Gunners N’ Roses v. Panic! At the District Court
901 U.Va. 74 (2018)
Elicegui, J. delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ZABLOCKI, Hopkin, and Ranzini, JJ., joined. VanderMeulen, C. J., filed a concurring opinion.
Justice Elicegui delivered the opinion of the Court.
A group of precocious 1Ls formed a band and joined the staff of the newspaper. As a result, the 1L cover band stole the cover photo of the newspaper from the Law School’s official, beloved cover band, Gunners N’ Roses. While such chutzpah might be considered praiseworthy, the 1Ls acted without regard for the laws and social norms which govern our community. Given the relevant laws, which provide that 3Ls rule the school and give property rights to the original creators of great ideas, and the justice system which provides a remedy to the aggrieved, the 1L cover band breached an implied contract, trespassed, and stole the thunder of GNR and must make amends accordingly.
On Saturday, October 20, the members of the Law School’s beloved cover band, Gunners N’ Roses (“GNR”), took to the stage to headline SBA’s new event, Fauxfield. Fauxfield was a replacement for Foxfield, the Law School’s annual event where the 1Ls must provide food and beverages to the upperclassmen to thank them for welcoming the new students into our school. Our treasured band performed their hearts out for more than three hours. By all accounts, they crushed it and demonstrated to the school their countless hours of rehearsal were worth it. During the three-hour performance, Gunners N’ Roses played twenty songs and even refrained from too many beers to ensure they gave it their all.
Four days later, GNR’s lead singer, Betty Rizzo, arrived at school to find the front page of the Law Weekly contained a giant picture of Panic! At the District Court (“P!ADC”), the 1L “cover band,” or, as appellant’s brief asserts, a cheap knock-off version of GNR. Rizzo couldn’t believe her eyes, particularly because P!ADC only played four songs (that’s all they know) and she was still hoarse from singing for more than three hours. Rizzo gathered the other members of the band—Marty Maraschino, Danny Zuko, Sonny LaTierri, Putzie, and Kenickie—to discuss this outrage. As a result of that conversation, appellants decided to file the foregoing suit.
Appellants asserted that P!ADC infringed on their copyright, breached an implied contract, trespassed on their property, and intentionally inflicted emotional distress upon them. Appellants first argued that, as the rightful heirs to the school’s first law-pun cover band, they own a trademark over such band names any other group looking to found a law-pun band must pay them the appropriate trademark fees. Second, appellants argued that, implicit in the 1Ls’ acceptance to UVA Law, they created an implied contract to “wait their turn” to form a band and “know their place” in the Law School hierarchy, which they breached. Third, appellants argued that, as the rightful heirs to the discoverers of the successful formula for law-pun band success, they hold property rights over all Law School musical performances under the doctrine of discovery, and that P!ADC trespassed on their property by performing at Fauxfield without their permission. Fourth, appellants contended that P!ADC intentionally induced other 1Ls to put their picture on the front page of the newspaper in an attempt to sabotage GNR and upset the band members. Appellants asked the lower court for monetary damages, paid in the form of four kegs of good beer, and a permanent injunction preventing P!ADC from performing at future Law School–wide events without their express and written permission.
For their part, appellees, through their lawyer, third-year student Julianna McCarthy, denied all claims. They asserted, “That’s not how trademarks work,” and questioned if the members of GNR had even taken Copyright Law yet. Appellees responded to the breach-of-contract claim by explaining that contracts require an objective intent to form a contract, and no objective person would agree not to form a band when they were as talented as the members of P!ADC and the competition was so weak. Appellees also asserted that the doctrine of discovery only applies to land and is no longer a permissible form of establishing property rights, given that the underlying logic is “pretty racist” and ignores the property rights of the indigenous peoples. In response to the intentional infliction of emotional distress claim, P!ADC argued that “Gunners N’ Roses shouldn’t be such pansies” and “competition makes everyone stronger.”
After a two-day bench trial at the court below, Judge Jacob Jones found for P!ADC on all claims. Judge Jones ruled that GNR had no trademark on law-pun band names because, “Eh, I don’t know what a trademark is and neither brief really explained it.” He also found no implied contract between the 1Ls and the larger student body and agreed with P!ADC that GNR shouldn’t be “such prima donnas. Who do you think you are, anyway?! Upperclassmen?” Finally, Judge Jones found the doctrine of discovery doesn’t apply because he hasn’t taken property yet. Appellants timely appealed and we granted them a hearing. We now reverse on three of GNR’s claims and remand for a calculation of damages.
First, we address appellants’ trademark-infringement claim. Like Judge Jones, the members of this high court have yet to take Copyright Law and aren’t sure what a trademark actually is. We surmise, though, that trademarks only apply to more specific and original ideas than law school puns, which are a dime a dozen. See Students of UVA Law v. Common Law Grounds, 818 U.Va. 545 (2017) (“As a student organization at UVA, you have a duty to have at least one board member who hates puns to guarantee you don’t subject the student body to events like ‘Confirmation Bias’ focused on judicial confirmation hearings.”). Given this Court’s past pun precedent and Petty Rule of Civil Procedure 1, we do what we want and we don’t want to research what a trademark actually is. Therefore, we uphold the lower court’s decision on this claim.
The lower court erred, though, in finding for the appellees on the breach-of-contract, trespass, and intentional-infliction-of-emotional distress claims. The Court will now take them up in that particular order.
UVA Law is a school where students respect their elders and all students who accept their offer of admission form an implied, but binding, contract with the 3Ls to allow them to shine all year. Under this contract, 1Ls, 2Ls, and professors may not require anything particularly strenuous from 3Ls or interfere with their fun in any way. We don’t call it #3LOL for nothing. See Grey v. Collins and Dugas, 713 U.Va. 27 (2014) (“Fed Courts is hereby enjoined from being held on Friday and messing up the 3Ls’ three-day weekend. And don’t even think about doing any cold-calling in there, either.”). Because GNR is made up of several 3Ls, the band functions as an agent of the 3L class and is therefore a party to the implied 3L contract. P!ADC breached this contract by stealing the cover photo from GNR and must make amends for that breach. Besides, wasn’t it hurtful enough that these youngins didn’t have to provide us with food, booze, and ponies?! Where will this madness end?!
While the doctrine of discovery may no longer apply to land, the doctrine is still in full force at UVA Law and GNR has full property rights over all school-wide musical performances and law-pun band names. Although GNR is not the first Law School cover band, GNR is the successor in interest to Jefferson Clerkship and inherited all Jefferson Clerkship’s property rights when the original band broke up. This bundle includes the usual sticks (right to exclude, right to destroy, right to use, right to sell). Given that GNR has the right to exclude others from Law School–wide musical performances and from using law-pun band names, P!ADC violated these rights by performing at Fauxfield without their permission and sucking up GNR’s rightful press coverage.
P!ADC’s transgressions against GNR caused the members of GNR emotional distress and justice requires Panic! At the District Court make amends for the pain they have caused. See Ex-GF v. Ex-BF, 673 U.Va. 1145 (2016) (“You can’t just be a dick and get away with it. Wrongs must be righted, and sometimes the only way to do that is by saying sorry with a keg.”). Because P!ADC breached the laws and social norms governing the law school community, they owe GNR beer to compensate.
The upperclassmen of UVA Law can’t just let these meddling kids get away with it. Therefore, the lower court’s holding is reversed and the case is remanded for a calculation of damages not inconsistent with this opinion. And this opinion has nothing to do with the fact that a majority of this Court’s justices are GNR groupies.
It is so ordered.
VanderMeulen, C. J., concurring.
I join in full my colleague Justice Elicegui’s able opinion. I write separately to note additional precedent that supports the holding outlined in her opinion. Can it be that the 1Ls have never heard of the famous SBA v. First-Year Council, 323 U.Va. 882 (1983)? There, the Court outlined its seminal, nuanced rule controlling 1L cases: “1Ls lose.” Like Professor Kordana’s “female plaintiffs lose” rule, this principle of the law is a time-honored and intellectually sound maxim strongly supported by the Petty Academy. Through the decades, the Court has applied it again and again, with increasing certainty and vigor. See, e.g., Class of 2005 v. Jeffries, 580 U.Va. 100 (2002) (“The 1Ls lose.”); PILA v. Annoying Smelly 1Ls, 612 U.Va. 205 (2009) (“The 1Ls lose.”) (Opinion of Watkins, J.)
When applied to this case, the outcome is clear: The 1Ls lose. Strongly endorsing this ancient and sound rule, I concur.
 Appellees retained Ms. McCarthy’s services because “We’re 1Ls and don’t know any law yet. The doctrine of discovery?! That sounds like some made-up mumbo jumbo to us.”
 Judge Jones is the author of the article that originally ignited this dispute. This Court was unimpressed that he didn’t recuse himself from the case, but recusal is up to each individual judge, so our hands are tied. We are excluding him from social events for the week, though.
 “We do what we want.”
 We ignore, for now, the presence of that 2L guy in GNR. See Footnote 3.
 RIP Jeb.