Law and the Multiverse Mailbag V

In today’s mailbag we have questions about superhero product endorsements and the Green Lantern Corps.  As always, if you have questions or post suggestions, please send them to james@lawandthemultiverse.com and ryan@lawandthemultiverse.com or leave them in the comments.

I. Superhero Product Endorsements

Walter writes “I’m curious about the Boostermobile, an automobile in the DC Universe endorsed by Booster Gold. In Booster Gold vol. 1, #11 (1986), Booster becomes concerned that his endorsement of the car (manufactured by Brysler Motors under license of Booster Gold’s Goldstar, Inc.) may result in his becoming liable should a supervillain use the car for nefarious purposes [Ed. or if it’s simply defective]. Is there any merit to Booster’s fear?”

In practice the answer is likely to be ‘no,’ but if someone is asleep at the switch then the answer could be ‘yes.’  Ordinarily a product endorser is simply licensing his or her right of publicity to a corporation, so liability would ordinarily be limited to the corporation.  The corporation, in turn, generally limits the liability of its shareholders to the amount of their investment.  But what if things weren’t set up so cleanly?

For example, what if Booster got involved with some people who wanted to start a new car company?  Booster provides a great superhero endorsement (and maybe some capital investment), and the others design and build the car.  If the company isn’t organized as a corporation, limited liability company, or other appropriate form, then the default rule is to consider it a partnership, and Booster may be counted as a partner, especially if he invested in the company.  One of the major drawbacks of a partnership is that the partners are personally liable for the partnership’s actions, even beyond their actual investment in the company.  So if the hypothetical Booster Car Co. were sued, Booster could indeed be personally liable, and if he lacked the money to satisfy the judgment, he could even be forced to sell or hand over the equipment he brought from the future.

II. The Green Lantern Corps

Tom asks “Would the four Earthborn members of the Green Lantern Corps have lost their various rights and privileges of American citizenship due to having accepted the authority of a foreign power?”

As it turns out, it’s actually pretty hard to lose American citizenship.  Involuntarily stripping someone of their citizenship is considered cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the 8th Amendment.  Trop v. Dulles, 356 US 86 (1958) (“use of denationalization as a punishment is barred by the Eighth Amendment”).  So that leaves giving it up voluntarily, which is covered by 8 USC 1481(a).  Of the 7 ways covered by that statute, there are perhaps 3 that could apply to a Green Lantern:

(2) taking an oath or making an affirmation or other formal declaration of allegiance to a foreign state or a political subdivision thereof, after having attained the age of eighteen years; or

(3) entering, or serving in, the armed forces of a foreign state if (B) such persons serve as a commissioned or non-commissioned officer; or

(4)(B) accepting, serving in, or performing the duties of any office, post, or employment under the government of a foreign state or a political subdivision thereof, after attaining the age of eighteen years for which office, post, or employment an oath, affirmation, or declaration of allegiance is required

However, all of these require that the Green Lantern Corps be (part of) a “foreign state.”  The Corps is headquartered on the planet Oa and administered by the Guardians, and Oa itself might be considered a foreign state, but the Corps itself seems distinct from its location, in much the same way that the United Nations, though headquartered in New York, is distinct from the US.  But even supposing that the Corps were a foreign state, there is another requirement, common to every method of renouncing citizenship, and that is intent:

A person who is a national of the United States whether by birth or naturalization, shall lose his nationality by voluntarily performing any of the following acts with the intention of relinquishing United States nationality

Although the American Green Lanterns do seem to be dedicated to the Corps for life, they are also tied to the sector containing Earth, and they have on numerous occasions saved many American lives, to put it mildly.  I think it would be hard to argue that they intended to relinquish their US citizenship when they took the Green Lantern oath.

That’s all for today.  Keep your questions coming in!

14 responses to “Law and the Multiverse Mailbag V

  1. Adam Strange, on the other hand, might well have properly relinquished his citizenship.

  2. Most of the options also seem to involve swearing an oath of ALLEGIANCE to the foreign power; it’s not real obvious to me that the oath the GLs swear would count. I wouldn’t think that swearing to “uphold the right, as God gives me to know the right” – which seems logically similar to the GL oath – would threaten US citizenship, regardless of who you swore it to.

  3. Could you explain further as to how Booster Gold could be liable? I would have assumed that you could hardly hold someone liable for the actions of a villain using a vehicle. Did you mean that the endorsement would suggest to a villain that this would be a good vehicle to use?

    • As a mere product endorser I don’t think he would be, but if he got into a partnership situation then he would be liable as a partner if, for example, the car were defective.

      As far the endorsement goes, I suppose it could be argued that people might buy the car thinking it would allow them to be like Booster. So they go out and try to fight crime (or drive like a superhero), get hurt, and sue. That kind of thing is why car commercials have disclaimers like “professional driver on a closed course. do not attempt.”

      But Booster’s stated fear of liability because of supervillains using the car is probably unfounded. Yes, a supervillain using the car might injure people, but unless the car were specifically marketed to supervillains (pretty unlikely under the circumstances), then the chain of causation likely stops with the supervillains and would not continue on to the car company or Booster.

  4. Considering that Jordan’s current USAF supervising/commanding officer is “in the loop” about his extra-terrestrial work and views it as a potential asset – or he did the last we saw him on-camera, which was how long ago? – Hal likely hasn’t had much to worry about.

    So far, anyway.

    • Is he back in the USAF after the whole Parallax thing? Man, stop loss is getting out of hand.

      That could work for Hal, and I think John Stewart has a military background as well. However, it sounds like this is an Air Force officer covering for Jordan, which would have its other legal repercussions. It also would probably not help Guy or Kyle. (John Stewart, maybe he could get something similar working.)

  5. Stewart’s not actively serving with the USMC at the moment, but running his architectural partnership in Detroit(?) if memory serves. Seeing that he’s been a public figure as a GL since he first started as Hal’s backup, he’s likely made some sort of formal arrangements with the USMC in particular and the Navy and Defense Departments in general. He’s almost certainly Federally Authorized and Registered Metahuman Act-covered for his home city and state.

  6. The state of a Green Lantern’s citizenship probably depends on who wants to do something about it. In Hal Jordan’s case, his stint as the Spectre (is that still operative?) might provide enough impetus for even an impartial court to rule he gave the citizenship up.

    • Being dead and bound at the soul to the Wrath of God can’t count as a renunciation of citizenship.

      (When are they going to explain how almost everyone got retroactive amnesia about that bit of Hal’s life, anyway? I know that’s not part of this blog’s ambit. I’m just venting, is all.)

  7. Has any super-villain ever tried the Twinkie Defense?
    http://www.tomheroes.com/Comic%20Ads/hostess%20ads/hostess_ads.htm

  8. What would happen if an extraterrestrial born in the United States chose to run for president?

    • I think that he would still be considered a US citizen, since that’s where he was born. Maybe I’m wrong, but is there anything in American law books that implicitly states you have to be human to be president?

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