The Plaintiffs’ Complaint

The florescent light in the stale conference room flickered from nauseatingly bright to a merely unhealthy glow. The people in the room made sure to stay away from the light fixture, lest they assume the risk if an accident happened. A semi-circle of chairs surrounded a podium. The chair’s occupants made small talk as they waited.  When a nondescript clock hit 7, a man walked to the podium and grasped the edge with his only hand. “Hello my name is Farwell, and I’ve been a losing plaintiff for 171 years.”  The group responded with the customary, “Hello Farwell.”

Farwell began his prepared remarks. “In my previous life I worked for the Boston & Worcester Railroad. It was a decent job I guess, until I lost my hand being thrown off a train because of the switch operator.  So what did I do next? I went to court to try to get a few dollars and make myself whole again.”  Snorts and chuckles erupted from the group.

“All I wanted was some cash to live on. But guess what happened when my case was weighed on the scales of so-called justice?”  Everyone in the group mouthed the word “nothing” to Farwell’s rhetorical question, except for Ms. Palsgraf, who was still shuddering violently at the mention of scales. 


“I got nothing. Zero. A big fat goose egg. So what did I do? I took my loss like a man, kept my mouth shut. Maybe Justice Shaw was right; I should have known my job was risky.” Farwell started to tear up, “But then I learned that my case had been included in law school text books. At first I thought this was a good thing, people would finally empathize with my pain. So I went to a first year torts class reading my case, and what did I find? The class was laughing. Making train innuendos. And the professor was encouraging them, asking them “hypos” about me.” Farwell’s voice grew louder as he became more upset and he began to pound his only fist on the podium for emphasis. “‘What if Farwell was drunk?  What if Farwell knew the switch operator was drunk? What if Farwell had below average intelligence?’  Can anyone know how that feels? To have your greatest pain treated as a somewhat humorous intellectual abstraction?” 

A hand shot up from the group’s back row. Its thick mane of hair bristled in indignation. Farwell pointed to its owner, and George Hawkins stood up.  “I know how it feels, Farwell. A doctor lied to me, permanently disfigured me. He ruined my life. I tried to move on, but then the casebook editors found out about me. Now, everyone knows me for my flawed appendage.  The sum of my human achievement is forever dwarfed by my…” Hawkins was so full of rage he could not finish his sentence.  He swallowed his disgust and gathered himself, “… is forever dwarfed by my hairy hand.” Hawkins sat down, exhausted from the ordeal.  Farwell looked at him sympathetically and the group thanked Hawkins for sharing.

Farwell continued, “Yes, that’s right. The world might not know my pain, but the people in this room do.  That’s why we are all here today We are the losing plaintiffs, immortalized forever in our nation’s legal education system, not as human beings but as illustrations of legal doctrine.” An old woman drinking the conference room’s stale coffee as carefully and meticulously as possible cleared her throat.  Farwell caught his mistake. “Sorry Ms. Liebeck, I forgot some of us won our cases, yet are still destined for the hell of being a law school case.” Ms. Liebeck accepted the apology with a nod. Farwell continued his speech.

“And so let me finish my story from before. I was in a first year torts class, hearing my case mocked and my personal dignity assailed. I couldn’t handle it anymore, so I left the classroom. That’s when I noticed them. The portraits. The portraits of the judges.  Story and Shaw hung on one wall. Hand and Stone on another.” Farwell’s voice began building into a crescendo,  “And hanging in the greatest place of honor, right above the door of the law school, were two faces looking down at me.  On the right, Cardozo.”  Farwell emphasized every syllable of the hated judge. A few people booed. Adams grabbed his wire in anger. Murphy slapped his good knee as if it were all a joke.


Farwell was feeding off the crowd’s energy,  “And on the right next to Cardozo, was the man himself. Looking down at me with his great big mustache.  Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes.” Those in the crowd who still had feet were on them now, jeering loudly at Holmes and all he stood for. Farwell had whipped them into a fervor.

“What have the judges done, other than to use confusing legal doctrines to add insults to our injuries? We are the ones that had our limbs torn off, our bodies electrocuted, our eyes gouged, and our cars exploded.  If law schools are to teach our cases and use us as examples, then at the very least, we should be the ones honored. Our portraits should hang instead of those of our robed tormentors. Our portraits should hang so that everyone can see the true, broken, and disfigured face of the law. Our portraits should hang!”  

Pandemonium broke out in the room. Hollering and cheering filled the air. In the midst of all the commotion, a voice, no one knows whose, yelled, “Let’s take them to court, sue the bastards for all they’re worth!” Instantly, the mood changed.  All of the excitement from Farwell’s speech left even sooner than it came.  The group sat back down.  The room was silent. Everyone looked at each other. Then, an audible noise filled the room, growing louder and louder.  It was impossible to tell if it was the sound of laughter or tears. 

Anthony Lauriello is a 1L from Albuquerque. He attended Rice University where he ran for the track team and wrote for the school newspaper. 

Illustrated by: Minji Reem 

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