Suing Satan; the Devil’s in the Details

Back in the ‘70s there was a saying that became popular: “the devil made me do it.” Now that’s what I call going after the source, the real cause of the problem. These days we just go after symptoms–alcohol, tobacco, video game violence, obesity, etc. But back in 1971, Mr. Mayo wasn’t distracted with whatever form Satan may take from time to time. He sued the Devil.

And he didn’t pull any punches, either. Mr. Mayo claimed that Satan and Co., on numerous occasions, caused him misery, made unwarranted threats, placed deliberate obstacles in his path, and caused his downfall. By reason of those acts, Satan had deprived Mr. Mayo of his constitutional rights. The guy even asked the Court to make the case a class action! Talk about looking out for others.

Unfortunately, though, in the context of formal litigation a certain process must be followed before the substance of someone’s complaint can be addressed. For example, to begin a lawsuit the “plaintiff” must write down the problem, title the document with the name of the case, identify the various parties and tell how they can be notified of the fact that they’re being sued. When the “defendant” gets notice of the case, they must file an answer within a certain amount of time.

Suing the Devil obviously raises far more procedural issues than substantive ones. First, how to caption the case? Mr. Mayo chose “Mayo v. Satan and His Staff.” Second, how does one notify Satan of the case, and require him to appear and file an answer? No one seemed to have a clue. The unlucky judge assigned to hear this case also wondered how the court could ever obtain personal jurisdiction over Satan anyway, the power to make Satan obey the decision of the Court.

And so, with no way to bridge the gap from the physical to the spiritual world, the judge dismissed the case, and did so without even being asked to dismiss it by anyone. Think this is made up? The decision is reported at “Mayo v. Satan and His Staff,” 54 F.R.D. 282(1971). What a spectacle it would be, though, if someone ever successfully put Satan on trial.


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