Court of Petty Appeals: Custodial Staff v. Three Gallons, More or Less, of Store-Brand Ice Cream

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

Custodial Staff v. Three Gallons, More or Less, of Store-Brand Ice Cream

17 U. Va. 413 (2017)

GOLDMAN, C.J., joined by VANDERMEULEN, J.  HOLMES, J. writes separately, concurring. 

Exhibit A courtesy of the  Law Weekly .

Exhibit A courtesy of the Law Weekly.

This court has long been asked to rule on what food may or may not be left on the free food table. We usually leave such determinations to SBA, as this Court generally ascribes to the doctrine of “all food is good food.” That is, until this case which was brought to us by the esteemed custodial staff because “enough is enough.” We, of course, seized on this rare opportunity to exercise our in rem jurisdiction.

On Friday, November 17, at approximately 7p.m., a pink carton filled approximately three-quarters full of melted vanilla ice cream was left on the free food table along with several paper cups and spoons. 

The free food table is the last frontier of lawlessness at the Law School. Generally governed by the reasonably prudent students who attend this institution, the table plays host to extra food and snacks placed there by organizations after mid-day events they host.  We find this acceptable, and indeed desirable, because if there is food, it is generally taken during the ten-minute interval between classes in the afternoon. Supplying extra food to the hungry students of UVa Law serves an important public service, so the existence of the table is not at issue. 

There are two problems at issue in this case. First is the timing of the dropping off of food. The accepted practice is to leave food on the table during class change or during times of high density of hungry law students (for instance, after 5 p.m. classes let out during the week). 

Second is the content of the food. The dropping of highly sought-after food such as non-perishable candy, Zoe’s Kitchen catering, Sticks, pizza of any kind, and Ivy Provisions is nearly always acceptable. 

Ice cream that was half melted when it arrived at the table is next-level egregious. First, nobody wants to eat half-melted ice cream. Second, those desperate souls still at the Law School on the Friday before Thanksgiving Break are not lucid enough to neatly pour the melted ice cream into the flimsy paper cups and subsequently got the goop all over the table and the carpet beneath the table, and they continued to drip it down the hallway. 

Both situations are disgusting, and nobody should have to deal with this, especially the custodians who work all through the night to clean up after us on a regular basis. Really, this is a law school! We aren’t dissecting cadavers; we sit in desks with textbooks and type on Microsoft Word. The amount of dirt and trash we leave all around this school is shameful and perplexing. We can’t blame everything on the undergrads.

 This Court believes the free food table is the greatest example of collegiality and integrity at this school, and so we will not allow it to be hijacked by melted, sticky ice cream. This ruling is narrow, and should not be construed to cause a chilling effect on any potential food to be left on the free food table. 

The ice cream is hereby ordered impounded and returned to the nearest freezer. And you know what, we’re going to do some equity too. Members of the Law School community are hereby enjoined from placing melty ice cream on the free food table. Students and faculty: We sentence you to do some soul searching as to why this place gets so gross. 

HOLMES, J., sitting by designation, concurring in the judgment:

I concur with the result that the majority has reached, and I write separately to explain my own reasoning. Amici have claimed that no one could foresee that any ice cream would so long remain as to melt, and further, that by providing a gift to the students at large, the greater good of society was so served as to outweigh by far the “risk,” as they term it, that the ice cream would make an unpleasant mess. In so offering, they attempt to practice sophistry upon the Court.

Every gift comes pregnant with the hidden seed of burden, as the shrewd kings of Siam, who bankrupted their enemies by gifting them, in pretense of tribute, with the exacting care of white elephants, knew so well. Here was just such a case. The ice cream, if not carried away and eaten entirely within the hour, would melt, and cease to be a delicacy but become a sticky mess whose removal would fall to the hands of the cleaners, the plaintiffs here; and equally evidently, this burden would fall upon them without a chance to sample the treat in its delicious frozen state. It was incumbent, evidently, upon them from whose hands the ice cream passed to provide prudently for its timely removal—or else, not to leave it at all. This they did not do; and having called their tune, the law will have them pay the piper.

In a few cases, it is true, the law does not demand the detached reflection of the reasonable man in he who acts. But nowhere was there here the Thuggee’s upraised knife or the speeding train to demand instant action unchecked by the patient deliberations of the reasoned mind. By the operation of natural law the ice cream would in time decongeal, escape its container, and do mischief where it fell. Foreseeing that consequence, the law says that it was incumbent upon the defendants to prevent this at their peril.

Perhaps those who left the bucket on the table did not foresee that the spoons they left would not suffice to carry away the melting treat, or that, late on a Friday when dismissed from classes, few would remain in the halls to eat it before the fatal moment of dribbling. They are as liable as if they had; the law is the measure of every man, and the sacrifice of those who do not meet this measure we must exact, or else turn forever from the path of the law.