“Devil Breaks Contract, Man Sues.” Sounds like one of those fictional frivolous lawsuits that tort reform advocates feed journalists, right? Except in 1971 an individual really did bring a lawsuit against Satan—on behalf of himself and all others similarly situated—alleging that, “Satan and his servants [had] placed deliberate obstacles in plaintiff's path . . . and on numerous occasions caused plaintiff misery.” The case was United States ex rel. Gerald Mayo v. Satan And His Staff (54 F.R.D. 282), heard in the United States District Court for the western district of Pennsylvania.
Mr. Mayo, in his complaint, alleged that “Satan caused [his] downfall,” and “…deprived him of his constitutional rights.” Considering his personal circumstances (he was broke and in prison), Mayo may have been sincere. This also explains why he was seeking to proceed in forma pauperis (asking for a waiver of court fees and appointment of counsel).
Nevertheless, the judge denied Mayo's request to waive the fees and go forward with the case, stating: “The court has serious doubts that the complaint reveals a cause of action upon which relief can be granted….” In other words, even if Mayo could prove that his civil rights had been infringed, what exactly could the court do about it?
The judge also had a more immediate concern, noting that Mayo “failed to include with his complaint the required . . . instructions for the United States Marshal for directions as to service of process.” Translation: Since the plaintiff was unable to provide Satan's home or business address there was no way to serve the Prince of Darkness with the lawsuit.
Finally, the court considered whether the suit could be maintained as a class action. Here the judge couldn't resist disparaging Mayo, concluding, “We cannot now determine if the representative party will fairly protect the interests of the class . . . ” so “. . . we must exercise our discretion to refuse the prayer of plaintiff to proceed.”
Regardless, the Devil would never have allowed this case to proceed to trial, owing to his inability to get a fair and impartial hearing. Upon entering the courtroom and seeing the words “In God We Trust” emblazoned above the judge's head, Satan might have considered a motion for change of venue. But knowing the Devil's disposition it's clear he would have preferred to negotiate a settlement. One imagines him turning to his attorney and whispering the following instruction: “Let's make a deal.”