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Warren St. John, You Have Just Been Served

I've already been beaten to the punch by Every Day Should Be Saturday's Orson Swindle and by the Georgia Sports Blog's Paul Westerdawg, but Warren St. John of Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer fame is being sued.  

Ron St. John---the identical surnames evidently are coincidental---is an Alabama Crimson Tide fan who owns a green 1972 Dodge Champion R.V. known as "The Toad."  Ron St. John (hereinafter "the plaintiff") reportedly travels to University of Alabama football games in his R.V. and, according to Gawker, he has filed suit against Warren St. John (hereinafter "the defendant") in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama.  

As quoted by Gawker, the suit alleges that the defendant "intentionally or recklessly caused Plaintiff to suffer emotional distress by using the likeness of Plaintiff's RV, 'The Toad,' to increase the sales of Defendant Warren St. John's book regarding fan mania."  

A photograph of "The Toad" appears on the front cover of the paperback edition of Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer, which has been praised by numerous reviewers.  Whether and to what extent the picture of a green R.V. on the cover has increased Warren's book sales is unknown to me.  

"The Toad," pictured here with future Modesto, Calif., insurance agent Steve Bolander, may or may not be the same one depicted on the paperback edition of Warren St. John's book.  

The picture appearing on the paperback release is alleged to have been used "without credit given to Plaintiff that it was his RV 'The Toad.'"  The green R.V. has always been known as "The Toad," but the plaintiff claims that confusion has arisen because the defendant researched his book "by buying an RV, dubbing it 'The Hawg,' which said identity is used in his book, and follow[ing] a group of Crimson Tide RV tailgaters that included Plaintiff."  

The complaint goes on to state that "Plaintiff avers that he has been overwhelmed with curiosity by Crimson Tide [f]ans inquiring if his RV is 'The Hawg'" since the release of the paperback version of the book.  (I believe the plaintiff meant to aver that he had been overwhelmed by the curiosity of Crimson Tide fans, but no one ever claimed that notice pleading involved stylistically satisfying prose.)  

The paperback edition of Warren St. John's book, which now bears the subtitle "Plaintiff's Exhibit 1."  

"[A]s a proximate consequence of said invasion of Plaintiff's privacy," the suit alleges, the plaintiff "was caused to suffer the following injuries and damages, to-wit:  Plaintiff's RV 'The Toad' is no longer a signature that uniquely identifies Plaintiff with Crimson Tide [f]ans and financial gain to Defendant(s) from unlawful exploitation of Plaintiff's likeness."  

I have trouble finding the thought that is struggling to escape from that mangled syntax, but, if we focus upon the part I have italicized, I believe we see the crux of the plaintiff's action, assuming that the excerpts reproduced by Gawker represent fairly the offended R.V. owner's contentions.  

The plaintiff asserts that the author's "actions toward Plaintiff were so outrageous in character, and so extreme in degree, as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency, and are atrocious and utterly intolerable in civilized society. . . .  The emotional distress that Defendant(s) caused Plaintiff to suffer was so severe that no reasonable person could be expected to endure it."  Gracious!  As bad as all that!  

Does this look like someone whose actions were so outrageous in character, and so extreme in degree, as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency, and were atrocious and utterly intolerable in a civilized society, and caused someone to suffer emotional distress so severe that no reasonable person could be expected to endure it?  'Cause, to me, he looks more like a quality wingman.  

I should hasten to add that I am not licensed to practice law in Alabama and the only U.S. District Court bar to which I have been admitted is that for the Northern District of Georgia.  I am not involved in the lawsuit against Warren St. John, nor have I read any portion of the complaint except those excerpts that were published on-line and quoted above.  

This particular sort of litigation lies outside my areas of expertise, so my thoughts upon the subject ought to be taken as the ruminations of a concerned citizen, not as an informed legal opinion.  You may consider all warranties, express or implied, officially disclaimed.  

That said, I personally am somewhat skeptical regarding this suit.  The harm claimed by the plaintiff is that his green recreational vehicle "is no longer a signature that uniquely identifies Plaintiff with Crimson Tide [f]ans."  

The "outrageous," "extreme," "atrocious and utterly intolerable" action committed by the writer that gives rise to this suit was this:  Warren St. John and his publisher put a picture of the plaintiff's R.V. on the front cover of a book about being an Alabama Crimson Tide fan . . . and, as a result, the plaintiff's R.V. no longer uniquely identifies him with Crimson Tide fans.  

Run that by me one more time.  

If I write a book about being a pizza delivery boy and I put a picture on the front cover that depicts a pizza delivery boy wearing a Dominos uniform, holding a Dominos pizza box, and climbing into a car with a "Dominos" sign affixed to the top, would anyone claim that, as a result, that pizza delivery boy's car is no longer a signature that uniquely identifies him with pizza delivery?  

If anything, it seems as though Warren's book caused "The Toad" to be more completely identified with being a Crimson Tide fan, as evidenced by the plaintiff's allegation "that he has been overwhelmed with curiosity by Crimson Tide [f]ans inquiring if his RV is 'The Hawg' as they read about" in the pages of Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer.  

In other news, Ken Kesey has filed suit against Tom Wolfe, alleging that, thanks to Wolfe's book, the Merry Pranksters' day-glo bus is no longer a signature that uniquely identifies Kesey with taking L.S.D. in the 1960s.  

Perhaps it would have been prudent for Warren or his publisher to have gotten this guy to sign a release before using a picture of his R.V. on the cover of a book.  Maybe a photo credit in fine print on the back cover identifying the R.V. as Ron St. John's "The Toad" would have been a good idea.  

Looking at this not as a lawyer but as a college football fan, though, I cannot help but think that I would have reacted differently.  If Warren St. John followed some buddies of mine and me around over the course of an autumn and he mimicked certain aspects of our behavior in order to blend in while he wrote a non-fiction account of our activities, I would find flattering, rather than emotionally distressing, the interest of my fellow Bulldog fans who subsequently read Warren's book.  

If someone came up to me in Athens before a home game and said, for instance, "I recognize your car from the cover of that book!  Is this the one Warren St. John drove?" I believe my response would be, "Actually, no, this isn't the one Warren drove.  This is my car, the one I was driving during the story on page 97. . . ."  I would then offer a display of raconteurism suited to my Southern origins and professional standing, in the best tradition of Lewis Grizzard and William Faulkner, taking full advantage of such derivative fame as I was able to siphon off from Warren's deserved celebrity.  

Warren, if you're reading this, I send my best wishes and I extend an invitation to you.  Anytime you want to come over to the Peach State and write about rabid Georgia fans, I will be more than happy to show you around and you will travel under my personal guarantee of your safe passage through the heart of Bulldog Nation.  You can even use a picture of me on the cover of your book . . . and I promise not to sue you for it.  

Go 'Dawgs!