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New Meaning to Sibling Rivalry: 7th Cir Dismisses With Prejudice

By Gabriella Khorasanee, JD on October 16, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

In a mere-five page decision, Judge Easterbrook told a brother and sister that their case of sibling rivalry over parenting was simply not a federal case (pun completely intended, you're welcome).

No, this case doesn't provide us with ground-breaking legal precedent. But, when Judge Easterbrook reprimands everyone in the courtroom it makes for very entertaining reading.

He Said, She Said

Claudia Broom, guidance counselor at a high school, allegedly told her brother's children, students at the school, that he was "bad at being a father." While this kind of statement, in most households, would mean a tense Thanksgiving dinner (more tense than usual, that is), here it instigated federal litigation.

Terry Bovee, Claudia's very sensitive brother, filed a federal complaint citing violations of 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1988, because as a public school employee, she was allegedly acting under color of state law. Bovee claimed that because of his sister's statement, his children engaged in parental abuse, his authority was undermined, and he was alienated from his children.

Though he claimed that his liberty interest granted by the Fourteenth Amendment's due process clause was violated, the district court was not persuaded. Finding that the claim was actually a defamation action, the district court sua sponte dismissed the complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Two months later the same court denied Bovee's Rule 59(e) motion to reconsider.

Seventh Circuit Weighs In

The court patiently reiterated the concepts of federal jurisdiction, before modifying the district court's dismissal from one without prejudice, to one with prejudice. Because Broom only uttered words, and did not take "any official action adverse to his interests" the court labeled the case what it was: "simple defamation."

Judge Easterbrook called out Bovee's attorney for citing irrelevant passages of case law and stated: "That is not responsible litigation; a lawyer looks undignified with his head in the sand .... The belief that ostriches stick their heads in the sand to avoid seeing danger is a canard. Lawyers shouldn't do it either."

(Sidebar: What is it with the Seventh Circuit and ostrich metaphors?)

He directed his stern response to Bovee and Broom as well, stating: "Siblings dissatisfied with each other's methods of child rearing must find a means other than federal litigation to address their differences." Why? Because he said so.

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