from the the-HAL-of-justice dept
Over the last few months, we’ve written a bunch about DoNotPay, the company run by Joshua Browder, claiming that it is the “world’s first robot lawyer” — that is until people take him to court for various things, at which point he says the term is just meant to be for marketing, and not to be taken seriously.
Anyway, you may recall that one of Browder’s planned marketing stunts, was that he offered $1 million to any lawyer who would let his GPT-powered fake robot lawyer tell him what to say to the Supreme Court Justices via an earpiece. There were, of course, many reasons why this was both a bad idea, and never actually going to happen.
But, in case you needed some more reasons to understand why this would be a bad idea, let’s take a look at the situation that lawyer Steven A. Schwartz finds himself in. You may have seen some headlines over the weekend on this, as it made the rounds, but the details here are worth looking at, as they are incredible.
Schwartz, a lawyer for Levidow, Levidow & Oberman is representing Roberto Mata in suing the airline Avianca. Mata sued Avianca, claiming that on a flight from El Salvador to New York, a flight attendant struck Mata’s knee with a drink cart causing injury to Mata. While originally filed in NY state court, Avianca removed it to federal court. Avianca filed a motion to dismiss in early January of this year, saying that there was a two year statute of limitations under the Montreal Convention that governs liability regarding passenger injury on international flights, and Mata’s lawsuit came too late.
In response on March 1st, another lawyer from Levidow, Levidow & Oberman, Peter LoDuca, filed a motion opposing Avianca’s motion to dismiss. The legal arguments kick off with a cite to the famed Ashcroft v. Iqbal, regarding the standards for evaluating a motion to dismiss. But then it starts citing a bunch of cases in state and federal courts regarding interpretations of the Montreal Convention. These make some strong arguments on behalf of Mata being able to continue his case. For example:
Both federal and state courts alike have continually held that the Montreal Convention does no preempt state law remedies and that plaintiffs are entitled to choose the forum in which to bring their claim. In Shaboom v. Egyptair, 2013 IL App (1st) 111279-U (Ill. App. Ct. 2013), the Illinois Appellate Court held that state courts have concurrent jurisdiction over claims arising out of an international airline accident under the Montreal Convention, and that the plaintiff was not required to bring their claim in federal court. The Court noted that the Montreal Convention allows for jurisdiction to be established in the courts of the country where the passenger has their domicile or principal place of business, and that the plaintiff had satisfied this requirement by filing their claim in state court in Illinois.
Similarly, in Peterson v. Iran Air, 904 F. Supp. 2d 121 (D.D.C. 2012), the District Court for the District of Columbia held that state courts have concurrent jurisdiction over claims arising out of an international airline accident under the Montreal Convention, and that the plaintiff was not required to bring their claim in federal court. The Court noted that the Montreal Convention allows for jurisdiction to be established in the courts of the country where the passenger has their domicile or principle place of business, and that the plaintiff has satisfied this requirement by filing their claim in state court in Washington.
It goes on like this, citing three more cases that say similar things.
It also argues that the statue of limitations can be tolled (i.e., extended) based on a bankruptcy filing (Avianca filed bankruptcy in 2020).
The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit specifically addresses the effect of a bankruptcy stay under the Montreal Convention in the case of Varghese v. China Southern Airlines Co., Ltd., 925 F.3d 1339 (11th Cir. 2019), stating “Appellants argue that the district court erred in dismissing their claims as untimely. They assert that the limitations period under the Montreal Convention was tolled during the pendency of the Bankruptcy Court proceedings. We agree.”
A couple weeks later, Avianca’s lawyers filed a reply, which raised some questions regarding the citations Mata’s lawyers were relying on.
Although Plaintiff ostensibly cites to a variety of cases in opposition to this motion, the undersigned has been unable to locate most of the case law cited in Plaintiff’s Affirmation in Opposition, and the few cases which the undersigned has been able to locate do not stand for the propositions for which they are cited.
Further down in the filing, there are more details:
In support of his position that the Bankruptcy Code tolls the two-year limitations period, Plaintiff cites to “Varghese v. China Southern Airlines Co., Ltd., 925 F.3d 1339 (11th Cir. 2019).” The undersigned has not been able to locate this case by caption or citation, nor any case bearing any resemblance to it. Plaintiff offers lengthy quotations purportedly from the “Varghese” case, including: “We [the Eleventh Circuit] have previously held that the automatic stay provisions of the Bankruptcy Code may toll the statute of limitations under the Warsaw Convention, which is the precursor to the Montreal Convention . . . We see no reason why the same rule should not apply under the Montreal Convention.” The undersigned has not been able to locate this quotation, nor anything like it any case. The quotation purports to cite to “Zicherman v. Korean Air Lines Co., Ltd., 516 F.3d 1237, 1254 (11th Cir. 2008).” The undersigned has not been able to locate this case; although there was a Supreme Court case captioned Zicherman v. Korean Air Lines Co., Ltd., that case was decided in 1996, it originated in the Southern District of New York and was appealed to the Second Circuit, and it did not address the limitations period set forth in the Warsaw Convention. 516 U.S. 217 (1996).
A second, similar quotation from “Varghese” purports to cite to “Miller v. United Airlines, Inc., 174 F.3d 366, 371-72 (2d Cir. 1999)” and In re Air Crash Disaster Near New Orleans, La., 821 F.2d 1147, 1165 (5th Cir. 1987). The undersigned was not able to locate the “Miller” case; although there is a case captioned Miller v. United Airlines, Inc., that case did not address the Warsaw Convention, the Bankruptcy Code, or any limitations period. 174 Cal. App. 3d 878 (1985). While the In re Air Crash Disaster case does exist, it also did not address the Bankruptcy Code or any limitations period.
Further, both “Varghese” quotations purport to cite to Kaiser Steel Corp. v. W.S. Ranch Co., 391 U.S. 593, 598 (1968) for the proposition that “[t]he tolling effect of the automatic stay on a statute of limitations is generally a matter of federal law.” Putting aside that there is no page 598 in Kaiser Steel, that case concerned the stay of a federal action until a related state court case was decided, and made no mention of a statute of limitations or its tolling.
Not surprisingly, that seemed to raise some concerns with the judge overseeing the case, Judge P. Kevin Castel, who ordered Mata’s lawyer, Peter LoDuca to file an affidavit with copies of eight cases he cited (the list below skips number eight, but it was added in a subsequent order later that day).
After getting an extra week to file these cases, LoDuca files the cases in question, which is fucking impressive, as those cases do not exist. Well, actually, he only files eight of the nine requested, noting that he was “unable to locate” Zicherman v. Korean Air Lines, “which was cited by the Court in Varghese.” You can read each of these cases, as they are all attached as exhibits.
The filings read like judicial opinions. Some of them name real judges. Some of them seem to hallucinate judges or move them to courts where they did not sit. Though, they don’t look like court filings, which is what you’d expect here. Only one case, the Ehrlich case, appears in conventional format, rather than just as text.
Avianca’s lawyers were, to put it lightly, perplexed. They filed a near immediate response again raising questions about the very existence of any of these cases, and calling out the odd formatting in all but Ehrlich, while noting that the actual case has nothing to do with what it was cited for.
Defendant respectfully submits that the authenticity of many of these cases is questionable. For instance, the “Varghese” and “Miller” cases purportedly are federal appellate cases published in the Federal Reporter. [Dkt. 29; 29-1; 29-7]. We could not locate these cases in the Federal Reporter using a Westlaw search. We also searched PACER for the cases using the docket numbers written on the first page of the submissions; those searches resulted in different cases.
Similarly, the “Petersen” case [Dkt. 29-3] purportedly is published in the Federal Supplement, yet we could not locate this case in the Federal Supplement using a Westlaw search, and a search on PACER for the docket number leads to a different case.
As asserted in our Reply brief [Dkt. 24], we could not locate the “Martinez” case [Dkt. 29-4] or the “Durden” case [Dkt. 29-5] using the Westlaw citations provided in Plaintiff’s opposition. A Lexis Courtlink search using the docket number written on the first page of the “Martinez” case leads to a different case. (There was no docket number on the “Durden” submission.) We remain unable to locate the “Shaboon” case [Dkt. 26-2], which Plaintiff asserts is “unpublished.”
With respect to the Ehrlich case [Dkt. 29-6] and the In re Air Crash Disaster Near New Orleans case [Dkt. 29-8], Defendant has always agreed that these cases do exist but submits that they address issues entirely unrelated to the principles for which Plaintiff cited them in opposition to Defendant’s motion.1 (The Ehrlich and In re Air Crash Disaster cases are the only ones submitted in a conventional format.).
It’s almost surprising that it took a week for Judge Castel to then issue an order to show cause (basically a “explain this or you’re getting your ass sanctioned”) regarding all this. Judge Castel is not happy:
The Court is presented with an unprecedented circumstance. A submission filed by plaintiff’s counsel in opposition to a motion to dismiss is replete with citations to non-existent cases. (ECF 21.) When the circumstance was called to the Court’s attention by opposing counsel (ECF 24), the Court issued Orders requiring plaintiff’s counsel to provide an affidavit annexing copies of certain judicial opinions of courts of record cited in his submission, and he has complied. (ECF 25, 27, 29.) Six of the submitted cases appear to be bogus judicial decisions with bogus quotes and bogus internal citations. Set forth below is an Order to show cause why plaintiff’s counsel ought not be sanctioned.
Apparently, the court checked on some of these cases, including reaching out to the Clerk of the 11th Circuit appeals court to ask about the “Varghese” case:
The Clerk of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, in response to this Court’s inquiry, has confirmed that there has been no such case before the Eleventh Circuit with a party named Vargese or Varghese at any time since 2010, i.e., the commencement of that Court’s present ECF system. He further states that the docket number appearing on the “opinion” furnished by plaintiff’s counsel, Docket No. 18-13694, is for a case captioned George Cornea v. U.S. Attorney General, et al. Neither Westlaw nor Lexis has the case, and the case found at 925 F.3d 1339 is A.D. v Azar, 925 F.3d 1291 (D.C. Cir 2019).
Further, the judge notes, the text of the “bogus” Varghese case cites a bunch of other cases that, the court points out “are non-existent.”
And, finally, this past Thursday came the big reveal. LoDuca admitted to the court that he really hadn’t been working on the case, he’d just been signing his name, while all the other works was being done by another lawyer, Steven Schwartz, who was not admitted in the Southern District of NY, where the case was being handled. LoDuca notes that Schwartz is an established lawyer, who has been practicing law for over 30 years in the state of NY, and even predates LoDuca’s own employment at the firm. LoDuca basically throws Schwartz under the bus, saying “it was him, not me, so please don’t sanction me.” But that’s not how any of this works. LoDuca signed his name to the documents. He’s in deep shit as well.
But, the much bigger and crazier reveal comes from Schwartz’s own filing in which he fesses up to using ChatGPT. He admits that LoDuca became the attorney of record, but that all the actual work was done by Schwartz. And I use the term “work” loosely, because it seems that Schwartz simply handed things off to ChatGPT:
As the use of generative artificial intelligence has evolved within law firms, your affiant consulted the artificial intelligence website Chat GPT in order to supplement the legal research performed.
It was in consultation with the generative artificial intelligence website Chat GPT, that your affiant did locate and cite the following cases in the affirmation in opposition submitted, which this court has found to be nonexistent:
He then lists the cases and then basically begs forgiveness, saying he had no intent to deceive and just “was unaware of the possibility that [ChatGPT’s] content could be false.” He promises not to use it again “without absolute verification of its authority.”
Which, I dunno, would maybe have been believable if he’d fessed up when these cases were first called into question, rather than having ChatGPT fake the cases in question as well. You’d think that, at the very least, at that point, you’d try to double check the veracity with another source?
Somewhat incredibly, but entertainingly, Schwartz shares a few screenshots from ChatGPT in which Schwartz asks GPT if the cases are real and ChatGPT says that they’re all real. Amusingly, the screenshots reveal that Schwartz set up a chat with ChatGPT literally called “Tolling Montreal Convention Statute.”
I mean, given that ChatGPT hallucinated that these cases “are real and can be found in reputable legal databases such as LexisNexis and Westlaw” you’d think that maybe someone like Schwartz would think to, I dunno, look them up in LexisNexis or Westlaw?
Judge Castel is not amused by any of this. On Friday, he amended his order to show cause, telling LoDuca he’s still in deep shit “for the use of a false and fraudulent notarization in his affidavit.” He then adds that the entire Levidow law firm may face sanctions for submitting non-existent judicial opinions.
As for Schwartz, he orders him to show up at the hearing on June 8th where he’s facing sanctions for all of the above as well as potentially being referred to the Attorney Grievance Committee for all of this.
Honestly, LoDuca and Schwartz are probably in deeper shit for (1) LoDuca signing his name to things he had nothing to do with (2) Schwartz basically doing all of the legal work in a court where he’s not admitted and (3) malpractice for not actually digging into the details of the cases he’s citing. One thing lawyers are supposed to do when citing cases is “shepardize” the cases, which is basically checking the history of the cases, to see if there are more recent cases that overrule the ones you’re citing, and so on. The fact that neither Schwartz nor LoDuca caught that these cases were faked, even after opposing counsel called it out, shows that beyond stupidly using ChatGPT, they also didn’t do some fairly basic additional work they’re supposed to do.
They both need to submit written responses by Friday of this week for next week’s hearing, which should be a blast.
Anyway, remember this story the next time some random person is touting that AI lawyers will magically take over in the court room.
Filed Under: ai, chatgpt, generative ai, hallucinations, kevin castel, legal research, peter loduca, roberto mata, steven schwartz
Companies: avianca, levidow