There isn’t a week that goes by when, in one corner of Texas, someone doesn’t prepare for something that can only be described as “antics.” These stories capture our attention and imagination, and we explore them in Meanwhile in Texas.
What is happening?
Third Planet Sci-Fi Superstore, a comic book store in Houston, has filed a lawsuit against the nearby Crowne Plaza River Oaks, claiming that hotel guests have continued to throw items such as fire extinguishers and dishes since. the balconies on the roof of the store, requiring expensive repairs. But the weird part is what the store’s pleading looks like.
Alright, I’ll bite. What does it look like?
See for yourself, courtesy of the Houston Chronicle, who first reported the story (scroll to page six):
They filed the lawsuit like… a comic strip?
Enough on. Bad Cog Studios artists Michael Charles, Maurice Terry Jr., Michael Brooks and Benjamin Carbonero illustrated the 24-page comic at the request of Third Planet owner TJ Johnson and his attorney, Cris Feldman. “I was really intrigued by this because, first of all, I had a lawyer call me in to do a creative project,” Charles told the the Chronicle. The full-color comic shows store staff fending off an attack on ceramic plates, lit cigarette butts that they claim have caused fires on two occasions, and as many as fourteen fire extinguishers thrown from hotel balconies on the roof of the store. A sign shows store workers using buckets to collect water as rain seeps through the damaged roof onto the shelves.
Is it legal?
It is indeed! This is unconventional, but the law does not require civil proceedings to be black and white typed documents formatted in a particular way. Yet there are good reasons why most trials are alike: one judge may be amused by unusual pleading, while another may consider it unworthy of the court; fanciful pleading could undermine the seriousness of the case; and, of course, not all costumes lend themselves to creative storytelling. Third Planet’s pleadings are unique. This is a third amended petition, which means the parties involved are already in the middle of the legal process. The store and their lawyers know who the judge is reviewing the claim and if he’s the type to blame them for this gimmick. Additionally, according to argument, the defendant’s attorneys claimed they did not understand the previous petition, which meant that categorizing it as an easy-to-understand comic matched the age-old legal tradition of being sarcastic about the opposing lawyer.
Are there other examples of this kind of advocacy?
We couldn’t find any, and when we asked Daryl Moore, a former Harris County judge now in private practice, he said he had never seen anything so creative on his case. . Sometimes a complainant would include photos, especially in a personal injury lawsuit, but that was roughly the extent of the problem. Of course, he noted, Third Planet is a comic book store, so portraying its case in that format has a sort of intuitive feel.
Is it fair that the comic book store owners pose as heroes and the hotel as villains? Is a hotel responsible for what its guests may or may not throw on the roof of a neighboring business?
Excellent questions! It is not uncommon for hotels to be sued for the behavior of their customers. In January 2020, a San Antonio hotel was sued after a guest threw a ketchup bottle on a balcony overlooking River Walk, where, according to the complainant, it struck and injured a two-year-old boy. In 2017, Harris County sued a hotel in the spring for not having reduced the criminal activities of its guests.
That said, all we have here is a party’s submission, which the lawyers (and writers and artists) have presented in the most convincing way possible. No response has yet been submitted by the hotel (and its management has not responded to Texas monthlyinterview request), so we only have one side of the story so far. We will refrain from commenting on the merits of the case, and simply note that this type of litigation is not unprecedented and that many complainants want to present themselves as little guys who oppose an unfair system. For the rest, it is up to the court to decide.