Court Tosses Cop's Lawsuit Against Social Movement, Twitter Hashtag

from the flipping-the-'fool-for-a-client'-adage dept

If you're a cop patrolling a demonstration and you get hit by a flying rock, you most likely shrug it off as the hazards of work and set out making an arrest. If you're one anonymous Baton Rouge cop, you sue ethereal non-entities and someone who did nothing more than speak at the protests where the officer was injured. (h/t Adam Steinbaugh)

We don't know who this cop is but we do know his lawyer, who had this to say about the recently-tossed lawsuit.

The officer's attorney, Donna Grodner, said in an email that she was "not at liberty to discuss the case."

This explains everything. Actually, considering the lawsuit aped one of Larry Klayman's more... um... inventive litigation escapades, the less said about the tossed suit, the better. In no particular order, AnonCop sued:

1. Activist DeRay Mckesson, who spoke at the Baton Rouge demonstrations.

2. Black Lives Matters -- a name used by several concurrent movements to protest police violence against blacks

3. A Twitter hashtag

The suit has been tossed -- hard -- by a Louisiana federal court. Dismissed with prejudice [PDF], which blocks AnonCop from attempting anything this ridiculous again -- at least against these defendants.

The court waves away the allegations against Mckesson as lacking in any evidence the activist was responsible for the rock/concrete that hit the suing officer.

In his Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that Mckesson "le[]d the protest and violence that accompanied the protest." (Id. at ¶ 3). As support for this contention, Plaintiff pleaded that Mckesson "was in charge of the protests[,] and he was seen and heard giving orders throughout the day and night of the protests." (Id. at ¶ 17). Further, Plaintiff avers that Mckesson "did nothing to calm the crowd" during the demonstration; rather, Mckesson "incited the violence." (Id. at ¶ 19). All of these allegations are conclusory in nature, however, and they do not give rise to a plausible claim for relief against Mckesson.

In order to state a claim against Mckesson to hold him liable for the tortious act of another with whom he was associating during the demonstration, Plaintiff would have to allege facts that tend to demonstrate that Mckesson "authorized, directed, or ratified specific tortious activity." Id. Plaintiff, however, merely states – in a conclusory fashion – that Mckesson "incited the violence" and "g[ave] orders," (id. at ¶¶ 17, 19), but Plaintiff does not state in his Complaint how Mckesson allegedly incited violence or what orders he allegedly was giving.

Then it gets to the even more ridiculous claims. The judge point out you can't sue Black Lives Matter because it's something people align with, not an actual entity representing BLM ideals. It's a movement participated in by many, but there is no official HQ for BLM all the franchisees report to.

"Black Lives Matter," as a social movement, cannot be sued, however, in a similar way that a person cannot plausibly sue other social movements such as the Civil Rights movement, the LGBT rights movement, or the Tea Party movement. If he could state a plausible claim for relief, a plaintiff could bring suit against entities associated with those movements, though, such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Human Rights Campaign, or Tea Party Patriots, because those entities are "juridical persons" within the meaning of Louisiana law.

Nevertheless, Plaintiff merely has identified "Black Lives Matter" as a Defendant in his Complaint, and that term connotes a social movement that is not a "juridical person" and that lacks the capacity to be sued.

It's far more blunt about AnonCop's hashtag defendant, #BlackLivesMatter:

Plaintiff... is attempting to sue a hashtag for damages in tort. For reasons that should be obvious, a hashtag – which is an expression that categorizes or classifies a person's thought – is not a "juridical person" and therefore lacks the capacity to be sued. See La. Civ. Code art. 24. Amending the Complaint to add "#BlackLivesMatter" as a Defendant in this matter would be futile because such claims "would be subject to dismissal"; a hashtag is patently incapable of being sued.

The officer hoped to amend his lawsuit to include Black Lives Matter, Inc., which he discovered to be the entity on the receiving end of a donation he presumably made in hopes of finding a defendant he could actually sue. The court agrees this might make for a serviceable (in the legal sense of the word) defendant, but says there's nothing linking the recipient of his investigatory donation to the rock that hit his face.

Plaintiff's only attempt at characterizing the unidentified tortfeasor as an agent of Black Lives Matter Network, Inc., is located in paragraph 37 of the Proposed Amended Complaint, in which Plaintiff alleges that the tortfeasor was a "member of Defendant Black Lives Matter, under the control and custody of Defendants." Not only does Plaintiff specifically fail to mention Black Lives Matter Network, Inc., whatsoever, but Plaintiff also fails to allege that such an agency relationship existed between the tortfeasor and "Defendants" with anything more than a "[t]hreadbare recital[] of the elements" of agency, "supported by [a] mere conclusory statement[]." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Further, Plaintiff has failed to plead that Black Lives Matter Network, Inc., in particular, "had knowledge and specifically ratified" the unidentified tortfeasor's act of throwing a rock at Plaintiff, Claiborne Hardware, 458 U.S. at 930; Plaintiff merely alleges, in a conclusory fashion, that "Black Lives Matter leadership ratified all action taken during the protest," and that "Black Lives Matter promoted and ratified" the tortious conduct that gave rise to this suit.

If the officer has more money to waste, he can appeal the decision. But the caselaw is rock solid: you can't sue hashtags, social movements, or people who happened to be in the same city as the person who threw a rock at your head.


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  • identicon
    Yes, I know I'm commenting anonymously, 2 Oct 2017 @ 3:54am

    Can he read?

    Usually, we expect a certain amount of capability from our police officers before they are allowed out in the field.
    This is such a basic failing that I wonder if this one is capable of learning to read.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Oct 2017 @ 4:05am

    And these are the paragons of justice that MyNameHere wants to be allowed privileges like no oversight or warrant requirements.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Oct 2017 @ 6:04am

    If you're a cop patrolling a demonstration and you get hit by a flying rock, you most likely shrug it off as the hazards of work and set out making an arrest.

    Yeah, maybe the cop is a tool for filing the lawsuit.

    Tim, you are a tool for writing that line. Shrug it off?

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 Oct 2017 @ 6:12am

      Re:

      Right cops would go smack a few protestors around. Possibly using pepper spray for sport. He certainly wouldn't ack professionally.

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

  • icon
    wshuff (profile), 2 Oct 2017 @ 6:09am

    Wait, I'm confused. Did the police officer get hit in the head by the brick or was it the attorney who filed this stupid lawsuit?

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

    • icon
      Roger Strong (profile), 2 Oct 2017 @ 6:15am

      Re:

      If the attorney gets paid regardless of the outcome, it's not a stupid lawsuit on their part.

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

      • identicon
        TripMN, 2 Oct 2017 @ 9:40am

        Re: Re:

        But she tried to sue a hashtag...

        Shouldn't she be at least laughed out of the Bar for this... or if not, at least suspended from her ability to practice law for some form of negligence?

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 2 Oct 2017 @ 11:45am

        Re: Re:

        What about professional responsibility to clients, especially in advising them about the law and how it applies to what they want? If a doctor for example went along with a patients diagnosis and gave them unnecessary treatment, they would be in serious trouble.

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

        • icon
          Roger Strong (profile), 2 Oct 2017 @ 12:10pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          I'm not sure that the legal profession has a principle like "First, do no harm." Much of what they do is dedicated to doing harm.

          If at some point they advise the client of the risks of a course of action, they probably see no ethical problem in following the client's wishes. Just so long as it's done within the law and by the rules. I doubt that Charles Harder thinks he's violated any professional responsibility.

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 2 Oct 2017 @ 12:10pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          This happens all the time, hence the opioid problem.

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

  • icon
    Roger Strong (profile), 2 Oct 2017 @ 6:13am

    Role Reversal

    Imagine if those injured at the 2017 Charlottesville rally used his reasoning. They - and the family of someone actually killed - would sue "Nazis" instead of "Black Lives Matter." Donald Trump instead of DeRay McKesson. And of course #foxnews.

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

  • icon
    Richard M (profile), 2 Oct 2017 @ 6:56am

    About those laws...

    I would think this ruling would affect all those anti-protester laws that states are trying to pass (not sure if any have been passed yet) to make and and all protesters responsible for any damage or costs that one or some of them caused.

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

    • identicon
      SOMEONEINNORTHMS, 2 Oct 2017 @ 8:29am

      Re: About those laws...

      How do you propose to determine whether protestors "caused" damages? Or would you just make it a strict liability tort, where everybody close to a "protest" would be responsible for any damages that arose to anybody else close to the "protest?"

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

      • icon
        Roger Strong (profile), 2 Oct 2017 @ 8:54am

        Re: Re: About those laws...

        There's the Minnesota bill that would allow protestors to be sued for the cost of policing their protests.

        Or the South Dakota bill, already signed into law, that caps the number of people allowed to gather on public lands at 20. Designed to deal with protests over the Keystone XL pipeline.

        The Arizona Senate is working on legislation that would would allow law enforcement officials to go after organizers of any protest that turns violent, even if the violence was caused by a single attendee.

        Look around and you'll find plenty of other examples in other states. These methods are limited only by the imagination of some really awful politicians and the industry lobbyists who own and operate them.

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

  • icon
    Oblate (profile), 2 Oct 2017 @ 11:36am

    But he's not done yet...

    Later this week the unnamed cop will be filing a new round of lawsuits, this time suing the rock, the hashtag #flyingrock, the musical style of Rock'n'Roll, the towns of Rockford and Rockville (he believes the rock may have been raised in one of them), and the Mesozoic era.

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

  • identicon
    A Very Anonymous Coward, 2 Oct 2017 @ 6:05pm

    Next he'll be suing the air he breathed in while the rock was being thrown at him for $15 million, claiming it caused him grievous bodily harm.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Oct 2017 @ 5:17am

    So now the scenario will be:

    BLM terrorist throws rock at cop.

    Cop decides "the union will totally back me if I claim I was in fear for my life."

    Cop does mag dump into BLM terrorist, reloads, does a double-tap to make sure.

    see also: 'unintended consequences' and 'don't kick the pit bull'

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


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