Just Another Thanksgiving: Odd Laws, Flying Saucers and Irate Relatives

In the quaint town of Rosemead, California, the Johnson family, a diverse group of nearly 30 relatives including in-laws, aunts, uncles, and cousins, gathered to celebrate their Thanksgiving at a well-known local restaurant. The festive atmosphere was set with an array of traditional dishes, including scrumptious desserts of both pumpkin and pecan pies served a la mode.

Excuse me?

When dessert was served, Mr. Johnson, the family patriarch, requested dessert forks for the pie a la mode. To his surprise and dismay, the waiter, with utmost politeness, declined his request, citing a peculiar Rosemead ordinance prohibiting the use of a fork to eat ice cream in public. Mr. Johnson, incredulous, believed it to be a jest, but the waiter assured him of its authenticity. Mr. Johnson, still skeptical, begrudgingly accepted spoons as an alternative.

However, as the family struggled with their spoons to navigate the hard pecan pie and frozen ice cream, a comedic yet unfortunate incident occurred. In the midst of an already heated conversation, Uncle Bob’s saucer containing a slice of pecan pie topped with ice cream, flew from his place at the table and landed in Cousin Lily’s lap. This unexpected mishap was the spark in the dry tinder of an already fraught relationship between the two family branches, igniting a full-blown argument amidst the otherwise joyous occasion. The festive atmosphere quickly soured as voices rose and accusations of malicious intent flew across the table.

Frustrated and wanting to believe that the absence of forks was to blame for the fiasco, Mr. Johnson refused to pay the evening’s substantial bill of nearly $2,500. This dispute with the restaurant escalated to litigation between Mr. Johnson and the restaurant, and the restaurant and the other adult members of the family who had dined on Thanksgiving.

Claims and Counter-Claims

The restaurant initially filed a basic claim for breach of contract, or alternatively unjust enrichment, seeking payment from Mr. Johnson and the other diners for the restaurant’s tab plus a reasonable tip for service and costs of litigation, including attorneys’ fees.

Mr. Johnson counterclaimed, asserting the failure to provide forks – a basic dining utensil – constituted a prior material breach of any contract. Alternatively, he asserted that that serving pie a la mode without forks was negligent and was the precipitating cause of the chaotic events. Mr. Johnson further claims that the resulting mishap caused not only a ruined evening but also hurt feelings among family members and a dry cleaning bill. Thus, he argues, these damages, both emotional and financial, far exceed the cost of the restaurant bill.

The restaurant answered the counterclaim arguing they are obligated to adhere to local laws, no matter how odd. [Research indicates the existence of such a local ordinance. See, 7 Weird Thanksgiving Laws, University at Buffalo School of Law, November 20, 2019. Available HERE.] Further, the restaurant contends that the claimed damages were not a foreseeable consequence of using a spoon to eat ice cream and pie, and that the ensuing family argument and emotional distress were caused principally by the pre-existing tensions within the Johnson family, not the lack of forks.

The parties are awaiting further pleadings from the additional family members who blame, to varying degrees, Mr. Johnson for his selection of dining locations, the restaurant for failure to provide the proper utensils, the city of Rosemead for the odd ordinance, and the other half of the family members who contributed to the fiasco.

Off to Mediation

Upon review of the file weeks after this Thanksgiving debacle, the court had an opportunity to be thankful once again. In this case, the court gave heartfelt thanks for the community’s well-established mediation program and its excellent team of dispute resolution practitioners. Then she cheerfully ordered the parties to attempt to achieve an amicable agreement and dispatched the file from her docket accordingly.

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