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Law Humor: Lowering the Bar
The Tale of Blackie the Talking Cat: Miles v. City Council (1982)
By Kevin Underhill
Here's another one for the Case Law Hall of Fame.
The question in this case was whether the city of Augusta, Georgia, could impose an "occupation tax" on the plaintiffs under the circumstances. The circumstances were that plaintiffs owned a talking cat.
Allegedly, they had trained the cat, "Blackie," to speak a few English words and phrases, and made a living by charging people to hear this: "It is undisputed," the court wrote, "that plaintiffs would ask for, and lived off, the contributions received for Blackie's orations." That being the case, the Court did not have much trouble finding that an occupation tax was legal.
It also rejected plaintiffs' claims that the ordinance involved was unconstitutional because, among other reasons, it did not specifically mention talking cats. "[T]he ordinance is not arbitrary and without rational foundation," the court found, and "the fact that the ordinance does not specifically mention a 'talking cat,' but instead contains a catch-all clause does not, under the circumstances, [constitute] an equal protection violation."
But what I really think is remarkable about this case is a lengthy (and wholly irrelevant) footnote in which the judge related a chance encounter that he personally had previously had with a (probably the) talking cat:
In ruling on the motions for summary judgment, the Court has considered only the evidence in the file. However, it should be disclosed that I have seen and heard a demonstration of Blackie's abilities.
The point in time of the Court's view was late summer, 1982, well after the events contended in this lawsuit. One afternoon when crossing Greene Street in an automobile, I spotted in the median a man accompanied by a cat and a woman. The black cat was draped over his left shoulder. Knowing the matter to be in litigation, and suspecting that the cat was Blackie, I thought twice before stopping. Observing, however, that counsel for neither side was present and that any citizen on the street could have happened by chance upon this scene, I spoke, and the man with the cat eagerly responded to my greeting. I asked him if his cat could talk. He said he could, and if I would pull over on the side street he would show me. I did, and he did.
The cat was wearing a collar, two harnesses and a leash. Held and stroked by the man, Blackie said "I love you" and "I want my Mama." The man then explained that the cat was the sole source of income for him and his wife and requested a donation which was provided. I felt that my dollar was well spent. The cat was entertaining as was its owner. Some questions occurred to me about the necessity for the multiple means of restraint and the way in which the man held the cat's paw when the cat was asked to talk. However, these are not matters before the Court and are beyond the purview of a federal judge.
I do not know if the man whom I saw with the cat was the plaintiff Mr. Miles. This sequence has not been considered as evidence or as an uncontroverted fact in the case. It is simply stated for the purpose of a disclosure to the parties of the chance contact.
Such are the vagaries of life.
Link: Miles v. City Council of Augusta, Georgia, 551 F. Supp. 349 (S.D. Ga. 1982)
[Link to the PDF]
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