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Our Litigious Society, in 1884 Montreal:

Thanks to Sasha for the translation, from Lebeau v. Turcot, 7 Legal News 259 (1884) (emphasis added):

Whereas the plaintiff demands of the defendant damages in the amount of $199, by reason of the injury that he alleges was done to him last December 23 by the defendant, who, in charge of taking the collection in the church of the parish of St. Laurent, intentionally and maliciously [allegedly] passed the plaintiff's pew without soliciting the donation of the latter, present at the time, and did so with the goal of insulting and mortifying said plaintiff, and after having told several people ahead of time that he would act in this way with respect to him, in the goal of humiliating him;

Whereas the defendant pleads: 1st That he was fulfilling in the circumstance a voluntary and gratuitous function and, as a result, was not held to address himself to the plaintiff for the said collection, and that as a consequence, the latter has no recourse against him; 2nd That if he thus passed the plaintiff this was only by inattention and without malice; but that the plaintiff who, around last November, dismissed the defendant from his service, without plausible motive, and who was sued by him, has retained against the defendant a resentment and a bad will which have driven him on several occasions to turn his back to the said defendant, when the latter presented himself at his pew for the collection; and that this bad will of the plaintiff is the sole motivation of his current demand;

Considering that the plaintiff has proved the allegations of his demand, and notably that it was with a deliberate aim and with the intention to offend and humiliate the plaintiff that the defendant passed his pew in the abovementioned occasion; that he had even boasted in advance of what he was going to do and that he called the attention of several people to it, at the very moment of the collection, and that after the service he laughed about it and [triumphantly celebrated] with several persons;

Considering that although the defendant fulfills in this circumstance a gratuitous and voluntary service, he is held to acquit himself of it with an equal politeness to all parishioners and cannot, by voluntary omissions, single some out to the mockery of others;

Considering, however, that though the conduct of the defendant, in the abovementioned circumstance, was reprehensible and that he could not escape unpunished, the proven facts justify however only a light condemnation;

Rejects the exceptions and defenses of the defendant and condemns him to pay to the plaintiff, by way of damages, the sum of [$5], and the expenses of an action of this class, costs, etc.

Crafty Hunter (www):
I want to sue stupid people for vexing me and making me grit my teeth. You think I could find a judge to entertain this notion?
7.24.2008 7:53pm
Kazinski:
Canada never was a free country.
7.24.2008 7:56pm
krs:

Considering that although the defendant fulfills in this circumstance a gratuitous and voluntary service, he is held to acquit himself of it with an equal politeness to all parishioners and cannot, by voluntary omissions, single some out to the mockery of others;

Is this the law in Canada? No mockery of others unless you bring enough for everyone?
7.24.2008 8:29pm
Milhouse (www):
Crafty Hunter, how would you feel about this case if the setting were a restaurant, the plaintiff a black man, and the defendant a white waiter who pointedly ignored the plaintiff and pretended that table was empty, passing by it repeatedly, and audibly proclaiming "I don't hear anything" and "I wonder why that table's sat empty all evening"? Some sort of award seems appropriate, though not CA$200 in 1884 money; maybe CA$200 in today's money, which is probably about what the CA$5 award comes to.

But it seems to me the more direct and obvious victim of the defendant's conduct is the church, which missed out on the plaintiff's donation. When the defendant volunteered for this duty, the church had a reasonable expectation that he would fulfill it conscientiously, by collecting all the money that the congregation was willing to give, and not deliberately to leave money lying on the table out of personal spite. If he wasn't prepared to do that, he should have declined the job, or specified that someone else should be designated to do that row.
7.24.2008 8:32pm
Kazinski:
Milhouse:

[H]ow would you feel about this case if the setting were a restaurant, the plaintiff a black man, and the defendant a white waiter who pointedly ignored the plaintiff and pretended that table was empty, passing by it repeatedly, and audibly proclaiming "I don't hear anything" and "I wonder why that table's sat empty all evening"?

Even worse it could have been a little disabled orphaned black girl that hadn't eaten all day that spent all day in the rain begging enough money to get something to eat. Of course it wasn't. We could go on all day embellishing the story to tug at each others heartstrings and get the judgement up to 6 figures so an attorney could make it worth his while to take the case.

The point of it is, it doesn't appear to be a cause of action under the law in this case, and the judge put on his Solomon robes rather than his Judicial robes to decide the case.
7.24.2008 8:53pm
DangerMouse:
it doesn't appear to be a cause of action under the law in this case, and the judge put on his Solomon robes rather than his Judicial robes to decide the case.

Decide the case? If there's no cause of action, there's no "case." King Solomon had wisdom, but he also had absolute power. Courts aren't supposed to have that.

Of course, the rub is, these days, we know that they do.
7.24.2008 9:02pm
Nathan_M (mail):

it doesn't appear to be a cause of action under the law in this case, and the judge put on his Solomon robes rather than his Judicial robes to decide the case.

Quebec's private law is based on French law, and the Civil Code, and not on English common law like the rest of Canada and most of the United States is. I agree there doesn't seem to be a common law cause of action here, but that isn't relevant to Quebec.
7.24.2008 9:22pm
wm13:
I don't know why people say the plaintiff had no cause of action: why not intentional infliction of emotional distress? Though the terminology would no doubt have been different in 19th century Quebec.
7.24.2008 11:22pm
Sean M:
Are you guys really arguing the case as a matter of judicial activism? From 1884 Montreal?

It's a funny story. Accept it. Move on.

Not everything is a broader post on the eternal struggle between liberty and activist liberals who will destroy justice as we know it.
7.24.2008 11:38pm
Nathan_M (mail):

I don't know why people say the plaintiff had no cause of action: why not intentional infliction of emotional distress?

This tort was first recognized in Wilkinson v. Downton, [1897] 2 Q.B. 57, so it postdates this case. In Canada (I understand the requirements in some US states are laxer) this tort requires proving the defendant engaged in (1) conduct that is flagrant and outrageous, (2) calculated to produce harm (3) resulting in a visible and provable injury.

Point (1) is perhaps debatable in this case, and (2) could maybe be proven, but there is no allegation the plaintiff suffered any injury, such as depression, so I do not think this claim would have any possibility of success at common law in Canada today.
7.24.2008 11:51pm
Katl L (mail):
There was cause for action as moral dommage , moral dammages" under the courts interpretations of the civil code.also in Germany and Italy there was already a right to claim moral damage
7.24.2008 11:55pm
Crafty Hunter (www):
Suddenly this quiet little post has emerged as a minor sleeper hit for provoking a terrific little thread. It has brought only a few responses, but they are comedic responses. Jerry Seinfeld can only be envious.

You make a good point about shirking implicit responsibility to the church and its community, Milhouse, in the second part of your comment. As for the first part of your comment, I'd fully support (with a sense of ickiness to be sure) being able to discriminate against blacks, whites, browns, greens, blues, people with bad ties or who wear stripes with plaid, as long as notice was given clearly up front to avoid having committed fraud by having stolen someone's time and energy as well as having inflicted emotional distress by trickery. Give my regards to Bart, BTW.

This sort of behavior by Canucks way back in 1884 appears now to have been a sign of things to come in modern-day Canada, where people are being persecuted for telling the literal truth about, for example, Mohammedans (see the Mark Steyn case). (Yes, it's related conceptually).

(Yes, I know the Web designer of that page should be dragged before a tribunal and sentenced to being shot with fifteen cream pies in the face, but I'm too lazy to Google further).
7.25.2008 3:37am
James Fulford (mail):
There used to be such a thing as a "tort of insult"--it's one of the antique torts discussed in a recent article called Why Torts Die. 19th century Quebec had a very complex legal system, and without hiring a local avocat, it would be very difficult, then as now, to say what is or is not illegal in Quebec.

For example, Quebec's criminal procedure would be based on English common law, and local statute law, both Federal and Provincial. Its civil procedure was based on Roman law, (as a result of the Quebec Act)but again, there are local statutes, which could theoretically create a cause of action.

Virtually no one in French-speaking 19th century Quebec believed in freedom of speech as a principle. But even the people who did believe in freedom of speech would have said that it did not include libel, slander, obscenity, blasphemy, or sedition. As you can see, it still doesn't, according to the Criminal Code of Canada.

And, it should be noted, much of this was illegal in the United States until the 1970's.
7.25.2008 4:21am
VA insurance defense attorney:
Very interesting! Canada's not strong with protecting free speech these days, but who knew you could slander someone without actually speaking?
7.25.2008 11:18am
LarryA (mail) (www):
Point (1) is perhaps debatable in this case, and (2) could maybe be proven, but there is no allegation the plaintiff suffered any injury, such as depression, so I do not think this claim would have any possibility of success at common law in Canada today.


OTOH in 1884 Montreal I don't think there was separation between church and state. We're talking about The Church (Anglican or Catholic) in a Christian Government and the central social, economic, and political role it played in the community. Denying someone the benefits of such would be considerably more serious than such denial in one of the many churches of one of the myriad non-government-connected denominations today.
7.25.2008 5:39pm
Fred (mail):
I have to wonder where the church leadership was in all this?

1 Corinthians 6:1-9
1 How can any one of you with a case against another dare to bring it to the unjust for judgment instead of to the holy ones?
2 Do you not know that the holy ones will judge the world? If the world is to be judged by you, are you unqualified for the lowest law courts?
3 Do you not know that we will judge angels? Then why not everyday matters?
4 If, therefore, you have courts for everyday matters, do you seat as judges people of no standing in the church?
5 I say this to shame you. Can it be that there is not one among you wise enough to be able to settle a case between brothers?
6 But rather brother goes to court against brother, and that before unbelievers?
7 Now indeed (then) it is, in any case, a failure on your part that you have lawsuits against one another. Why not rather put up with injustice? Why not rather let yourselves be cheated?
8 Instead, you inflict injustice and cheat, and this to brothers.
7.28.2008 3:11pm