On May 1st, Sylvia Ann Driskell, a 66-year-old Nebraska resident, sued every homosexual in the world. As ambassador for God and Jesus Christ, Ms. Driskell filed a seven-page handwritten complaint asking the federal district court in Omaha to determine whether homosexuality was a sin. Boiled down to its essence, her pro se complaint asserted that both the Bible and the dictionary had spoken clearly on the issue and the court was in no position to call either God or Mr. Webster a liar.
Where to begin? Frankly, my first question was whether she was required to join God and/or Jesus as a plaintiff. Is an ambassador equivalent to an agent? When I set that aside, I still had to wonder how the defendants could possibly pursue discovery in the case. Who would she list as a witness at trial? Did she herself have personal knowledge of the matter? And then, well, what injury was she alleging? How had she been damaged? How did she claim to have standing in the case? There was no mention of money or property, so what exactly did she want? My head exploded at the thought of serving all the defendants. So many questions…
Fortunately, a federal judge has answered them all, and with a quickness. A week after it was filed, U.S. District Judge John Gerrard dismissed the complaint on the court’s own motion (sua sponte, that is). Since some of the defendants would be fellow Nebraskans, the court found there was no diversity of citizenship — indeed, no federal question at all — and thus no jurisdiction. The court couldn’t identify the relief Ms. Driskell was seeking and didn’t believe it could answer her question as to whether homosexuality was sinful. Like me, the judge found it difficult to imagine how the defendants could all be served if she were allowed to amend the complaint, and so he asked her not to ever file it again. The court kindly declined to sanction Ms. Driskell for a frivolous pleading.
Here at Burlington Avenue IT, we’ve all made pro se mistakes that could be laughed out of court or lambasted in the media. So as a rule, we try to avoid beating up on other pro se litigants because we know the struggle. And there are plenty of legal blogs where pro se litigants take our licks (see, for instance, this guy), so we don’t need to do that here.
But Ms. Driskell’s lawsuit is over the top. This kind of hot mess costs us, people! It justifies and deepens the unfair biases so many judges and court officials hold against pro se litigants, and we have to separate ourselves from that kind of nonsense. We try our best to not rely on the discretion of judges, but we often have to. Sylvia Ann Driskell has made it harder for judges to see us fairly.
Truth be told, lawyers are also capable of filing stupid pro se complaints. Two months ago, a New York federal judge dismissed a lawyer’s complaint against the law firm that had fired her, and fined her $5000 for filing it. But that lawyer’s behavior won’t cast a shadow on the profession the way Ms. Driskell’s behavior will cast one on us.
At the risk of making stupid people famous, share the worst complaint you’ve seen in the comments below, whether pro se or not.