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July 23, 2021

Third Planet v. Crowne Plaza Hotel – the comic book


Writer: Cris Feldman

Art: Michael Charles, Maurice Terry Jr, Michael Brooks

A set of legal proceedings launched in the District Court of Harris County in Texas has caused a stir in legal circles, as far away as here in Australia where your critic (in his spare time, a lawyer) practices.

The plaintiffs, Criss-A-Less Inc trading as Third Planet Sci-Fi and Fantasy Superstore, and its owner, T.J. Johnson, has commenced proceedings against their neighbour, Crowne Plaza River Oaks, and related entities. In the plaintiffs’ third amended petition (a document which initiates the proceedings), the plaintiffs have adopted a very novel approach to setting out the basis of its complaint.

Ordinarily such documents contain pleadings. Pleadings are a very dry account of the facts and law spelling out (inter alia) the basis of the claim (here, negligence, trespass, and nuisance), the basis of the jurisdiction, and the legal remedy being sought by the plaintiff (in this matter, somewhere between $250000 and $1 million).

In this instance, however, the plaintiffs have written, drawn, and coloured a comic which details the history of the dispute, and incorporated that into the petition. This is the first time we have ever heard of this occurring in a formal court document. The lawyer who drafted the petition, Mr Cris Feldman, notes, “To aid in clarifying the facts of this case, plaintiffs provide the facts in illustrated form”. Each panel is denoted by a comic sans number contained within a fire extinguisher logo. We expect the numeration is necessary so as to indicate that each panel is the equivalent of a numbered paragraph in the petition, and that this is probably required by the District Court’s rules.

The case can be read in full on this link https://s3.documentcloud.org/documents/20984104/third-planet-petition.pdf but here are some extracts:

Why the symbolism of fire extinguishers? It seems that this is because a barrage of fire extiguinshers being thrown out of the hotel was the last straw.

In this review, we credit Mr Cris Feldman, a lawyer of the firm Feldman & Feldman, with authorship of the comic. One wonders if Mr Feldman was not the actual author. We think Mr Feldman’s name and signature as “author” at the end of the petition was necessary because a petition is a legal document, and Mr Feldman’s insurer might not have liked a lay person being accredited with drafting part of it.

And what is our assessment of the comic? It might be short, but this comic is excellent. It is highly entertaining and it thoroughly makes its point. The fire extinguishers are depicted as akin to an artillery strike, and the visual dynamism especially of this section of the pleadings – um, panels of the comic – is a credit to the artists. We also liked how the comic appears within the petition with the section title of ‘Origin Story” and not a “Secret Origin Story”. Indeed, Mr Johnson made no secret of the problem, and is shown as determinedly marching into the defendants’ premises to complain about the repeated showers of dangerous debris falling onto the roof of his property, and then marching out from the same drab door, his face revealing his dissatisfaction and otherwise looking a little despondent. (We wonder whether Mr Johnson had a positive duty to complain, lest he become an accessory of some description under Texan law to the the hotel’s alleged negligence.) In a nice touch, Mr Johnson is otherwise twice depicted as stoically gazing over the city of Houston, as much of a landmark as his beloved store.

We wish Mr Johnson and Third Planet Sci-Fi and Fantasy Superstore nothing but success in its suit. We trust that this story does not descend into 1990s American pathos, and look forward – hopefully soon – to the uplifting series finale.

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