Ritchie v. Costello (CA1 8/25/15)

This lawsuit against an airport is mildly interesting substantively but for this blog its principal interest is stylistic.

A hot air balloon and a paraglider were participating in a festival at the Cottonwood airport. A quarter-mile from airport, half an hour after taking off,  the paraglider hit the balloon. The folks in the balloon sued the paraglider pilot and the airport; the pilot cross-claimed against the airport (that’s the gist; the litigation was a bit more complex than that but the court’s explanation of it is confused or in any event confusing). The airport moved to dismiss the pilot’s claim, arguing that it had no duty to him. The trial court granted it.

The pilot appealed, arguing that he was an airport invitee. The Court of Appeals holds that the airport’s premises liability existed on the premises but not away from it. The airport didn’t and wasn’t able to control the airspace where the accident happened; neither craft was taking off or landing. The court also mentions that although premises owners must sometimes warn of dangers the danger here – of running into a balloon – was obvious; that seems, though,  the sort of lagniappe courts throw in to support the result rather than a considered attempt to rehabilitate obviousness as a motion defense. Judgment affirmed.

So much for substance; now for style.

The court begins the analysis with a lengthy paragraph explaining the elements of the cause of action  – duty, breach, causation, damages – and what “duty” is. You may recall that a few months ago we were curtly critical of a similar paragraph in Boisson. This opinion’s explanation isn’t as long but is basically similar; for all we know both are cut-and-paste from the same source (especially the first few lines; they’re perhaps too alike to be coincidence). So this wasn’t an oddity of Boisson, this is approved CA1 style. Rather than being snarky about it, then, we should simply put the question: why?

Does the court really think that the lawyers in these cases didn’t understand the basics of the law of negligence? Does it think that of the lawyers who will someday need to look up these cases about off-premises liability? Tax court opinions don’t start by explaining what “taxes” are; why must every negligence case tell us what “negligence” is?  In what circumstance does the court decide that discussion of an area of law must include description of its first principles, most of which have nothing to do with the case at issue? How, in the court’s view, does this aid the discussion?

Well, you know the answers to these questions – which is that the court has never even asked them. And that’s our real gripe: not that the author of an opinion disagrees with us about what ideas are appropriate to it but that the court, content to color by numbers, gives the matter no evident consideration.

(link to opinion)