It’s getting to that time of the year when poor, overworked, over-read medical students begin to suffer from that most terrifying of afflictions: medical students’ syndrome. But why let them have all the fun? I would imagine that anyone entering into a professional school and becoming exposed to the “sicknesses” within their initially idyllic industry might experience the same kind of spontaneous, apprehensive personal reflections.
In that spirit, I present to you Martin vs Little, Brown & Co, one of the cases I had to read for Contracts class tomorrow.
The case was included as a means of exemplifying implied contracts, legally enforceable situations in which a formal contract is never made, but both parties continue to act in the assumption that it was. To employ my standard leitmotif, assume I tell Alex Smith that I would happily process his retirement papers for him for the usual clerical fee. Without ever formally agreeing to the contract, Mssr. Smith mails me his retirement papers, and once I have filled them out (Reasons for leaving: complete incompetence. Next job: Port-a-potty cleaner. Any additional comments: Your organization deserved far better than I was ever capable of giving) and returned them, he goes ahead, files them, and retires to his nondescript life scrubbing barnacles off of Alaskan King Crab fishing boats, without a wetsuit. By availing himself of my services, services which I had made clear I expected to be paid for, Alex “I feel pressure so I’m running straight toward the sideline, no, don’t wave at me Vernon, can’t you see there’s a bench over there with my name on it?” Smith has entered into an implied contract with me, and I am free to sue him for compensation should he fail to pay me.
In Martin v Little, Brown & Co, Martin, the plaintiff, does much the same, with one crucial difference: he sends Little, Brown & Co (a publishing house) a letter noting that he has discovered an issue of plagiarism of one of their books by a newly released publication. They check it out, and then proceed to sue the other book for copyright infringement. Mr. Martin then tries to sue them, under the impression that he deserved a share of whatever recompense Little, Brown & Co. received as a part of their damages, thinking that since they availed themselves of his aid/services, they had entered an implied contract. He lost, obviously, because his initial letter failed to treat his offer as anything but gratuitous: he never stated that he expected to be paid.
Mr. Martin appealed (which he also lost), and as a part of the appeal tried to sue Little, Brown & Co. for entering a counter-claim to his original complaint, alleging that the counter-claim was an intentional infliction of mental distress. The following explanation (and the first time the opinion makes mention of exactly who the plaintiff is) from the opinion literally made me laugh (a sense of humor apparently being one of the many things that atrophies in law school):
The adversary nature of litigation invariably involves a turbulent contest of wills. Appellant, a law student who threatened to avail himself of the judicial process to assert a claim, cannot properly complain when his adversary threatens to file a counterclaim.
This makes me wonder: how many other frivolous or losing cases have there been, started solely because some law student just learned about a point of law and thought s/he could make an easy buck? I imagine the process a law student undergoes in imagining a discovery of legal applications to his/her own life is not all that dissimilar to a medical student convinced that s/he suffers from kuru.