The Infamous Cowboy Hat Lawsuit

One Saturday night, a few weeks into the second semester of my 1L year, I called up a friend of mine to go out. She's a cute grad student and a fellow Texas Ex (the alumni association for UT) from El Paso. I don't remember where we started our little bar crawl, but we eventually made our way to Bullfeathers.

We had been there for a while, when all of a sudden some drunk, undergrad asshole grabbed the cowboy hat off my head. Now, I'm used to people taking my cowboy hat and putting it on - you don't see too many people wearing a Stetson in Madison. Normally, I don't really mind because it's usually an attractive*, often drunk, undergraduate girl attempting to flirt with me. This, however, was what the politically correct call a "Penised-American." But he didn’t just grab it – he actually started walking (or stumbling, rather) away with my hat.

I caught up with him a few feet later and asked him to return my hat. He refused. So, despite having had quite a few shots of Jager, the Wisconsin defense of property statute was running through my head:

A person is privileged to threaten or intentionally use force against another for the purpose of preventing or terminating what the person reasonably believes to be an unlawful interference with the person's property. Only such degree of force or threat thereof may intentionally be used as the actor reasonably believes is necessary to prevent or terminate the interference.... Wis. Stats. 939.49(1).
If I wanted to kick this guy's ass, I needed to make sure that I "reasonably believed" that force was necessary to "prevent or terminate the interference" with my hat. I asked for the hat again, a little more forcefully, and he started claiming that the hat was his. I tried to grab the hat out of his hands but, unfortunately, my motor skills were a bit off, and he jerked it away and started shoving me. Satisfied that force was reasonably necessary, I grabbed him by the throat and he did the same to me. We were maybe five seconds away from a brawl.

Now, this guy was about six or seven inches taller than me, but he was a skinny little motherfucker. What he thought he was doing by engaging me in combat I have no idea. Of course, the guy was drunk out of his mind, so that may have had something to do with it. I tensed my body and prepared to tackle him, when the bouncers interfered.

Luckily, I'm something of a regular at Bullfeathers, so the bouncers knew me. More importantly, they knew my hat. They humored the guy and asked whose hat it was and he claimed that it was his grandfather's hat, and that he had given it to him before he died. The fucking drunk actually conjured a note of genuine emotion in his voice. The bouncers, however, didn't buy it. However, as they tried to coax this sonofabitch into returning my hat, I was getting pissed. To make things worse, the asshole started crumpling up my Stetson while he was talking. I pointed this out to the bouncers and they took the hat out of his hands and gave it to me - a $90 Stetson, fucking deformed as all get-out.

I was livid. I asked the bouncers to detain him for a moment while I called the cops. Normally, I'm not a big fan of the police, but I was fucking glad to see them. Mainly, I just wanted a case number so I could get his name.

Watching this schmuck get arrested was pretty rewarding. He started crying like a little bitch when they cuffed him and threw him in the back of the squad car. I asked the officer what they were going to charge him with, and they said they wrote him a ticket for disorderly conduct. I was not satisfied. I told the officers that they should at least charge him with felony damage to property (Wis. Stats. 943.01). They disagreed.

Not to be dissuaded so easily, I stumbled home, whipped out my statute book and called the police station and proceeded to tell whoever answered the phone about everything that they could charge this hat-mangling jackass with. Whether or not they were amused, I couldn't tell. However, no felony charges were filed. The bastard got away with a civil forfeiture on a city ordinance. Fuck.

Anyway, I began to put together a lawsuit for civil battery and tresspass to chattel. Legally, I think I had a pretty good case, and there's some neat precedent in Wisconsin that would have allowed me to get some serious punitive damages (See Jacque v. Steenberg Homes, 209 Wis.2d 605). After all, this wasn't just about the hat. No - this went to the heart of property rights in general. The court needed to send a message to every drunk asshole who thinks that they can just take whatever they want, regardless of the consequences. This case would have gone to the essence of what makes America great - the right to exclusive control of your own property. Also, I really wanted some punitive damages.

I drafted a complaint and wrote a great closing argument. However, being the lazy guy that I am, though I talked about it a lot, I never filed it. Of course, I still have another year left under the statute of limitations....

POSTSCRIPT: I've tried to fix my hat and it's still wearable. It's damaged, but now it definitely has character and a story to go with it. And most importantly, girls still love it.

The law school rumor-mill got wind of the story and soon I heard a rumor that I was suing someone else in the law school. I dismissed it as ridiculous, and never really thought much about it. I mean, the guy was like 21. However, over the summer I ran into the law student who thought I was suing him. Apparently, he had taken my hat one evening outside of Qdoba, danced around in it, and thought that that was the basis of the suit. I don't even remember the incident. Eventually, we sorted the whole mess out when I asked him if he had been arrested.

Fuck it. I really need to do some actual "work."

* - Or, at least attractive at the time.