• June 18, 2015
Sounds of Silence

“The Sounds of Silence,” Paul Simon, Art Garfunkel

We rarely stop to think about it but legal opinions are a unique literary form. They are non-fiction narratives. There is generally a common structure, “Here are the facts. Here is the law. Here is how we believe the laws apply to these facts.”

Legal opinions are very often insanely boring and inaccessible to most people. On occasion, they are master-pieces both of clear writing and penetrating reasoning. Sometimes they are over-the-top silly. Sometimes they are intriguing for what they DON’T say.

Lawyers spend a lot of time reading them but very little time critiquing them (as works of literature, that is), appreciating them, or talking about the legal opinion as a genre. This makes sense, of course. Neither do we have many connoisseurs of cookbook writing, technical manual writing, patent writing, or the many other writing forms that are non-literary. We only focus on the subtleties and beauty of a tiny fraction of peoples’ writings. But legal opinions are often interesting, often puzzling, and, in rare instances, beautiful. Sometimes they’re mysteries (sometimes inadvertently)…

Mr. Chandler Billings, of Stewartville, Minnesota worked for a property management company, 65th Street Property Management,LLC. That is, he worked for 65th Street Property until 65th Street Property fired him.

Mr. Billings was fired for three reasons. First, on May 13, 2014, he was mowing a lawn and his employer was “not satisfied with his work.” So his employer sent him a text saying “he could leave when he finished mowing.” In what the employer deemed to be Mr. Billings’ defiant act of brazen insubordination bordering on insurrection (it seems), “[w]hen Billings finished mowing the lawn, he ‘sprayed everything off with the hose, made everything clean the way [65th Street] likes it, put everything away and left.’”

Six days later, 65th Street terminated Billings’s employment, in part because he did not leave work immediately after he finished mowing on May 13. At the time of the termination, 65th Street provided two other reasons for terminating Billings. But in its appellate brief, 65th Street relies only on the reason that Billings did not leave work immediately after he finished mowing on May 13.

So, here is what is entertaining about this odd short story. 65th Street wanted to strip Mr. Billings of unemployment benefits for three reasons BUT THE BEST THEY COULD COME UP WITH WAS THIS??? The other two unidentified reasons were more lame than the one they took through a year or so of administrative wrangling and an appeal to the Court of Appeals?

(Kind of reminds me of the old joke: “I have two pieces of advice for you. Never tell anyone everything you know.”)

(H/T: ML Reader CK) (another post prompted by a treasured regular Minnesota Litigator reader)

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