Alice-in-Wonderland’s Adventures in Case Law
“Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” (“Alice in Wonderland”) by Lewis Carroll, aka Oxford mathematician Charles Dodgson, was first published in 1865 with illustrations from Sir John Tenniel. The publication recounted an enchanted tale of mad rabbits and hatters and gardeners playing cards, first told three years earlier by Carroll to Alice Liddell and her two sisters and later memorialized by Carroll’s original manuscript, “Alice’s Adventures Under Ground,” with his own drawings.
This year marks the 150-year anniversary of Alice in Wonderland, recently celebrated by the Morgan Library & Museum in New York City, leaving an opportunity to review how Alice’s adventures have been treated, or perhaps mistreated, in the law. Note that “Alice in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There,” are in the public domain. The works were published before January 1, 1923, and are in the public domain worldwide because Carroll died in 1898, more than 100 years ago.
Project Gutenberg contains free electronic books of “Alice’s Adventures Underground” and “Through the Looking-Glass” in HTML, EPUB and Kindle formats. And don’t miss Carroll’s “Symbolic Logic,” also from Project Gutenberg.
Carroll’s pure and applied logic in “Alice in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking-Glass” appeal to children and adults and makes his works timeless entries in literature and logic. “Symbolic Logic” develops original approaches to the deductive method and logical paradox, such as the Barbershop Paradox.
A list of judicial references to Carroll’s works can be found in “Wondering about Alice: Judicial References to Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass,” 28 Whittier L. Rev. 175 (2006). Text quoted from Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” (1865) cited in cases since January 2006 appeared in approximately 173 cases retrieved from all federal and state courts with the search “Alice & Wonderland & DA (aft 12-31-2005 & bef 10-31-2015) % malice “humpty dumpty.”
My WestlawNext search returned 124 federal and 49 state cases citing Alice’s adventures. The majority of cases were civil (122) and criminal (70). Of the 88 unreported cases, the California Courts of Appeal led the way with 11 cases. Perhaps they were too far down the rabbit hole?
The text is reprinted below, in bold font below and in order of its presentation in the book, with a sample case. Note that Humpty Dumpty’s “When I use a word … it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less,” is from Carroll’s “Through the Looking Glass” (1872) not “Alice in Wonderland.” The same is true of the Red and White Queen’s interrogation of Alice.
I left out references to Walt Disney’s “Alice in Wonderland” movie (1951) and the legion of analogies limited to “Alice in Wonderland” and “Down the Rabbit-Hole,” where words have no meaning, or mean anything. The references are flippant and used to criticize the meaning of words, the logic of a decision, or a statute interpretation derived from a single or limited viewpoint or from a position opposing the author.
Judge Allegra, of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, had the most quotes from “Alice in Wonderland” in one opinion: nine. Laboratory Corp. of America v. United States, No. 12-622C (C.C., 2013). Unlike the Mad Hatter’s unsolvable riddle for Alice, “Why is a raven like a writing desk?”, Allegra found an agency’s refusal to accept a contractor’s quotation arbitrary, capricious, and contrary to law, all of which hark back to Alice’s adventures. Magistrate Judge Carlson, of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania came in second, but his citations in Hantzis v. Koken, Civil No. 1:12–CV–1412, 2012 WL 5389698 (2012) to “Alice and Wonderland” combined “Alice in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking-Glass.”
There seemed to be no use in waiting by the little door [to a lovely garden]; so she went back to the table, … this time she found a little bottle … with the words “DRINK ME,” beautifully printed on it in large letters. … Soon her eye fell on a little glass box that was lying under the table: she opened it, and found in it a very small cake, on which the words “EAT ME” were beautifully marked in currants. – Alice finding consumables that made her shrink and grow, Ch. 1, Down the Rabbit-Hole.
Pixion, Inc. v. Citrix Sys., Inc., 887 F.Supp.2d 881, 891, 906 (E.D. Cal., 2012). [“ReadMe” files were commonly provided along with downloaded software in the early days of the Internet and explained what was in the software distribution. According to expert testimony, the name “ReadMe” was a play on the Alice in Wonderland story, in which Alice confronts magical treats labeled “Eat Me” and “Drink Me.”]
“Curiouser and Curiouser!” – Alice, Ch. 2, The Pool of Tears
State v. Coles, 862 N.W.2d 477 (Minn., 2015) (Page, J., dissenting) [The majority opinion held an appellant’s motion to correct his sentence was a petition for post-conviction relief not a motion to correct sentencing.]
We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad … or you wouldn’t have come here. – The Cheshire Cat to Alice, Ch. 6, Pig and Pepper.
People v. Martinez, no. G044885 (Cal. App., 2012) [In literary terms, an appellant’s explanation resembled the Cheshire Cat’s circular reasoning in Alice in Wonderland.]
“Well! I’ve often seen a cat without a grin,” thought Alice; “but a grin without a cat! It’s the most curious thing I ever saw in all my life!” – Alice, Ch. 6, Pig and Pepper.
Lab. Corp. of America at p. 15. [“If defendant is right, then, the VA’s contracting officer set up a second deadline via an amendment that made the due date listed in the solicitation really no deadline at all.”]
There was a table set out under a tree in front of the house, and the March Hare and the Hatter were having tea at it: a Dormouse was sitting between them, fast asleep, and the other two were using it as a cushion, resting their elbows on it, and talking over its head. “Very comfortable for the Dormouse,” though Alice; “only, as it’s asleep, I suppose it doesn’t mind.” – Table setting at the tea party, Ch. 7, A Mad Tea-Party.
Jeroski v. Fed. Mine Safety, 697 F.3d 651, 655 (7th Cir., 2012) [“USA Cleaning is like the dormouse in Alice and Wonderland sandwiched in between the March Hare and the Mad Hatter, …. It is a bit player.”]
“Then you should say what you mean,” the March Hare went on. “I do,” Alice hastily replied; “at least–at least I mean what I say—that’s the same thing, you know.” “Not the same thing a bit!” said the Hatter. “You might just as well say that ‘I see what I eat’ is the same thing as ‘I eat what I see’!” – Alice, the March Hare and the Mad Hatter, Ch. 7, A Mad Tea-Party.
Simpson v. State, 442 Md. 446 (Md. App., 2015) [“Put simply, it was not what the prosecutor intended her words to mean” but the remark “the defendant will tell you” when referring to the defendant’s written confession to the police was susceptible of the inference by the jury they were to consider the silence of the defendant as an indication of guilt, and the error was not harmless.]
Now, if you only kept on good terms with him, he’d do almost anything you liked with the clock. – The Mad Hatter, Ch. 7, A Mad Tea-Party.
Lab. Corp. of America [The Laboratory Corporation of America protested the refusal of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to accept its quotation for a blanket purchase agreement. The court noted Lab Corp’s sense of time was akin to Alice’s conversation with the Hatter in “A Mad Tea Party.”]
The more there is of mine, the less there is of yours. – The Duchess to Alice, Ch. 9, The Mock Turtle’s Story.
Companion Property & Casualty Ins. Co. v. State of Tennessee, No. M2014-00527-COA-R3-CV, 2015 WL 333598 (Tenn. App., 2015) [Two South Carolina insurance companies challenged their Tennessee retaliatory tax assessments and the court found the tax computation extreme and, if accomplished, “consistent with the Duchess’s admittedly odd comment.”]
“No, no!” said the Queen. “Sentence first – verdict afterwards.” “Stuff and nonsense!” said Alice loudly. “The idea of having the sentence first.” – Alice replies to the Queen, Ch. 12, Alice’s Evidence.
People v. Gutierrez, 2d Crim. No. B248585, 2014 WL 1230763 (Cal. Ct. App., 2014) [Appellant’s motion to bifurcate the trial of prior offenses from the trial of charged crimes was granted. The trial court sentenced him on the charges and the priors but, unfortunately, the priors were never tried.]
Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end: then stop. – The King to the White Rabbit, Ch. 12, Alice’s Evidence.
United States v. Kolon Indus., Inc. 926 F.Supp.2d 794, 809 (E.D. Va., 2013). [After exhausting case law, the court returns to the facts to find whether an agency relation existed between a subsidiary and parent corporation and, if so, whether it is a general or special agent to warrant the court’s jurisdiction over the parent from service on the subsidiary.]