Court of Petty Appeals: Best-of Edition

The Court of Petty Appeals is the highest appellate jurisdiction court at UVa Law. The Court has the power to review any and all decisions, conflicts, and disputes that arise involving, either directly, indirectly, or tangentially, the Law School or its students. The Court is comprised of four associate justices and one Chief Justice. Opinions shall be released periodically and only in the official court reporter: the Virginia Law Weekly. Please email a brief summary of any and all conflicts to

In accordance with this Court’s decision in Anonymous (Whiny) 3L v. Court of Petty Appeals and Justices Thereof, in their Official Capacity, but Especially Chief Justice Goldman and Justice VanderMeulen, 18 U.Va 642 (2017), the Court orders reproduction of its opinion in Coleman v. HungryMan, 14 U.Va 114 (2016) as part of its “Best of the Court of Petty Appeals”  series. The Court trusts the law school community will find this opinion relevant and timely.

Coleman v. HungryMan

14 U.Va 114

GOLDMAN, J., presents the opinion of the Court and is joined by WALLACE, ANGELOTTI, and PICKUS, JJ.

This appeal presents a question of common decency; how much food is appropriate to take at Law School events when there is clearly not enough for everyone in attendance? After considering the arguments of both parties, the esteemed Court created a reasonably hungry person scrutiny, with the standard of review “Don’t be a Jerk.” As always, the Court reviews the case de novo and, based on careful consideration of the facts, we reverse. 

The facts in this case are as follows: petitioner was looking forward to “Sticks” at the latest Law and Prison Project event, and arrived five minutes before the event started after Professor Duffy letting people out late from Admin. (We refer Professor Duffy to our prior decisions decrying this activity, but here the point is moot). Due to the popularity of the event, by the time the petitioner made it to the front of the line, to her horror, there were no vegetarian kabobs and she was begrudgingly left to eat only rice. Respondent, a student who also attended the event, ended up taking more than what petitioner calls “his fair share” of Sticks. Respondent replies that petitioner assumed the risk by not arriving to an event with Sticks more than five minutes before the start. 

Trial Judge Ranzini found in favor of the respondent. Drawing from his own experience, he stands firmly in the “You snooze, you lose” camp. We believe this rule is too hard and fast and fails to accommodate externalities such as professor tangents, bottlenecks in the halls, or general stampedes. “Move out of my way, that last chicken biscuit is mine!” Kaplan Bar Prep v. Hall 4 U.Va. 36 (2015).

Though this Court acknowledges that a lower court may find contributory negligence on Petitioner’s part (we don’t really care about damages), the underlying issue this Court will decide is more pressing; it is one of courtesy, of survival really, in the perils and the hunt for free lunch at the Law School. 

In Students for the Equitable Distribution of Free Law School Lunch’s amicus brief, they cite the tremendous cost of catering Sticks. “The name of the restaurant ‘Sticks’ is a misnomer; truly the name of the restaurant should be ‘Stick,’ which is more indicative of the suggested portion size.” This Court finds their argument compelling, though a second kabob may be allowable half-way through the event when it is reasonably apparent that everyone in attendance has had the opportunity to get a plate.

As a matter of public policy, it is widely known that Sticks-catered events draw large crowds, often for no other reason than because Sticks is being served. See generally every Lexis Training. If this behavior is allowed to continue, then Sticks will no longer act as a carrot to lure unsuspecting, hungry students to events that provide students with a mastery of the intricacies of tax reform, or something equally as dull. 

The opinion of this Court is to determine in good faith how much food you should take by considering the number of hungry people behind you in line. You do not need to pile up your plate when the organization hosting the event clearly misjudged the amount of food they needed to order. Make like a reasonably prudent person and stop by Student Affairs for some Chex Mix if you’re still hungry. We hereby adopt the rule “Don’t be a jerk” when it applies to free food at events. 

The Court remands to find equitable damages for Ms. Coleman and reminds UVa law students that sometimes it is appropriate to abandon their collegiality when fellow students act against the common interest. This Court is not going to encourage vigilantism during events serving Sticks, but we do not discourage it.

The dissent will have us judge based on archaic overgeneralizations about the amount of food needed by size. We do not know what kind of day the petitioner has had, we don’t know whether she had breakfast that morning, and we are not in the business of determining how much hummus is appropriate to satisfy Ms. Coleman.  

ANGELOTTI, J., concurring

I join fully with the majority. I just wanted to say that sometimes even small people are hungry and if we don’t get enough food we get hangry. (hangry: adj., angry because you’re hungry). See Black’s Law Dictionary. But I don’t like Sticks much so idk. 

HADEN, C.J., concurring just a little but dissenting a lot.

While I applaud the majority for its Disney-esque “happily-ever-after” conclusion, I find myself unable to join the decision due to its many conflicts with our jurisprudence. Therefore, I content myself to respectfully dissent.

The first issue appears to be the adoption of what the majority calls a standard of review, entitled “Don’t be a jerk.” What the majority should call this is its real name: a dull-edged and therefore useless standard. Our jurisprudence has repeatedly marked the need for clear rules as opposed to strange and amorphous standards; “Don’t be a jerk” can only fall into the latter category without supplemental guidance for what constitutes jerkiness. 

I concur with the remand for damages. However, I would also want to make more clear that contributory negligence is a bar for recovery under the tort of negligence. We have long held that contributory negligence is one of the few things that we have adopted from the state of Virginia. Cf. other Virginia policies that we have refused to adopt: bans on interracial marriage, the concept of coverture, etc. If petitioner can prove, however, that her lateness was due to the illegal (administrative?) action of Professor Duffy, then she shall not be contributorily negligent.

However, I dissent also because I believe that the standard of “don’t be a jerk” is inappropriately applied to the facts of this case. To me, equalizing food for everyone is not fundamentally fair if people of different sizes have different appetites to satisfy. I am intrigued by the amicus brief filed by FedSoc, who claimed that “vegetarianism is a choice,” citing their own administrative adjudication of Fed Soc v. Vegetarian. While I am not convinced by that fact specifically, I am convinced that equal distribution of food is not a fair division. Plus, sometimes I need more than one Stick. It’s called Sticks, for goodness’ sake. I assume that other similarly sized people may feel a hunger for more food than those like the petite petitioner.

I applaud our most junior Justice for completing her first case (yay Jenna), but I find its conclusion and reasoning to be an unwelcome departure from what I feel is well-settled precedent. The opinion is well-written, humorous, but ultimately incorrect; therefore, I must dissent.