Ultra Hal
Writing tip of the day

Enjoyable reading

A few days ago, I came across a judicial opinion that I actually enjoyed reading. It’s Ford v. Johnson, 362 F.3d 395 (7th Cir. 2004), written by Judge Easterbrook. What I like about the opinion is its relaxed tone and and its liberal sprinkling of rhetorical devices. Here are some samples:

  • “His appeal was referred to the prison’s Administrative Review Board, which called him in for an interview to get his side of the story.”
    • (Relaxed, conversational style)

  • “This statute applies to isolated instances of misconduct as well as to official practices, and some remedy may be ‘available’ whether or not the prisoner prefers a balm (such as money damages) that the grievance process does not provide.”
    • (Metaphor.)

  • “Just as courts may dismiss suits for failure to cooperate, so administrative bodies may dismiss grievances for lack of cooperation; in either case this procedural default blocks later attempts to litigate the merits.”
    • (Analogy)

  • “Ford’s real problem, and the district court’s second ground, is timing.”
    • (Relaxed, conversational tone.)

  • “Once litigation commences, however, that casts a pall over negotiation or the administrative process, because it commits both resources and mental energies to court.”
    • (Metaphor)

  • “To prevent this subversion of efforts to resolve matters out of court, it is essential to keep the courthouse doors closed until those efforts have run their course.”
    • (Synecdoche (I think) and metaphor)

  • “Ford jumped the gun, just as he told the Administrative Review Board.”
    • (Relaxed, conversational tone; metaphor)

  • “Now Ford stakes his all on the proposition that he had not ‘brought’ suit (the word used in § 1997e(a)) before December 30, because a suit does not begin until the complaint is ‘filed’, while his had just been ‘received.’”
    • (I think “stakes his all” is a gambling metaphor.)

  • “Prisoners’ complaints are reviewed under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A and not filed (nor are the defendants notified and served with process) until the district judge finds that they pass the statutory screen.”
    • (Metaphor)

  • “Ford launched the suit while the administrative process was ongoing and then told the Board to go fly a kite.”
    • (Two metaphors! And no, they’re not mixed.)

  • “What sense would it make to allow a prisoner to initiate litigation before exhausting his intra-prison remedies, provided the prisoner takes care not to pay the filing fee until later?”
    • (Rhetorical question)

  • “Counsel representing Ford cite several appellate opinions that, they say, define ‘brought’ as ‘filed.’  None of these is dispositive, because none actually faced the issue whether § 1997e(a) blocks a suit when the complaint was received by the district clerk while the administrative process was ongoing but ‘filed’ only after it ended. The language counsel has found was uttered in passing rather than the result of a need to resolve this particular question.”
    • (Judge Easterbrook not only avoids Latin legalese (dicta or, worse, obiter dicta), but explains why dicta does not govern.)

  • “What’s more, the decisions on which counsel rely do not support Ford’s position.”
    • (Relaxed, conversational tone, aided by a contraction.)

  • “The suggestion is that the court used the magic word from Rule 3 and thus equated ‘bring’ with ‘file.’”
    • (Metaphor)

  • “We can and do avoid such pointless paper shuffling by holding that an action is ‘brought’ for purposes of § 1997e(a) when the complaint is tendered to the district clerk.”
    • (Alliteration, metaphor)

  • “That’s a non-sequitur.”
    • (Another contraction)

  • “Illinois made a process available to Ford; he had to stick with that process until its conclusion rather than make a beeline for court just because the administrative officials gave his appeal the time needed to resolve it.”
    • (Metaphor)

  • “Even a dismissal without prejudice is ‘final,’ and hence appealable, when the statute of limitations is bound to block a fresh suit, see Larkin v. Galloway, 266 F.3d 718, 721 (7th Cir.2001), so this approach should provide some opportunities to prisoners without costing them their crack at appellate review.”
    • (Note the word choice: crack instead of opportunity.)