Court of Petty Appeals: Unner v. Society of Healthy Energetic Law Professors (SHELP) 696 U.Va. 924 (2017)

JANI, J. announces the judgment of the Court in an opinion joined by GOLDMAN and ANGELOTTI, JJ.

Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded. 

Today we consider a matter that has long been theorized as a possible point of contention in the delicate relationship between Law Students and Professors, but only recently has come to be realized. Is it ever appropriate for a student to approach her professor at the gym?

Upon seeing first-year law students frequenting the gym, Plaintiffs filed for an emergency injunction enjoining the Defendant from pestering exercising professors. An injunction, carefully tailored to only apply to 1L students, was granted by Judge VanderMeulen of the lower court. The order was upheld by the Court of Appeals sitting en banc.

Plaintiffs, despite their dubious name, are a class of law professors at the University of Virginia. They bring this suit on behalf of themselves and all UVa law professors. Plaintiffs contend that the newest wave of law school students, more serious and unabashed than classes before, have now improperly extended the realm of professors’ accessibility to the gym. They contend that the gym is a hassle-free zone, dictated by common customs and practices among regulars, which should lie as a refuge from the pestering, bothersome 1L. 

Defendant named is first year law student Greg Unner. (Although the record does not specify, it is of this Court’s strong belief that Mr. Unner is of Section A.) The defendant largely does not dispute the facts at issue. Instead he contests three legal issues. First, he alleges that the Plaintiffs have no standing on this matter as the harm is only theoretical, not actual, and has not been realized to the opposing party. Second, the Defendant argues that any injunction would violate his due process as it arbitrarily denies the Defendant his right to professor access. Finally, in conjunction with the issue one, the Defendant maintains that any alleged tort would not fall outside the normal scope of irritation.

As noted above, the issue at hand has only come recently to fruition of recent. It is a well-known fact to this Court and outside observers that until recently law school professors did not frequent public gyms. Rather, they practiced office calisthenics, as shown in the attached photo, a tradition that was passed down from generation-to-generation of professors. Thus the chance of confrontation between sycophantic students and beleaguered professors remained slim. However, according to historical scholars of this subject, the trend started shifting in late 2011 when now-Speaker of the House Paul Ryan was photographed demonstrating his workout technique in a TIME Magazine feature. Soon after, there was a noticeable uptick of gym attendance as people realized that they could not look any sillier than the then-Chairman of the House Budget Committee. Understandably, Law School professors were a part of this wave, and thus, the path to conflict was laid. 

Before we move on to our opinion, it would behoove this Court to recognize the sheer number of amicus curiae briefs that were filed regarding this case. We must ask that, in the future, parties ask themselves whether the information that they would like to provide this Court is pertinent to the matter-at-hand. Often the received briefs were simply a list of numbers indicating the maximum amount parties could lift, or a ranking of the best whey protein powders on the market (we get it, professors: you lift). One notable exception was the brief filed by one Professor Joe Fore, which was crafted beautifully, both in style and substance. 

(As an aside, this Court must stress again that it normally does not exercise original jurisdiction in deciding disputes between professors, although, if we need to, we will exercise such jurisdiction. As such, at this time, the Court declines to hear the case between Professor Michael Doran and Professor Joe Fore on whether Professor Fore could successfully adversely possess Professor Doran’s property. If the losing party wishes to appeal, we shall consider such an appeal when it appears before us.)  

First, on the issue of standing, it has long been recognized by reputable journals and academics that unwanted gym conversations cause significant stress to the imposed-upon party. See BuzzFeed, 12 Cringe-Worthy Things About The Gym That Are Just Way Too Real (2016). The thought alone of seeing a sweaty, sometimes half-naked student approaching may cause great emotional distress. Without an order from this Court, professors may be forced to live in waking fear or join an off-campus gym should they decide to live a healthy lifestyle. In this sense, the harm in this case has already been realized. We see no issues with Plaintiffs’ standing in this matter. 

Second, it has been long recognized by this Court that Law Professors are people, too (recently upheld in Prof. J.J. v. Council of Concerned Students, 467 U.Va 832 (2016).) Accordingly, on the issue’s face, these Professors should be afforded the same rights and benefits that are conferred upon a normal population of people. The lower court correctly found that it is not prohibited per se to simply approach another during their workout. The tort lies in the nature of the conversation, not the conversation itself. Correspondingly, the question before this Court is not whether professors can be approached at the gym, but whether a Law Student, more specifically a 1L, can ever have an appropriate conversation with a professor at the gym. 

The crafty 1L is no normal person, and it has been echoed by 2Ls and 3Ls in the halls of Withers-Brown and Slaughter that the Class of 2019 is unique. As one unnamed 3L eloquently stated, “These new kids have no chill.” Saddled with good pay and secured employment, Law Professors’ resolve and ability to fend off wily 1Ls, who seek to attain their ends by guileful means, is compromised. 

However, the injunction before us today unfairly targets first-year students in violation of their due process. While this Court recognizes the exceptionally fraught nature of 1Ls, we also recognize that the amount-owed figure in a first-year student’s SIS account is just as absurdly high as that of a second- or third-year student. Therefore, any order enjoining 1Ls must enjoin all law students, or none at all.

This Court acknowledges the concurrence’s extension of The Doctrine of Unclean Hands to this matter. However, the majority recognizes UVa Law’s Faculty Supremacy Clause. As read from Virginia Law’s student handbook, “Behavior constituting misconduct—as described in, and during the timeframe described in, this section—may be subject to sanction regardless of where the conduct occurs . . . . The faculty reserves the right to impose sanctions on students who are found to have violated these standards.” The Academic Policies (2016). All gym conversations are equally vapid and irritating. Yet the law identifies the unilateral authority of Professors over students. Accordingly, no matter how bothersome a conversation, the fact remains that if said conversation is initiated by a professor, it is appropriate. 

Thus we hold the Plaintiffs standing in this complaint but reverse the District Court’s order and remand this matter back to the court of original jurisdiction for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.  


HADEN, C.J., concurring in the judgment, joined by HALL, J. 

I commend Justice Jani, sitting by designation, for his foray into this Court’s jurisprudence on standing and the tort of irritation. I would normally join in his well-crafted opinion; however, I am unable to join because of an outstanding issue that forces me to write separate of the majority: the doctrine of unclean hands. While this issue was not briefed by the parties nor discussed in oral arguments, I feel compelled to be discerning with our remedies when the parties do not come to this Court in good faith.

The Doctrine of Unclean Hands bars a plaintiff from seeking relief from a defendant where that plaintiff is guilty of the same or a similar wrong complained of. As former Justice Collins eloquently put it, “You can’t bitch about someone being a bitch when you’re a bitch.” Darden Bro v. Shark Mountain Coffee, 12 U.Va 719 (2015).

Here, professors should be ABSOLUTELY forbidden from bringing this suit, because they are the most frequent gym-talkers of all. It’s hard to even get a mile in on the treadmill without getting a supplemental Torts lesson from your 1L professor. I ccept that this 1L class may be the most gunnery in history, but other students are still forced to be a part of gym conversations initiated by teachers. 

Until professors curtail gym conversations that they initiate, their complaint in this Court reeks of hypocrisy, and their hands are unclean (not physically, although if professors don’t wipe down the gym equipment after use, maybe physically too). As such, I would dismiss the complaint. Because the Court reaches the correct result, but by incorrect reasoning, I must concur.


1   Mr. Unner has asked that we not call him G. Unner, as that nickname has apparently caused him some social discord.