January 23, 2008
To the left is Profossor Rich Bodek of the College of Charleston's History Department. He took my wedding photos. He also served as best man, witness and host of the wedding reception. I was very pleased with his work -- and with his price. I recommend him highly to anyone in need of a wedding photographer.
Why do I mention this? Well, there has been a string of wedding-related litigation. This blog did not stoop to comment when the blogosphere lit up (e.g., here, here, here, here, and here) with news of a New York litigation associate who sued a florist that delivered the wrong-colored flowers to her wedding reception. The florist was to provide floral arrangements valued at $27,000, but to the delight and outrage of the blogarazzi, plaintiff sued to recover the full cost of her wedding, $400,000.
Next, our own Meredith Miller reported that a groom (groomzilla, I suppose) successfully sued a wedding photographer who took lousy pictures at the groom's wedding. The total contract price was $5400 for pictures and a wedding video, and since there was no problem with the video, the court awarded damages in the amount of $2700.
Well, the post-nup litigation continues. Yesterday's New York Times reported on the impending bankruptcy of Celebration Studios. Apparently, many newlyweds who paid thousands of dollars for Celebrations Studios' services have never seen the wedding photos and videos that they paid for. The Times reports that a class action is in the works. As one potential plaintiff put it, "I feel rabid about it."
Well, for those of you whose wedding is still in the planning stages, don't get rabid, call Rich. Tell him I sent you.
Allocating Contract Liability after the Bubble Bursts
The New York Times had an article yesterday about a woman who is suing her real estate agent for persuading her and her husband to pay perhaps 10-15% too much for their $1.2 million house in San Diego. The case is pretty ordinary, which leads one to think there's plenty more where this one came from. Marty Ummel claims that she and her husband trusted their real estate agent, who assured them that they were getting a good price. Soon after moving in, the Ummels learned that similar houses in their neighborhood had sold for as much as $175,000 less.
According to the Times, the defendant, Mike Little did not respond to the Ummels' requests to see the appraisal that he ordered. Mr. Little has expert witnesses who will argue that they were thus harmed, if at all, by their own inadequate due diligence. The Ummels have already settled for modest amounts with the appraiser and the mortgage broker, but Mr. Little is unrepentant. "The lady's a nut job. I didn't do anything wrong," Mr. Little is quoted as saying. He should expect a call shortly from central casting.
The Times reports that Ms. Ummel has already spent $75,000 on attorneys fees. Her own appraiser contends that the property was worth $1,050,000 at the time she purchased it, so it's hard to see how damages could possibly exceed $150,000. Ms. Ummel denies being obsessive-compulsive, but she did picket Mr. Little's ReMax offices on weekends for a year and describes herself as "114 pounds of absolute perseverance."
January 22, 2008
Evaluations, Contracts and Ethics
I have written many an angry letter to Randy Cohen, author of a column called "The Ethicist" which appers in The New York Times' Sunday Magazine. My letters are always about how law and ethics are not the same thing and how he fudges his analysis when he consults attorneys (as he frequently does) and, upon learning that the conduct in question is lawful, concludes that it is also ethical -- or at least not unethical. Mr. Cohen has always been very patient with me, explaining that while legality is not proof of ethics, there is considerable overlap and so if conduct is lawful, that counts as some evidence that it is also ethical. But we both know what is really going on here. I'm really just pissed off that he never asks my advice.
But this time, I'm going to criticize Mr. Cohen for not considering a legal angle. In his most recent column, which you can listen to here and read here, a reader reports that a university had employed a handwriting expert in order to determine which student was responsible for breaking the university's code of conduct by making derogatory comments about an instructor's sexual orientation in the student's supposedly anonymous evaluation of the instructor's course. Mr. Cohen answered that the university's response would do far more harm than the student had caused with his or her homophobic slurs. He recommends that the university clarify that it will only protect the anonymity of students who comment on what he called a professor's "work," by which I assume he means classroom teaching. Seems like a tough line to draw.
My question though goes to the most basic of all contracts issues. When the university says that it has a policy of protecting the anonymity of evaluators, is that an enforceable promise? I think it ought to be, and my reasons for thinking so are basically ethical. The breach gives rise to no cognizable damages as far as I can tell, but I think a court could enjoin the university from disciplining a student whose anonymity it has promised to protect.