By: Professor Kirsha Weyandt Trychta, West Virginia University College of Law
It’s often difficult to keep law students engaged around the holidays when they’re anxious to spend time with friends and family. Below are a few fun ways to promote student engagement by integrating the holidays into your classes.
If you find yourself over-stuffed this week, I do not recommend trying to sue “Thanksgiving, Pilgrims, Mayflower Movers, Pilgrim Pride, Turkey Hill, Black Friday, Corn on the Cob, [or the] Cleveland Indians.” Riches v. Thanksgiving, 2007 WL 4591385 (N.D. Cal 2007). A prisoner who was “offended” by the Thanksgiving holiday tried to do just that, but the court dismissed his claim finding that “[t]o the extent any of these defendants are actual entities that may be sued, they are private organizations that do not act under color of state law, an essential element of a § 1983 action.” And if you want a second helping of prisoner litigation, dish out Professor Abigail Perdue’s suggestion: Karmasu v. Hughes, 654 N.E.2d 179 (Ohio App. 1995) (concerning a prisoner who sued the prison dietician for serving turkey stuffing for Thanksgiving).
In December, consider a Christmas tree or menorah themed case. There are over two thousand cases involving Christmas trees with issues ranging from freedom of religion to the Fair Labor Standards Act in agricultural production. See Mather v. Village of Mundelein, 864 F.2d 1291 (7th Cir. 1989) and U.S. Dept. of Labor v. N.C. Growers Assn., Inc., 377 F.3d 345 (4th Cir. 2004), respectively. For a more technical exploration of the holiday, turn to the U.S. Court of International Trade, which explored whether “14-foot long lengths of wire set with 10 light bulbs … in the form of such objects as fruits, vegetables, hearts, rearing horses, guitars and American flags” should be classified as “lighting sets of a kind used for Christmas trees” or “other electric lamps” within a tariff statute. Primal Lite, Inc. v. U.S., 15 F. Supp. 2d 915 (Ct. Intl. Trade 1998).
Pavlicic v. Vogtsberger (or any of the cases it cites) is an ideal choice around Valentine’s Day for both romantics and cynics alike because the case addresses “the recovery of gifts which [a man] presented to [a woman] in anticipation of a marriage which never saw the bridal veil.” 136 A.2d 127, 128 (Pa. 1957).
Meanwhile, in the spring, opt for an Easter Bunny themed case. If the case need not be published, then I recommend Rogers v. Walgreens, 2017 WL 3263783, where a woman was so startled by a Walgreens’ employee dressed as the Easter Bunny that she fell and injured herself. But if you require a published source, consider People v. Gaither, 173 Cal. App. 2d 662 (1959), which found the defendant guilty of poisoning his ex-wife’s family with chocolate Easter Bunny candies laced with enough arsenic to kill 75 people.
After you select your case, make sure it is sufficiently de-identified for the research exercise. Here’s a quick “how to”:
- Download the opinion from Westlaw or Lexis as a Microsoft Word document.
- Delete as much of the identifying information as possible, including the case caption, syllabus, headnotes, and the judge’s name.
- Omit any concurring or dissenting opinions, for brevity, if desired.
- Substitute any extraordinarily unusual words in the opinion with more commonplace synonyms. Savvy students will simply search for the strange term instead of identifying the actual legal issue.
- Use the “find and replace” feature on Word to quickly substitute the parties’ last names with their first names or other designations such as buyer and seller or plaintiff and defendant.
- Try to locate the case yourself using traditional Westlaw and Lexis searches. Make sure that the case is findable but does not necessarily immediately reveal itself.
- Confirm that the case does not come up in the first few pages of Google search results.
Once the opinion is sufficiently scrubbed, announce the rules of the game and get researching!
For more information on fun holiday-themed research exercises, see the Winter 2016 edition of “The Learning Curve,” a publication of the AALS Section on Academic Support, which is available online at the Law School Academic Success Project.