So there’s this Green Lantern movie out. Reviews have… not been kind. There may actually be some kind of dogpile effect going on here, i.e. Green Lantern being the movie that it’s awesome to hate on. I mean, sure, it’s bad, but it’s no Rise of the Silver Surfer, which inexplicably got better reviews. Green Lantern’s CGI was admittedly pretty dumb though. Hard to argue with that.
Anyway, what about the legal aspects? Well, there are a couple. Oddly enough, most of them don’t involve much in the way of spoilers this time around. Still, we’ll keep the actual review inside, just in case.
I. Interplanetary Law.
We’ve talked about this one on several previous occasions, and but there’s a slight wrinkle here. In most of the previous cases, the questions have had to do with how and if so to what extent terrestrial laws are enforceable in space. Here, we’re looking at what amounts to an intergalactic police and/or peacekeeping force asserting jurisdiction over the Earth. Can they do that?
Well the US invaded Grenada back in the 1980s. Was that “legal”? It’s actually a bad question. Questions of “legality” don’t really have a lot to do with allegedly sovereign states interacting, there being no sovereign other than the power of the individual countries involved to enforce any particular standard. If the Green Lantern Corps has the power to assert jurisdiction over the volume of space in which the Earth floats—and they unquestionably do—there seems precious little that anyone on Earth can do about it, just like there isn’t a whole lot that the Bahamas could do if the US decided to annex Bimini. In international law, might doesn’t necessarily make right, but there isn’t a whole lot else to reference. So “legal” or not, the Corps can probably do just about whatever it wants. Terrestrial governments may not like it, but issuing an injunction doesn’t seem likely to accomplish all that much. In the context of the movie, the Corps saved the planet from certain destruction, so it’s doubtful anyone would mind anyway.
II. Employers Suing Employees
The issue with a bit more substance is the question of whether or not Ferris Aircraft can sue Hal for his actions during the test flight. The answer here is a tentative “maybe.” Under most circumstances, employers ability to go after their employees is limited by two factors. First, the doctrine of “respondeat superior” effectively acts as a bar to this sort of action for an employee acting within the scope of an employment. It hardly seems fair for an employer to direct an employee to perform a certain action and then turn around and sue when that action is performed. Second, most employees don’t have nearly enough assets to cover any liability which might be connected to their employment, which is why respondeat superior exists in the first place.
Here though, respondeat superior might not apply. The key is that the doctrine protects employees acting within the scope of their employment. Hal ditched his plane during his test flight, which was definitely started at the behest of his employer, but then he ignored direct instructions from his employer 1) generally to stay within the conditions of the operation, and 2) specifically to abandon his climb. If an employee driving a car ignored analogous instructions, e.g. “Come back to the office now,” the employer could make a good argument that the employee left the scope of his employment, effectively “abandoning his post,” meaning that any resulting liability would be the employee’s alone. Hal ditched his very, very expensive jet after ignoring these instructions, so there’s an argument to be made that he could be liable for the jet.
But it’s vanishingly unlikely that he’d be able to pay for it. Again, the doctrine of respondeat superior exists in order to shift liability to the party most likely to have the necessary resources to pay for it. This has been true since Roman times. We’re talking about an F-35 Lightning II here, approximately $130 million a pop. That’s a lot of overtime. So though Ferris could theoretically sue him for the cost of the plane, their only realistic remedy is just firing him.
III. Sexual Harassment
Of course, the reason they didn’t fire him probably has something to do with the fact that Carol Ferris, the boss’s daughter and rising executive star, is sweet on Hal. In other words, an employment decision is being predicated on an employer’s previous sexual relationship with an employee. Might there be an argument that this constitutes some kind of sexual discrimination or harassment?
Not likely under the facts we’ve got. First, the decision was a positive one, not an adverse one, so there aren’t any real damages to Hal. Second, it isn’t like a bunch of people were being fired but Hal wasn’t because of this relationship. So not only are there no damages to Hal, but no one else would seem to have standing to sue. Still, this kind of thing is dicey under most other circumstances, so it’s definitely not recommended.
Okay, the movie wasn’t that great, and to be honest, it spends so much time in outer space that there isn’t a lot of legal stuff to talk about here. Still, what few legal issues there are seem to be mostly okay. Which some might say is all the move has going for it, unfortunately.