There is rarely levity in the court record, much less something that one would associate with the so-called “spooky season.”
Understandably, a deep dive into historic court files rarely turns up anything that could fit under the more lighthearted side of Halloween. Because when a matter ends up in court, there’s rarely anything lighthearted about it. Even a search for keywords like “haunted,” “zombie,” or “ghoulish”—though they have that Halloweeney vibe on their own—most often brings up tales of actual horror.
That’s not to say there isn’t the occasional bit of Halloween-style fun to be found. Here are seven court cases that are worthy of the Halloween season.
1.Lamb’s Chapel v. Center Moriches Union Free School Dist.
There’s nothing ghoulish about this 1993 case before the U.S. Supreme Court involving a lawsuit brought by a church over alleged violations of the First Amendment and Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. However, the concurring opinion by Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas contains a particularly vivid excerpt:
“As to the Court’s invocation of the Lemon test: Like some ghoul in a late-night horror movie that repeatedly sits up in its grave and shuffles abroad, after being repeatedly killed and buried, Lemon stalks our Establishment Clause jurisprudence once again, frightening the little children and school attorneys of Center Moriches Union Free School District. Its most recent burial, only last Term, was, to be sure, not fully six feet under … .”
A quick search will reveal a surprisingly high number of uses of the following old cliché. This usage in a 2006 case before the Second District Court of Appeal in Louisiana, however, manages to stand out.
“It was a dark and stormy night (actually, a dark and rainy pre-dawn) on January 25, 2004, when a truck driven by Kenneth G. Austin collided with a cow owned by Claude Bundrick. Austin was traveling north when he struck Bundrick’s cow in his lane of travel on La. Highway 1 at the intersection with La. Hwy. 509. Bundrick and his insurer, Colony Insurance Company, have appealed the partial summary judgment finding Bundrick liable for the damages resulting from the accident.”
Closer to home in the Pacific Northwest, this 1965 case before the Washington Supreme Court paints a similar picture of a dark, stormy night.
“The night was black, and a heavy rain fell as Walter V. Hewitt and Jerry Shebley left the tavern in Lyle to drive out of town with Lester Roth in his 1953 GMC pickup truck,” then Justice Frank Hale wrote. “They intended to take Hewitt over to Bingen where he could arrange for a ride to work next day, and on the way back were to tip over Jim Pimley’s backyard privy as a sort of Halloween prank, They failed in both missions … .”
Justice Hale’s imagery was so vivid, in fact, that Justice Matthew Hill felt the need to call it out in his dissenting opinion:
“The majority opinion is so well written that I hesitate to voice a dissent, but the deftly woven phrases do not conceal the plain hard fact that the plaintiff was injured when the car in which he was riding hit the ninth and tenth cars of a 16-car freight train, then crossing the highway.”
In 2013, a case was brought to Division 1 of the Washington Court of Appeals over an order to vacate a default judgment.
The original case involved a Halloween party at a Seattle-based heavy metal nightclub in 2010, during which a woman injured herself after slipping in fake blood that had been used in one of the night’s performances.
Coming from the United States Southern District Court in New York, this 1999 copyright dispute is hardly frightening in itself. But the material in dispute makes for fascinatingly outlandish reading that you wouldn’t expect to find in court.
Among the various comic book titles at the center of the dispute, a description of Dhampire: Stillborn certainly stands out.
“Later, Tanith, reborn as a vampire, visits Gaunt and attempts to give him eternal life through her bite. Natalie arrives, however, and informs Gaunt that since he was born a dhampire, in order to become a full vampire he must make the decision to ‘damn [himself] by committing crimes so hideous that [he] is branded with the mark of Cain.’ Upon his violent death, he will arise on the third night as one of the undead.”
6. Ghost v. Ghost
There’s honestly little that can be said about this Utah divorce preceding other than the case name.
7. ‘Ghost Cattle’
In March of this year, according to the Tri-City Herald, Cody A. Easterday pleaded guilty to a scheme to defraud Tyson Foods of $244 million—a scheme that federal prosecutors called a “ghost-cattle scam.”
“Easterday, who’s also chief executive officer of Easterday Ranches Inc., charged the two companies under various agreements for the costs of buying and feeding 200,000 cattle, when those cattle did not actually exist, according to a U.S. Department of Justice news release.”