Judge refuses to dismiss Disney World groping suit in PA

Posted | Contributed by Jeff

A Pennsylvania woman who claims Donald Duck groped her at Disney's Epcot theme park can have her day in court, a federal judge has ruled. Disney must defend itself against April Magolon's claims that the character grabbed her breast as she held her child at the Walt Disney World park and then joked about it.

Read more from The Washington Post.

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Disney also has greater resources to try the case in Pennsylvania than Magolon does to try it in Florida, he said.

I thought "justice is blind"? How can a Federal Judge decide that since Disney has more money, the case need not be tried in the jurisdiction in which the alleged offense happened? What does the financial status of either party have to do with the law?

Any of you lawyer experts on here have an informed opinion on this? My uninformed opinion is that this ruling is horse crap. Please tell me there is some legal justification that allows one judge to arbitrarily decide that the financial status of the defendant is grounds for ignoring jurisdiction...? Educate me...make me see the error of my thoughts... :(

LostKause's avatar

When I wear my Donald Duck hands (for fun), I can't feel ANYTHING through them, which is a damned shame. ;)

I also can't see where I am placing my hands, because of limited sight from my giant, plastic Donald Duck head.

(Please Note: I don't really have a Donald Duck costume.)

Not sure if the rules have changed since I took civil procedure many moons ago. To get into federal courts, you needed either a federal question or diversity jurisdiction. Federal question is one that involves a federal statute, the US Constitution, etc. It would not include a state law claim (which I would think this case is about). Diversity jurisdiction means the the parties are citizens/residents of different states. Claim also needs to be above a minimum threshold for diversity jurisdiction (I believe its $75,000 now). Idea is to prevent homecooking/homecourt advantage if one of the parties is in a case against someone in their home state. I suspect that Disney would have something of an advantage in a state court in Orlando. Article indicates that Disney wanted the case dismissed or moved to Florida though it doesn't indicate whether it would be to a federal or state court. I suspect it would be in a federal court in Florida.

Federal courts can also move cases around in the federal system if it makes more sense for a case to be heard in a different federal court. Convenience of the parties is often a reason. Plaintiff is from PA as well as her doctor who would be testifying at the trial. Not sure how relevant the actual location will be (depending on defenses raised, size of the area in which the incident allegedly took place, likelihood of other witnesses, etc. may make a visit to the location appropriate). But those things can be considered.

Thanks Buck! I feel a little better now. I had not thought of the "home court" angle. I still think the judge should keep the mouth shut about who has the "greater resources."

I would have split the difference and held the case in Tennessee. :)

Kause...I actually have giant Mickey Hands...well my daughter does. You are indeed correct. You cannot feel a thing through them. :)

My understanding of the law is that if Disney advertises( in other words a visual presence ) in PA they are expected to be litigated in that state.

Break Trims's avatar

Yeah, the general test is whether a particular defendant has the minimal contacts with the state or jurisdiction to hear the case there. Then again, that's straight out of law school, as my practice focuses almost entirely on claims in state court.

In reality, one could argue that all federal court cases that don't involve a federal question are a form of forum shopping by one or more parties.

a form of forum shopping

Stupid man here...what is meant by these words? Does this mean there is a decent argument that federal court is NOT the correct court to hear the case...IF...there is not a federal question?

And if the said charge is actually a state issue, would Florida be the appropriate "forum?"

Bear with me...I love the law...but am obviously out of my element.

Any time there is more than one court (federal vs state, different state courts in same state or different states or different judges in the same court) in which you can bring an action (which happens a lot), there is the potential (and a likelihood) that there will be some forum shopping. Parties will be inclined select the court that will give them an advantage or put the other side at a disadvantage.

There are rules that establish what courts will have jurisdiction over various types of cases and there is typically some overlap. Sometimes its clean which court would be the "best" to hear a given case but more often there is a lot of gray areas on that question. Some courts are loathe to let certain cases go and others look for any reason to let another court handle them. Any time you have rules, parties will look to use those rules to their advantage.

Thanks Buck...

More questions....if you are tired of answering I understand! ;)

What would be the "federal" reason to be involved in a groping case? My understanding, as limited as it may be, is that each state has its own laws on all sorts of matters. I am assuming there are different state statutes from state-to-state in regards to groping/harassment...? Or are these types of cases typically bumped to federal court for some reason I am not aware of?

First, let me say that I am not a litigator and I don't play one on TV. Last time I was in a courtroom was as a clerk for a bankruptcy judge about 15 years ago. And bankruptcy courts typically applied somewhat informal litigation rules. Jurisdiction was important but once a petition was filed, the bankruptcy court had the authority to hear just about everything related to or involving the debtor. And bankruptcy is a federal question because the bankruptcy code is federal law.

That being said, I suspect this is a state law case. I am not aware of any federal anti-groping statute but who knows as the feds have laws for a whole host of things. But as I noted in my first post, federal courts also have jurisdiction to hear disputes between parties from different states if the amount in dispute is over the required threshold. In this case, Disney may not be thrilled with the action being brought in a PA state court as the big bad out of state corporation who allowed one of its employees to hurt a hometown person. Just like the plaintiff probably wouldn't be thrilled to be in a Florida state court against Disney who is the local cash cow with much of the area depending on it to live. Federal courts are viewed as being more impartial/independent of such issues as the judges are appointed for life rather than being elected in local elections every so many years.

As for the law at issue, I doubt there is much in the Florida anti-groping statute that is very complex or complicated. At this point, courts all over the country have electronic access to any state's statutes, regulations and court decisions. They can read and follow any given state's laws as well as any other court typically. If there is something complex or in dispute or otherwise indicates that a state court in the state whose laws will be applied should decide the case, that is grounds to move the case there.

But all that being said, I doubt the case will got to trial (most cases don't). Disney sought to have the case dismissed which didn't happen. They sought to have the case moved to Florida which didn't happen. Now the parties have a good basis for settlement knowing there is a case and the basic parameters of it. There may be some discovery such as depositions of the plaintiff and her doctor to access the strength of her claims but at that point, I would expect that the case would be settled.

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