LAW WEEKLY FEATURE: Court of Petty Appeals

PILA Auction Committee v.
PILA Auction Attendees

470 U.Va 724 (2016)

GOLDMAN, J., This case came before us in an unusual manner; we normally hear cases in our chambers (SL 279; briefs can be nailed to the corkboard outside or sent via email at, but instead we heard this on location on the dancefloor of the Omni Hotel. Since all justices were in attendance at PILA, and Petty Rule of Civil Procedure 37 states that, “The Chief Justice may call the Court into session in any location she or he sees fit,” Chief Justice Haden used the baseball bat signed by Dean Goluboff to call the Court into session. 

The impromptu plaintiffs, the PILA Auction Committee, initiated this action charging the defendants, various Law Students in attendance of the PILA Auction, with disorderly conduct. As specific examples, the oral complaint notes various acts of mania: stolen balloons, charging the stage, and eating wayyyy too much of that pizza.

The PILA Auction is a widely respected event whose stated purpose is raise money to provide summer job funding for 1L and 2L students to work in nonprofit and government over the summer. The Plaintiffs assert that the taking of balloons, the charging of the stage, and the crude use of the balloon letter “D” meet the elements for disorderly conduct not becoming of UVa Law Students. 

The facts are not at issue: After Professors Mitchell and Bowers concluded with the live auction portion of the evening, students rushed thestage to take balloon letters that formerly spelled out “HOLLYWOOD” allegedly (or apparently) in reference to the theme of the event. Students then began to dance (badly) on the stage to Justin Beiber’s esteemed classic “Sorry” and the widely regarded best song of all time “Dancing On My Own,” which, in hindsight, could have been fraught with tort claims.   

Regarding the taking of balloons, the 1L defendants asserted that they did not know the difference between stolen and abandoned property. The 2L and 3L defendants say they believed the stage and all fixtures were abandoned since the live auction was over; and thus the abandoned property was ripe for taking. 

We remind 1L defendants that ignorance of the law is not a defense in this Court or any other (see Brady v. Free Food Table in WB 361 U. Va 276 (2016), “I put my lunch down for one second and next thing I knew I was being trampled by 3Ls and a very hungry Professor White.”).

The 2L and 3L’s arguments are more compelling, but the PILA auction does not officially end until midnight, the end of the silent auction, or when the DJ stopped playing music, whichever is latest. At the time of the takings the music was still playing and the silent auction was still open, but the time was not noted, therefore we rely on the first two conditions. Further, the PILA Auction committee worked very hard on the decorations, and a PILA ticket does not give you a vested interest in being an asshole.

To the plaintiffs’ main complaint, “disorderly conduct not becoming of UVa Law Students” is not a crime in this jurisdiction. Though the reasoning as to why SBA has not written this into the Model Petty Penal Code seems obvious, there are several events and situations that may be in jeopardy if such a crime did exist (see generally Foxfield, Barrister’s Ball, and the day after the class lottery runs within the confines of Dean Dugas’ office). In response to Chief Justice Haden’s concurrence noting that the opinion is mixing civil and criminal worlds, the majority would like to direct the Chief Justice to Petty Rule 1, “We do what we want.” 

The PILA auction committee did admit in oral arguments that since all the balloons were taken the clean-up process was expedited, but they did not appreciate the undermining of the integrity and purpose of the event. 

It is common knowledge that the PILA Auction is an opportunity to drink too much and donate an obscene amount of money to play Pokémon GO with Professors Kendrick and Schwartzman. Significant and comprehensive studies have shown that the purpose of PILA is furthered when the crowd is more drunk and debaucherous at the auction.

It was not nice of attendees to take over the stage like it was a high school prom, because attendees purport to be adults; similarly it was inconsiderate to destroy the decorations that the auction committee worked so hard to assemble. Being a Petty Court, we never issue formal apologies, and we almost never require anyone else to apologize either. Ultimately, however, the drunk and disorderly behavior worked to further the stated purpose of the event. We do not require the defendant to apologize, but we do require them, through the Student Bar Association, to replicate the “HOLLYWOOD” balloon sign and deliver it to Student Affairs, where Plaintiffs can enjoy the balloons every time they stop in for candy and gluten free pretzels. 

It is so ordered. 

HADEN, C.J., concurring in part, dissenting in part, and concurring in the judgment.

I join the majority’s opinion relating to our jurisdiction and our ability to hear cases in an impromptu manner. As Petty Rules of Evidence 1 and 37 make clear, we are able to do essentially whatever we want in terms of court procedure, and this case does not run afoul of any Petty Due Process concerns. However, the Court notes that all five Justices were present at the impromptu trial, which is true, but is not a necessary requirement for a judgment from this Court. For example, if two Justices on this Court were to recuse themselves, certainly the remaining three could decide the merits of a case, so long as a majority of the remaining three came to a conclusion. I read the above sentence in the Court’s opinion to be merely dictum and does not suggest that the presence of all five justices is required.

    As for the rest of the opinion, I find the legal reasoning to be a little unclear. The plaintiff has made a claim of disorderly conduct against the defendants. The majority, however, references the fact that disorderly conduct is not a crime in this jurisdiction. This blending of the criminal and civil worlds is problematic for our jurisprudence. We have never required that there be an underlying crime that would support a recovery in a civil action. Indeed, should our Petty Legislature decide to decriminalize arson, that would certainly not bar an action for trespass to chattels or conversion. 

    The majority also notes that such a crime would be problematic given the events that the Law School has during the year. I am not so sure that this reasoning is sound; rejecting a law simply because it would catch a lot of people does not seem to strike a proper balance. Were this question squarely before the Court, I would assume that some sort of balancing test would be required. I find myself unable to join that part of the majority’s opinion. However, since this question is not before the Court, and since the majority’s paragraph discussing it is not central to the holding, I assume it is dicta and therefore will not cause problems in future litigation.

    In my opinion, the conduct complained of absolutely constitutes disorderly conduct. The stealing of property, the storming of the stage, and the general debauchery are textbook characteristics of disorderly conduct. However, I note two things that allow me to join in the majority’s conclusion, or, at least, to join in the ultimate disposition of the case. First, there seems to me to be a cognizable defense of assumption of the risk. I read Justice Goldman’s opinion to hint at this argument tangentially, when she notes that PILA should have expected this level of debacuhery. 

    In the alternative, if I were to award judgment to the plaintiff, I would be hard-pressed to find damages to award them. I agree with the majority’s conclusion that the only cognizable loss was the loss of the balloons; in almost every other way, however, PILA undoubtedly benefited from the attendees overall.

ANGELOTTI, J., concurring specially.

    I found out that Professor Ferzan only reads my opinions because they are so short, so I am taking this opportunity to ask if you can send me those worksheets from 1L Crim for me to use when I study for the bar?

PICKUS, J., dissenting.

The Court of Petty Appeals has no jurisdiction to decide this case. PILA is an anarchic wasteland with neither law nor order. We have no more jurisdiction over PILA than we do the ninth circle of Hell or the DC Metro system. There are no laws. Abandon all hope. 

1      Jennifer Lee, Drunk and Disorderly: A Study on PILA Auction Revenue and Belligerence, 83 Nature 228, 254-342 (2016) (“There is a direct, positive correlation between the amount of money raised and amount of alcohol consumed. For example: one year a voucher for one month’s Ivy rent was purchased by an Ivy resident for more than the cost of the normal month’s rent.”). 
2     Third Restatement of Petty Actions takes generously from Beyonce’s latest album, Lemonade, see “Sorry” (“Sorry, I ain’t sorry… stop interrupting my grinding”).
3     See Justice Pickus’ research regarding North Dakota’s lax arson laws.