barnes signed at the bottom. Outraged, Jenkins wrote on Facebook, “This is what I got as a tip last night … so happy to live in the proud southern states … God Bless America, land of the free and home of the low class racists of Tennessee.” The post soon went viral, with one man (unknown at the time to Jenkins) setting up an online fundraiser that would net the waitress $10,719.

Naturally, a lawsuit has now followed... except Jenkins is the defendant, and Barnes is the plaintiff, citing slander and misused personal information. In his suit, Barnes is seeking $1 million in damages from both Jenkins and Red Lobster. Barnes says the restaurant chain committed “willful and malicious ... omissions to act” by allowing Jenkins to post the receipt online. He also claims that Jenkins used his personal information “to gain publicity and money,” which caused-long term harm to his reputation.

In a previous interview with The Tennessean, Jenkins said that she was not trying to make Barnes’ life difficult. “I was not trying to get back at him or bring any attention to him at all. I have nothing against him. I can only imagine what he is going through. I was trying to bring attention to racism. I am saying whoever wrote it was wrong in whatever manner it was written.” Red Lobster has issued a statement about the lawsuit, saying that Jenkins was suspended for posting personal information online, and after a full investigation, Jenkins returned to work.

Assistant Editor

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Zach Warren

Zach Warren is Assistant Editor of InsideCounsel magazine, where he oversees online content submissions and administers InsideCounsel's enewsletters. Zach specializes in new media and multimedia...

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