Each year, the appellate courts in California and other states consider appeals from trial court decisions on a variety of subjects. Only a small percentage of trial court determinations result in appeal, yet appeals in California, for example, exceed 25,000 annually.
We’ve come a long way from the days of 1880 when the citizenry of Los Angeles County produced only 633 lawsuits with the aid of fifty-seven attorneys!
The appellate jurists of today consider a wide range of legal issues and although some might produce a momentary chuckle, keep in mind that the issues were serious to the parties involved.
Who would have thought, for example, that Magic Mountain amusement park maintains a “line-cutting policy!” The policy provides, according to an appellate court in California, as follows:
“Line cutting for the purposes of joining other members of a group or family is generally prohibited, but can be allowed in the following circumstances:
(A) the person(s) trying to enter the line are small children under the age of 12 years and are joining their adult supervision;
(B) When one person has left a ticketed line to use the restroom
. . .
When the Line Patrol Officer determined that the circumstances for the line cutting are justified and that removing the guests from the line would present an unfair hardship to the guests involved.”
During September, 1998, an African-American man, who ultimately became the plaintiff in this saga, visited Magic Mountain amusement park with his wife and other members of his family. After spending a full day at the park, the plaintiff and his family decided to make the Colossus roller coaster the last ride of the day. The plaintiff and his sister-in-law proceeded ahead of his wife and three daughters, all under twelve years of age, to stand in line at Colossus.
The plaintiff and his sister-in-law were half-way through the line in the Colossus queue house when his wife and daughters arrived. The plaintiff “motioned to them and stepped approximately ten feet out line to help them join the group.” A Magic Mountain employee approached him, and told him that he was not allowed to cut in line. Although the plaintiff denied cutting in line, and the park guests standing in front and behind him told the employee that he had been in line, his protestation was to no avail.
Two other employees approached the plaintiff’s wife and took her out of line for questioning. The plaintiff continued to move forward in the queue until he actually boarded the roller coaster, but he was then told to get out of the roller coaster and did so.
The plaintiff and his wife were escorted away from the queue house while the rest of the family went on the roller coaster. The plaintiff next requested to speak with a supervisor. The request, however, proved unproductive since the supervisor advised him to leave the park for the day because he violated the park’s line-cutting policy.
Shortly after the plaintiff was asked to leave the park, his wife and daughters exited Colossus. The appellate court next recites:
“The supervisor then put his open hand on the small of [the plaintiff’s] back and told him to keep moving. [Plaintiff] asked him to remove his hand and stepped away. [The plaintiff] then saw a man in a straw hat who could vouch for his presence in line. He attempted to yell to the man, but his supervisor told the security guards to ‘get him out of here’. A security guard firmly grabbed [the plaintiff’s] arm, and he reacted by pulling it forward to the front of his body to get free. As a result, at least four other security guards jumped on [the plaintiff], threw him to the ground, and punched and kicked him. The guards placed [the plaintiff] under citizen’s arrest and chained him to a bench for about two hours while other employees taunted him and directed derogatory statements toward him.”
The plaintiff, and members of his family, sued the amusement park, related entities, and six employees personally for various causes of action, including battery, false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and violation of a California civil rights statute. The defendants sought a trial court determination prior to trial under which the plaintiff would not be permitted to pursue the potential civil rights statute violation.
In opposition to this pre-trial motion,
“plaintiff relied on statistical information that shows African-Americans are more than eight times as likely to be held and removed from the park for line cutting than members of other ethnic groups. He presented evidence that in 1998, 7.5 percent of the park’s guests were African-American, but 55.7 percent of the individuals removed from the park for line cutting were African-Americans.”
The amusement park and other defendants asserted that the plaintiff’s statistical information was nothing more than “speculative” evidence.
The appellate court noted, however, that courts have regularly employed statistics to support an inference of intentional discrimination, citing an 1886 U.S. Supreme Court decision, which found that 200 Chinese individuals were denied permits to operate a laundry business, but eighty of eighty-one of the non-Chinese applicants received such permits.
The appellate court ultimately determined that this action could proceed to trial.
In another case arising out of Honolulu, a place that brings to mind only Kona coffee, a luau, and dolphins at play, the United States Court of Appeals considered the situation involving an elementary school vice principal who taped a second grade student’s head to a tree for disciplinary purposes!
The child was sent to the vice principal to be disciplined for fighting, but the child refused to stand still against the wall for his time-out punishment. The vice principal apparently followed through on a threat to take the child outside and tape him to a nearby tree if he did not stand still. The appellate decision notes that he used masking tape to tape the child’s head to the tree, but observed that the trial court’s record was unclear as to whether the child’s face was pressed against the bark. In any event, the child remained taped against the tree for about five minutes until a fifth grade girl told the vice principal that “she did not think he should be doing that.” The vice principal took the girl’s advice and instructed her to remove the tape. She promptly did so!
Although most of you have heard of the Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure, referring to the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, you probably focus on the phrase “unreasonable search” rather than “unreasonable seizure.” We know that law enforcement must not, for example, search our residences or automobiles without reasonable cause or a search warrant.
In this case, however, the court’s focus was upon the subject of “unreasonable seizure,” and held that a student has a right to be free of excessive force, or “unreasonable seizure” at the hands of a teacher.
The moral of the story? Don’t tape the head of your neighbor’s kid to a tree! And if you step out of a line at an amusement park, watch out for who might be watching you!