Drafting Pleadings in Crayon

Drafting Pleadings in Crayon

This morning, a tweet from OnTheDocket clued me in to a gem of an opinion that I'd never had the pleasure of reading previously. Bradshaw v. Unity Marine Corp., 147 F. Supp. 2d 668 (S.D. Tex. 2001),  involved a claim for personal injuries filed by a seaman pursuant to the Jones Act. I'll let the Court's words speak for themselves:

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.

The court continued:

Defendant begins the descent into Alice's Wonderland by submitting a Motion that relies upon only one legal authority. The Motion cites a Fifth Circuit case which stands for the whopping proposition that a federal court sitting in Texas applies the Texas statutes of limitations to certain state and federal law claims. See Gonzales v. Wyatt, 157 F.3d 1016, 1021 n.1 (5th Cir. 1998), cert. denied, 528 U.S. 1118 (2000). That is all well and good--the Court is quite fond of the Erie doctrine; indeed there is talk of little else around both the Canal and this Court's water cooler. Defendant, however, does not even cite to Erie, but to a mere successor case, and further fails to even begin to analyze why the Court should approach the shores of Erie. Finally, Defendant does not even provide a cite to its desired Texas limitation statute. 2 A more bumbling approach is difficult to conceive--but wait folks, There's More!

***

Despite the continued shortcomings of Plaintiff's supplemental submission, the Court commends Plaintiff for his vastly improved choice of crayon--Brick Red is much easier on the eyes than Goldenrod, and stands out much better amidst the mustard splotched about Plaintiff's briefing. But at the end of the day, even if you put a calico dress on it and call it Florence, a pig is still a pig.

Now, alas, the Court must return to grownup land. As vaguely alluded to by the parties, the issue in this case turns upon which law--state or maritime--applies to each of Plaintiff's potential claims versus Defendant Phillips. And despite Plaintiff's and Defendant's joint, heroic efforts to obscure it, the answer to this question is readily ascertained.

***

After this remarkably long walk on a short legal pier, having received no useful guidance whatever from either party, the Court has endeavored, primarily based upon its affection for both counsel, but also out of its own sense of morbid curiosity, to resolve what it perceived to be the legal issue presented. Despite the waste of perfectly good crayon seen in both parties' briefing (and the inexplicable odor of wet dog emanating from such) the Court believes it has satisfactorily resolved this matter. Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED.

At this juncture, Plaintiff retains, albeit seemingly to his befuddlement and/or consternation, a maritime law cause of action versus his alleged Jones Act employer, Defendant Unity Marine Corporation, Inc. However, it is well known around these parts that Unity Marine's lawyer is equally likable and has been writing crisply in ink since the second grade. Some old-timers even spin yarns of an ability to type. The Court cannot speak to the veracity of such loose talk, but out of caution, the Court suggests that Plaintiff's lovable counsel had best upgrade to a nice shiny No. 2 pencil or at least sharpen what's left of the stubs of his crayons for what remains of this heart-stopping, spine-tingling action.

If you have a subscription to lexis.com, you can read the whole opinion at LexisNexis® 147 F. Supp. 2d 668. In my opinion, a few lessons can be learned from the case. First, some judges have a great sense of humor. Second, some attorneys apparently rely on that sense of humor, although doing so might be dangerous to their professional reputation. In other words, don't try this at home. I'll leave it to the ethics professionals to cite the applicable rules on this one, but it appears obvious to me that submitting materials to the court in crayon with incorrect citations and inapplicable case law might violate a few ethical canons/rules, something that you definitely want to avoid whether you are a fledgling attorney or a seasoned veteran.