Monthly Archives: September 2011

Batman: No Man’s Land, Part 3

This is our third post on the No Man’s Land story arc.  The subject this time is property law with a side of torts.

J. Devlin Davenport, Gotham’s other billionaire playboy, has returned from vacation to discover that the crown jewel of his real estate empire, Davenport Center, has toppled during the quake.  What’s left of the building is now blocking a major road that the city needs to clear in order to expedite relief efforts.  Unfortunately, Davenport demands that the city stop its plans to bulldoze a path through the fallen building, and he further threatens to sue the city “for every cent it has left” (frankly this is likely to be less than zero) and, more importantly, he also threatens the city with an injunction (i.e. a court order prohibiting the city from destroying his property).

In the end, Batman cuts the apparent Gordian knot by commandeering a bulldozer at night and plowing through the building, but did Davenport’s claims have any legal merit?  We don’t think so, for multiple reasons.

First we must explain the distinction between the two main kinds of property, real property and personal property, also called “chattels.”  Real property includes land and things “permanently attached to the land,” typically buildings and other permanent structures.  Personal property is basically everything else, including money and even certain intangible forms of property such as patents.

This is an important distinction because Davenport Center was real property before it fell over but became mere personal property thereafter because it ceased being permanently attached to the land.  The land on which Davenport Center previously sat remained real property, of course.  As personal property left on a public street, Davenport Center itself basically became litter, which Gotham had the right to clean up.  Furthermore, many states have specific laws dealing with the removal of debris following a disaster, and the federal government (specifically FEMA) will reimburse states for the cost of cleaning up debris in declared disaster areas.

Even if Davenport Center were still real property, cities typically have the right to demolish unsafe buildings and even collect the costs of the demolition from the owner.  See, e.g., N.Y. Gen. Muni. Law § 78-B.  Davenport should be thankful that the city didn’t hand him a bill.

Finally, regardless of the property status of Davenport Center and even if it still retained some value, Gotham could claim the tort defense of public necessity and remove it anyway.  Although some state courts have held that, at least in certain circumstances, the government must reimburse the private owner for the damage done, the traditional rule is still that the government is not liable.

Our conclusion is that Davenport didn’t have a leg to stand on, so it’s unfortunate that it took an act of Batman to set things right.

AABANY Fall Conference

For our law student and attorney readers in the New York area: James will be participating in a panel on legal blogging at the Asian American Bar Association of New York fall conference, September 17, 2011.  The conference offers up to 6 CLE credits as well as multiple networking opportunities.  Registration is still open, and we hope to see you there!

Speaking of legal blogging, nominations for the American Bar Association Blawg 100 can be submitted through tomorrow, September 9th.  If you’re a lawyer or a law student, we invite you to consider nominating Law and the Multiverse.

Law and the Multiverse Holiday Special – Labor Day Edition

Today is Labor Day in the United States, a holiday that celebrates workers and the labor movement (it also celebrates hamburgers, if most people’s Labor Day activities are anything to go by).  Unionization doesn’t make sense for most superheroes (they work for free, after all), but there are some exceptions.  For example, in some continuities the agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. are basically federal employees, and many federal employees are union members.  Although some superheroes who work for S.H.I.E.L.D. / the Avengers don’t have much use for a union (e.g. Tony Stark is independently wealthy and Thor is a god), folks like Nick Fury are regular employees for whom union benefits would be pretty appealing, and there are countless non-superhero employees working in the background.

So could S.H.I.E.L.D. unionize?  Maybe, maybe not.

Federal employee unions are governed by the Federal Labor Relations Act (whereas most unions are governed by the National Labor Relations Act).  However, the FLRA specifically excludes certain agencies from coverage, including the FBI, the CIA, the NSA, and the Secret Service.  The exclusion of these law enforcement and espionage agencies suggests that S.H.I.E.L.D. might be excluded in the Marvel Universe.  On the other hand, however, some other law enforcement and defense agencies are unionized or in the process of unionizing, including the Transportation Security Administration, the National Park Service, the Border Patrol, the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, and the Department of Defense (the civilian workers, not the armed forces, which are forbidden from unionizing by 10 USC 976).  So it’s possible that S.H.I.E.L.D. employees could unionize.

In general the FLRA works like the NLRA, although federal unions cannot create “union shops” in which employees are required to join the union in order to work for the agency.  They also cannot strike.  Thus, S.H.I.E.L.D. employees could always choose not to join the union.  The benefits of a union formed under the FLRA include collective bargaining rights, the right to file grievances, and the right to protection from unfair labor practices.  Like most unions it would probably be more concerned with working conditions and compensation for regular workers than, say, hazard pay for fighting Kang the Conqueror.

From a comic book writer’s perspective it’s unfortunate that federal employee unions can’t go on strike.  Otherwise it might lead to some pretty funny scenarios.  Can you imagine the Avengers forming a picket line or the government bringing in some B-list superhero scabs?

Update: Over at Abnormal Use they have a class Justice League cover featuring striking superheroes.

Torchwood: Miracle Day Episode 9

Nine down, one to go. At this point, we’re done discussing the plausibility of this thing. Continue reading

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

We’re going to take a (belated) look at the recent Rise of the Planet of the Apes movie, which turned out to be surprisingly good. Like usual, we’re leaving more thorough evaluations of the movie’s merits as such to others, and spoilers will abound. Continue reading