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3 Best Holiday Lawsuits, From Christmas Carols to Charles Dickens

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on December 12, 2016 11:55 AM

The holiday season may be the time for peace on earth, joy to the world, and copious eggnog, but it's also as good of a season as any for a lawsuit. If Santa has his elves, well, we've got our lawyers.

Whether it's Christmas displays on public property, holiday candy in the classroom, or religious holiday concerts, the holidays have engendered plenty of great lawsuits. Even Charles Dickens has gone to court over "A Christmas Carol."

1. Christmas Carol Torture?

You might perk up when you hear those first Christmas carols playing. But after a few weeks (or months), plenty of us are ready to let the holiday songs go. Hearing Mariah Carey belt out "All I want for Christmas is yoooooooou" a few times is great. Hearing it 1,000 times is miserable.

So imagine if those songs were literally inescapable. That was the case for a few thousand prisoners locked up in Arizona. Joe Arpaio, the controversial sheriff of Maricopa County, was sued after playing an uninterrupted stream of holiday carols over the prison's PA system, everything from "Frosty the Snowman" to "A Christmas Kwanzaa Solstice."

In fact, he was sued at least a half dozen times -- and won every one. "Inmates should stop acting like the Grinch who stole Christmas," Arpaio said after winning the sixth carol-related suit.

2. Is That Manger Scene Unconstitutional?

Religious displays are common over the holidays and when those displays are hosted by the government -- well, plenty of litigation can ensue. One of those disputes even made its way to the Supreme Court, setting important First Amendment precedent. In 1984, the justices weighed in on a Christmas display in Pawtucket, Rhode Island.

Unhappy Pawtucketers claimed the display, which featured Santa, a Christmas tree, a nativity scene, and a banner reading "Season's Greetings," was an unconstitutional endorsement of religion. The Supreme Court, however, decided otherwise, saying that the government's recognition of religious holidays can serve "legitimate secular purposes."

3. The Ghost of Christmas Lawsuits Past

Charles Dickens's "A Christmas Carol" is a holiday classic. (That's the one with Tiny Tim, Ebenezer Scrooge, and all those ghosts, in case you've forgotten.) When it was published in 1843, it was an instant hit -- one that instantly spawned imitators. Within a few weeks, unauthorized editions began showing up in bookstores, including one claiming to be "re-originated from the original by Charles Dickens, Esq."

Now, Dickens wasn't a lawyer -- he did start off as a law clerk, however, and once worked as a court reporter. But Dickens had lawyers. And he soon sent them off to shut down these unauthorized bootlegs -- six suits in just a few months. Dickens won his lawsuits, but the publishers simply declared bankruptcy, leaving Dickens with little reward for his legal troubles.

Dickens' frustration with the experience may have contributed to his bleak view of the law, expressed in "Bleak House," published a decade later, where he'd blast the profession for its trickery, evasion, "spoliation," and "botheration."

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