Guy Claims Google Owes Him $500 Billion

from the novel-legal-arguments dept

I'm always interested in novel legal theories and arguments, and Eric Goldman points us to the latest attempt by one David Stebbins to convince the court system that giant companies owe him tons of money. Last time we'd checked in on Stebbins, he had been claiming Walmart owed him $600 billion, using some dubious claims which still don't make much sense. But it involved something with a "contract" he put on his website, which he apparently emailed folks at Walmart about, and when they sent back a boilerplate reply saying he had contacted the wrong department, he demanded they settle their "legal dispute." Walmart ignored that, and he declared that they now owed him $600 billion (with a b) as an arbitration award.

He's now trying something similar with Google, though this time it's "only" for $500 billion (again, with a b). The filing is embedded below and it's worth a read. It kicks off with a long diatribe insisting that the court cannot deny the motion, and making dubious legal claims that the court "must" grant the motion that Google owes him $500 billion. As for the crux of his "argument," it's that YouTube's terms of service say that the company can change the terms at any time and give notice. So he decided to change the terms himself. As he notes:
[YouTube's terms of service] state that the terms can be unilaterally modified at any time. If the other party does not wish to accept the new terms, they may sever the contractual relationship.

On March 22, 2011, I took YouTube up on that generous offer and sent them an email announcing my own modifications of the Youtube terms of service.
The key part that he "inserted" into his new terms was this nugget:
If you do not accept my invitation to arbitrate within 24 hours of receiving it, I automatically win the relief request, regardless of the merits. No actual arbitration award need be entered; I simply win, automatically, without having to go to arbitration. However, this will only apply to me. If you attempt to arbitrate with me, and I do not accept it, you must obtain an order to compel arbitration.
Amusingly, in the clause above that, he also states: "If you even so much as attempt to litigate a case with me, even if that attempt is unsuccessful you automatically loose that case." Yes, he typed "loose."

You can pretty much guess what happened next. He claimed that YouTube "accepted" his modified contract by not canceling his accounts within 30 days, and then it failed to respond to his arbitration request within 24 hours. Thus, he tells the court, Google owes him $500 billion and, according to the legal genius of David Stebbins, the court has no choice but to agree.

Of course, courts generally don't like having people waste their time, and I imagine this one gets dropped pretty quickly for any number of reasons, not the least of which is that YouTube's terms of service are actually pretty clear that only YouTube can modify them, not some random, lawsuit happy guy.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    John Doe, Aug 18th, 2011 @ 4:48am

    Unilateral vs. Multilateral

    He does realize that YouTube's TOS says it can "unilaterally" change the TOS, it doesn't say "multilateral" so it is a one way street.

     

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  2.  
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    abc gum, Aug 18th, 2011 @ 4:49am

    I assume he used his pinky finger for emphasis.

     

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  3.  
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    jimwormold, Aug 18th, 2011 @ 4:54am

    Done before...

    Is this going to constitute another volume of The Timewaster Letters?

     

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  4.  
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    Richard (profile), Aug 18th, 2011 @ 5:32am

    Don't view this as a lawsuit

    View it as performance art!

     

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  5.  
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    slacker525600 (profile), Aug 18th, 2011 @ 5:38am

    as much as he is crazy

    Isn't his point a valid one. As far as I am aware contract law is pretty clear that you cant unilaterally change the terms of a contract and the way websites do it nowadays they dont even give any form of notification. The boilerplate on most websites nowadays appear to me to be unenforceable and invalid contracts, and somebody needs to bring the issue to court. The last I remember reading about it, some judge claimed it was fine as long as there was a link to the terms somewhere you would see it while logging into the site and the hyperlink to the contract was a different color(maybe he said something about it being underlined). The methodology he is trying to use is silly and a waste of everybody's time, but if he is just trying to point out an issue with contracts on the internet I have to say I think he has a point.

     

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  6.  
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    The Devil's Coachman (profile), Aug 18th, 2011 @ 5:50am

    The point is, he's an idiot. Nothing more.

    I'm quite sure you are not a lawyer, so your legal opinion is of no value. He is simply another in a long line of money-grubbing filth who think all they need to do is keep filing baseless lawsuits and eventually they will win one, which is the same reason most people buy lottery tickets, with an even lower chance of success. This dolt should be one of the top nominees for "Biggest Douche in the Universe"! I fart in his general direction.

     

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  7.  
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    Gracey (profile), Aug 18th, 2011 @ 5:51am

    Re: as much as he is crazy

    [but if he is just trying to point out an issue with contracts on the internet I have to say I think he has a point]

    That would be a very big "if".

    If that were the case he should be suing every website that has a "Terms of Use" or "Terms of Service clause", not just the companies who (apparently) have lots of money.

    Beyond that, wasting the time of the US court system isn't going to win him any blue ribbons, and if he keeps going, might get him a spot in a very nice padded room somewhere.

     

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  8.  
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    Vincent Clement (profile), Aug 18th, 2011 @ 5:52am

    Re: as much as he is crazy

    "as far as I am aware"
    "pretty clear"
    "appear to me"
    "last I remember"
    "some judge claimed"
    "maybe he said"

    You put up an excellent argument as to why Mr. Stebbins "has a point".

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 18th, 2011 @ 6:01am

    This almost, *almost* sounds like a snarky comment about EULAs or Terms and Conditions, taken to the extreme level.

    For my own sanity I have to assume that he's trying to make some kind of point rather than honestly trying to get $500 billion from google.

     

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  10.  
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    Digitivity, Aug 18th, 2011 @ 6:01am

    Re: as much as he is crazy

    I have to agree with slacker525600: the guy has a point about wacky ToS's and how they are stacked against the little guy. And what's up with just posting contract changes on a page somewhere, and the user's supposed to constantly check that page for changes? If a user actually did that, he'd probably be brought up on Denial of Service charges. Lose either way.

    As for Gracey's point about not suing sites that don't have money, would you really rather he sue podunk bloggers? Actually, it's mostly only sites that do have money which have these nutty one-sided ToS's.

     

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  11.  
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    red-headed step-brother, Aug 18th, 2011 @ 6:07am

    is this guy related to

    the "i pwn half of facebook" d00d Paul Cigilia (or however he spells hiz name)...seems like putzes like this should have a special section at the zoo, or in the Smithsonian.

     

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  12.  
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    Ima Fish (profile), Aug 18th, 2011 @ 6:14am

    We had a women sue a bunch of big time oil companies claiming trillions in damages. She claimed she was owed the money because she was Marie Antoinette. Not a reincarnated Marie Antoinette, but Marie Antoinette herself.

    If you're trying to figure out why Marie Antoinette is owed trillions by the oil companies, give up. There is no reason. Anyway...

    When the judge I work for started speaking in French at a hearing she told him she didn't understand his dialect.

    Needless to say, her case was dismissed without even an opposing counsel filing an appearance.

     

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  13.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 18th, 2011 @ 6:15am

    Re: is this guy related to

    It would be much easier if here were to just come out and say, "All your base are belong to us!"

     

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  14.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 18th, 2011 @ 6:21am

    This guy has a great point.

    Google owes me a few hundred million. It's a comparatively paltry compared to the 500 billion but it makes a nice nest egg anyway.

     

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  15.  
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    Jimr (profile), Aug 18th, 2011 @ 6:25am

    Can I Patent that

    Can I Patent that novel business model?

    I tend to think I could not patent being total dumb ass.

     

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  16.  
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    Bengie, Aug 18th, 2011 @ 6:30am

    ToS/EULA

    They should both require being served with official documents and signatures.

    All end user contracts should be void unless signed in some way, similar to how my student loans require proof of who you are to "digitally" sign.

     

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  17.  
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    TechLawAttorney, Aug 18th, 2011 @ 6:36am

    Re: as much as he is crazy

    Your "awareness" of contract law needs some more work. I suggest you start with a bit of light reading: the case law surrounding "click-wrap agreements," and the "Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act" (UCITA). I think you will be enlightened as to enforceability of unilateral online agreements.

    The more you know....

     

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  18.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 18th, 2011 @ 6:37am

    David Stebbins to convince the court system that giant companies owe him tons of money.

    If there is a monopoly, which by definition of a monopoly means that they are the only game in town, and that monopoly declares that it has a right to change the terms of service at whim then it should only be judicial fair that the opposing party have equivalent rights.

    Regardless of any other interest David Stebbins is doing the world a favor by showing how absurd those heads I whin, tails you loose one sided mandatory contracts are.

     

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  19.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 18th, 2011 @ 6:41am

    Re:

    She didn't understand the French because it's a new dialect. It is so far removed from he old french that it may as well be a different language. So there.

     

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  20.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 18th, 2011 @ 6:42am

    Re: as much as he is crazy

    ...contract law is pretty clear that you cant unilaterally change the terms of a contract...


    Contract law, of course, is a matter of state law.

    Here's some Texas law, from Harris v Blockbuster:

    Legal Standard

    In Texas, a contract must be supported by consideration, and if it is not, it is illusory and cannot be enforced. . . .

    Analysis

    The basis for the Plaintiffs' claim that the arbitration provision is illusory is that Blockbuster reserves the right to modify the Terms and Conditions, including the section that contains the arbitration provision, "at its sole discretion" and "at any time," and such modifications will be effective immediately upon being posted on the site. Under the heading "Changes to Terms and Conditions," the contract states:

    Blockbuster may at any time, and at its sole discretion, modify these Terms and Conditions of Use, including without limitation the Privacy Policy, with or without notice. Such modifications will be effective immediately upon posting. You agree to review these Terms and Conditions of Use periodically and your continued use of this Site following such modifications will indicate your acceptance of these modified Terms and Conditions of Use. If you do not agree to any modification of these Terms and Conditions of Use, you must immediately stop using this Site.


    The Court concludes that the Blockbuster arbitration provision is illusory for the same reasons as that in Morrison. . . .


    Contract law is other states may differ. However the principle that “illusory contracts” are unenforcable is pretty basic.

     

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  21.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 18th, 2011 @ 6:44am

    Re:

    Every time I see the name David Stebbins, I think of Sebben and Sebben Law Firm. I think this guy should be represented by Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law.

     

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  22.  
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    Chronno S. Trigger (profile), Aug 18th, 2011 @ 6:46am

    Re: Unilateral vs. Multilateral

    "YouTube may, in its sole discretion, modify or revise these Terms of Service and policies at any time,"

    Did they change it recently, because that seems vary clear to me that only YouTube can change the TOS.

     

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  23.  
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    Robert Ring (profile), Aug 18th, 2011 @ 6:47am

    By reading this comment, you agree to pay me $500 billion dollars (or, alternatively, pay on an installment plan with reasonable interest) with no chance for arbitration. And if you do take me to court and I loose, you agree to pay me anyway.

    Sorry guys, them's the ropes.

     

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  24.  
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    Berenerd (profile), Aug 18th, 2011 @ 6:51am

    Re:

    You fail because you are too loose with your use of lose...

     

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  25.  
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    WysiWyg (profile), Aug 18th, 2011 @ 6:58am

    Re: Re:

    Well, unless she claimed time travel, she would have been keeping up on the latest changes, wouldn't you say?

     

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  26.  
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    Robert Doyle (profile), Aug 18th, 2011 @ 7:00am

    All the Terms in the world...

    All of the terms in the world mean nothing until tested in a court. All of these 'put' contracts are offensive. It would be nice if everyone tried treating people fairly for a change instead of treating them like sheeple to be fleeced.

     

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  27.  
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    Pickle Monger (profile), Aug 18th, 2011 @ 7:18am

    Mediation, meditation...

    No chance of settling this via Quake 3 contest, is there...

     

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  28.  
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    Harvey Birdman Esq., Aug 18th, 2011 @ 7:28am

    I'll take the case!

     

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  29.  
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    dbach12291, Aug 18th, 2011 @ 7:33am

    Insane

    Welcome to Capitalist America. Land of the scheming. Where those who work hard are considered saps, and those that lie, steal, cheat, and manipulate are rewarded by society. While this guy's motion is pretty much a joke, there is a truth that everyone wants something for nothing.

     

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  30.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 18th, 2011 @ 7:53am

    Re: Re: Re:

    You think time travel wasn't involved? You're not watching enough Doctor Who.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31.  
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    out_of_the_blue, Aug 18th, 2011 @ 7:58am

    "YouTube's terms of service" are also unconscionable and not binding.

    Terms that can be changed unilaterally in no way constitute an "agreement". Nor does making use of a machine that someone provides free of charge, open to the public, mean acceptance of any conditions at all. Public access websites fall under community bulletin board and public accommodation rules. It's just a machine that responds, and it's the owner of that machine who gives up private rights to the machine, presumably for some commercial gain, which puts it under a whole new set of strictures. -- As in the BART cell-phone shut off, once a service is made available to the public, it becomes quasi-public property, and 1st Amendment DOES apply to some degree. Youtube as a corporation has certain /power/, but NO rights.

    I've expanded on this before and will have to make it boilerplate, because the supposed "Terms of Service" are in fact terms of those who intend to be MASTERS of society, not its servants.

     

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  32.  
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    jc, Aug 18th, 2011 @ 8:12am

    Re: All the Terms in the world...

    That would be nice indeed. The issue is, of course, that companies are fearful of lawsuits like this -- but at the same time, they are also doing what they can to make sure they can fleece their customers and get away with it.

    To me, this whole country's has gotten way too laissez-faire with capitalism. For God sakes, we are treating corporations as if they are people now. If that isn't the most whack concept, I don't know what is. They aren't people - they have no souls. Sure, people work there, but that doesn't make them some 'super person'.

    I don't know.. it is just all so sickening. Working hard to built wealth. That's considering being dumb. Schemeing, manipulating, stealing, lying, cheating ... that's all par for the course if you want to 'make it' in America.

    Is it just me? Does nobody else feel things are way upside down? It is no wonder our economy is in shambles. You have to build from the GROUND -> UP. Trickle down crap doesn't work, we all know that. When the poor (or middle class as they are told they are) have finally been fleeced to the point where they have no more money to spend, then of course everything goes to crap.

     

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  33.  
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    The Real Zano, Aug 18th, 2011 @ 8:26am

    Re: "YouTube's terms of service" are also unconscionable and not binding.

    No. Not at all. None of this.

    BART is a publicly-funded venture, hence the 1st amendment applies to it. Someone offering a website that is free of charge and accessible to the general public is not operating public property, no more than is someone operating a restaurant, hot dog cart, bowling alley, or telephone hotline operating public property.

    Property doesn't magically transmogrify from private to public just because you want it to.

     

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  34.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 18th, 2011 @ 8:43am

    "and I imagine this one gets dropped pretty quickly for any number of reasons"

    He should get penalized for this nonsense, and it should be more than just a slap on the wrist.

     

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  35.  
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    Richard (profile), Aug 18th, 2011 @ 8:46am

    Re:

    She would have been better of claiming to be Ida M. Tarbell. (The original "woman taking on a bunch of big oil companies".)

     

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  36.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 18th, 2011 @ 8:56am

    Re:

    It might hold water if you had an existing contract with us, which you don't.

    Too bad, so sad.

     

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  37.  
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    MrWilson, Aug 18th, 2011 @ 9:59am

    Re: Re:

    By reading this reply, you agree that you did have an existing contract with me and therefore you do owe me $500 billion dollars. It's true because I said so and reading this sentence means that you agree.

     

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  38.  
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    Amit, Aug 18th, 2011 @ 10:20am

    Re: Re: All the Terms in the world...

    Corporations have always been considered a person in the legal sense.

    cor·po·ra·tionNoun/ˌkôrpəˈrāSHən/
    1. A company or group of people authorized to act as a single entity (legally a person) and recognized as such in law.

    So i am not sure what your problem that it is being treated like one.

     

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  39.  
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    Gracey (profile), Aug 18th, 2011 @ 12:26pm

    Re: Re: as much as he is crazy

    Actually, it isn't anymore just sites with lots of money that have Terms that most people don't necessarily agree with. Lots of smaller sites also have these - is this guy going to go about suing all of them just cause he wants the terms "his way"? It ain't Harvey's.

    My own have terms - the terms I choose to offer, not what someone else wants.

    As for "monied sites" - while you may think the terms are one-sided, nobody is twisting your arm to agree with them. If you don't like them, find another site who doesn't have terms.

    Since when is anyone required to set up their terms to suit another user?

    I get pretty tired of stuff like that. When you own a business, you get to set the rules (within the law) and if others don't like it...well tough. Go somewhere else.

    Nagging on terms of agreement or use is not much different than assuming you can tell someone how to run their business .

    There are better ways of suggesting changes than making yourself look like...well this particular idiot.

     

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  40.  
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    Gracey (profile), Aug 18th, 2011 @ 12:30pm

    Re:

    YouTube isn't "the only game in town".

    There are many other video sites. Try looking.

    They might be the most popular "game in town", but they aren't the only one.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  41.  
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    The Devil's Coachman (profile), Aug 18th, 2011 @ 1:24pm

    Re:

    I agree. A good kick to the balls would be appropriate. Twenty or thirty times. Just to make sure the lesson isn't lost.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  42.  
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    Michael (profile), Aug 18th, 2011 @ 2:21pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    Marie obviously immigrated and learned English, not keeping up with the development of French.

     

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  43.  
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    Michael (profile), Aug 18th, 2011 @ 2:24pm

    Re:

    tl;dr

     

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  44.  
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    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Aug 18th, 2011 @ 4:53pm

    Is David Stebbins a pseudonym of John Steele?
    This sounds like one of his letters.

     

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  45.  
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    RT Cunningham (profile), Aug 19th, 2011 @ 4:27am

    Flashbacks

    I picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  46.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 19th, 2011 @ 4:59am

    Re: Vexatious Litigant

    Agreed. What is the sanction in American law for being a vexatious litigant?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  47.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 19th, 2011 @ 10:35am

    Response to: abc gum on Aug 18th, 2011 @ 4:49am

    "Before I continue" let me point out that Stebbins clearly has a solid case and is well versed in all legal matters. As to whether or not he used his pinky finger for emphasis I would say probably not. Using his pinky finger for emphasis of an evil deed would obviously violate copyright and trademarks of the New Line Films production, Austin Powers. He would simply know better, he is smrt and stuff.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  48.  
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    JLW, Aug 20th, 2011 @ 8:13am

    this guy

    He reminds me of the timecube guy, with his strange, twisted logic, only he's got a legal obsession instead of a scientific one.

    Terms of Service are ridiculous though, I'll give him that.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  49.  
    identicon
    Kevin, Aug 20th, 2011 @ 11:59am

    Trying the same with XBOX Live

    Looks like he just filed the exact same lawsuit against Microsoft:
    http://blog.seattlepi.com/microsoft/2011/08/19/xbox-live-user-says-microsoft-owes-him-500-billion/

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  50.  
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    lrobbo (profile), Jun 8th, 2012 @ 2:23pm

    I hear he was recently sectioned . . .

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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