Media Law Prof Blog

Editor: Christine A. Corcos
Louisiana State Univ.

Friday, January 20, 2006

A Case Only Lawyers Could Love

In a case worthy of Henry Cecil, U. S. District Court Judge Deborah Chasanow dismissed Coppinger v. Schantag, not because the family of the deceased plaintiff requested that the case be dismissed, but because the cause of action did not survive his death.

"This case presents a legal conundrum that will sound absurd to a non-lawyer. Counsel for Plaintiff has filed a notice of voluntary dismissal, reciting that Plaintiff unfortunately died on December 19, 2005, and that the family does not wish to proceed with this action alleging defamation and false light invasion of privacy. While it might seem unnecessarily convoluted, the law does not permit an attorney to file the notice because his agency relationship with Plaintiff ceased on Plaintiff's death. Nor does the filing suffice as a suggestion of death under Fed. R. Civ. P. 25...triggering the 90-day period for substitution. Moreover, Maryland law seems to provide that the causes of action do not survive Plaintiff's death so as to permit substitution of a party under Rule 25. Accordingly, the notice of dismissal is ineffective, but the case will nevertheless be dismissed."

Read her succinct ruling here.

Henry Cecil (Leon)(1902-1976) is the author of wonderful ironic novels such as Fathers in Law, in which an adoptive couple battles to retain custody of its son after a judge fails to order that the natural father be notified of the adoption proceedings, and Brothers in Law (1957) which was made into a popular film with Richard Attenborough, Ian Carmichael and Terry-Thomas.

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