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Lawsuit Against God Dismissed For Lack of Service of Process:

Former Nebraska state senator Ernie Chambers' lawsuit against the Almighty has been thrown out of court because the defendant couldn't be served papers informing him of Chambers' suit:

You can't sue God if you can't serve the papers on him, a Douglas County District Court judge has ruled in Omaha.

Judge Marlon Polk threw out Nebraska Sen. Ernie Chambers' lawsuit against the Almighty, saying there was no evidence that the defendant had been served. What's more, Polk found "there can never be service effectuated on the named defendant."

Chambers had sued God in September 2007, seeking a permanent injunction to prevent God from committing acts of violence such as earthquakes and tornadoes....

Polk dismissed the lawsuit with prejudice, which means it can't be refiled. But his ruling can be appealed.

Although the case may seem superfluous and even scandalous to others, Chambers has said his point is to focus on the question of whether certain lawsuits should be prohibited.

"Nobody should stand at the courthouse door to predetermine who has access to the courts," he said. "My point is that anyone can sue anyone else, even God."

I'm not entirely convinced that the ruling is correct. After all, if God exists, he must be omnipresent and omnipotent. Therefore, it logically follows that he can be served with court papers anywhere; after all he is present everywhere in the universe at all times. Indeed, service of process is a pointless formality when it comes to God. Since the Lord is omniscient as well as omnipotent, he surely knew about Senator Chambers' lawsuit even before any process servers were sent out. Indeed, he must have foreseen that Chambers would file the suit long before Chambers himself knew that he would do it. As Chambers himself has pointed out, "Since God knows everything, God has notice of this lawsuit."

A better technical legal ground for dismissing lawsuits against God might be lack of redressability, which is a requirement of standing under federal law and (I presume) Nebraska law as well. If the plaintiff's injury can't be redressed by a judicial ruling, he doesn't have standing to file a suit. Since God is omnipotent, the judicial injunction Chambers seeks can't possibly force him to do anything he doesn't want to do anyway. Thus, no redessability and no standing.

Asher (mail):
A better technical legal ground for dismissing lawsuits against God might be lack of redressability, which is a requirement of standing under federal law and (I presume) Nebraska law as well. If the plaintiff's injury can't be redressed by a judicial ruling, he doesn't have standing to file a suit. Since God is omnipotent, the judicial injunction Chambers seeks can't possibly force him to do anything he doesn't want to do anyway. Thus, no redessability and no standing.

This interests me. Suppose in Afghanistan there's a tribal chieftain, and someone comes before a court asking for an injunction against the chieftain. And let's suppose that Afghanistani standing law is just like our own. And also suppose that past injunctions have not had any effect on the chieftain, that the chieftain violates injunctions as he pleases and that police power in the part of the country where he operates is far too weak to exert any pressure on him. Does it follow, then, that there's no real redressability and therefore no standing for people to seek future injunctions, so long as the chieftain remains too powerful to be touched? I'm not sure how I feel about that. On the one hand, you could argue that courts shouldn't waste their time issuing merely advisory and ineffective injunctions; on the other, using standing in this way almost seems to subvert the rule of law.
10.17.2008 3:37am
TFKW:
Hm. It seems like deciding whether God is omnipotent requires the court to make a theological decision, which is no good. And the service of process issue is about proof of service, the total absence of which the court knows how to handle. So it seems right to dismiss on that ground and just ignore everything you don't have to reach.

I also happen to agree with Chambers here, because I think the petitioning clause should allow this sort of access to the courts.
10.17.2008 3:41am
BRM:
Isn't this a case of sovereign immunity?
10.17.2008 4:07am
Ilya Somin:
Hm. It seems like deciding whether God is omnipotent requires the court to make a theological decision, which is no good. And the service of process issue is about proof of service, the total absence of which the court knows how to handle. So it seems right to dismiss on that ground and just ignore everything you don't have to reach.


If God is omnipotent, then he can detect process anywhere. Therefore, the only proof that's needed is evidence that you announced your intention to purse the lawsuit somewhere in some way.
10.17.2008 4:09am
Ilya Somin:
This interests me. Suppose in Afghanistan there's a tribal chieftain, and someone comes before a court asking for an injunction against the chieftain. And let's suppose that Afghanistani standing law is just like our own. And also suppose that past injunctions have not had any effect on the chieftain, that the chieftain violates injunctions as he pleases and that police power in the part of the country where he operates is far too weak to exert any pressure on him. Does it follow, then, that there's no real redressability and therefore no standing for people to seek future injunctions, so long as the chieftain remains too powerful to be touched?

Interesting. But unlike God, the chieftain isn't omnipotent. There's at least some chance that a future injunction might have an effect against him (e.g. - if the police become more effective, perhaps through training by Coalition forces). On the other hand, there's no chance that any human injunction could ever successfully compel an omnipotent God.
10.17.2008 4:15am
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
I would be inclined to treat God as though he were some foreign potentate. What if Iran were accused of causing earthquakes through some giant earthquake ray? There would be obstacles to suing Iran -- there might be some foreign sovereign immunity, it might be hard to enforce the judgment, etc. But would standing be one of those problems? Well, standing does frown on suing for injuries that you share with a very wide group -- and asking for a generalized injunction against future acts of violence doesn't seem to distinguish this plaintiff from the broad class. Also, standing frowns on speculative risks of future injury, so that could work against him too.

But I'd be inclined to agree that one's inability to force God shouldn't defeat standing. Depending on your theological point of view, you might be able to influence God by asking him not to do something; the injunction might just be a form of prayer, and it might change the probability that the acts of violence will occur. And we know that probabilistic redressability can, sometimes, support standing -- see the cases recognizing procedural injuries, or affirmative action injuries.

Of course, on the merits, it's not illegal for God to cause these acts of violence, because they're... drum roll... merely acts of God. So it's probably a losing case anyway. But you could rest a procedural dismissal on the widespread and speculative nature of the risk, which would defeat injury-in-fact. You could also rest it on a failure of the "fairly traceable" prong, because to take a position on this would require making a theological judgment. Or, as a previous commenter said, you could rest it on failure of proof of service, because relying on omniscience would likewise require making a theological judgment.

I'm wondering, though... who was representing God here? Why didn't he just win by default judgment? Any ground for him to lose ought to be one that the court has to raise sua sponte, for instance its own jurisdiction. So any standing-based ground would be O.K. there. I guess this is why you'd have to investigate service as an initial matter.
10.17.2008 4:17am
Obvious (mail):
" What if Iran were accused of causing earthquakes through some giant earthquake ray? "

I've heard Cheney has convincing evidence of this.
10.17.2008 4:23am
Asher (mail):
Interesting. But unlike God, the chieftain isn't omnipotent. There's at least some chance that a future injunction might have an effect against him

Some chance, but it's quite unlikely. And as the Court has reiterated umpteen times,


it must be "likely," as opposed to merely "speculative," that the injury will be "redressed by a favorable decision."



That from Lujan. Of course, redressability, like all facets of standing law, is famously fudgeable, but "at least some chance" probably isn't enough.
10.17.2008 4:30am
Hoosier:
Their is a very striking play that addresses this issue. And the conclusion of the play disposes of the case: He can't be put on trial in an overwhelmingly Christian country, since this would be double jeopardy:

www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,867662,00.html
10.17.2008 4:33am
one of many:
I also wonder if there is a recoverable injury, after all unless one has a contract which specifically indemnifies for the results of an Act of God one cannot recover for damages caused by an Act of God. If there is no recoverable injury, then there is no chance of prevailing in the suit and no injunction should be issued.
10.17.2008 5:15am
Splunge:
Why dismiss the suit? Why not issue the injunction? Maybe God would obey it.
10.17.2008 5:28am
vassil petrov (mail):
I would have required the plaintiff prove that the defendent exist. And if we fail to prove its existence, I would have dismissed the lawsuit.
10.17.2008 5:47am
Arkady:
Perhaps had the plaintiff been trained in philosophy, esp. that of Bishop Berkeley, he might have made a better go of it:


There was a young man who said "God
Must find it exceedingly odd
To think that the tree
Should continue to be
When there's no one about in the quad."

"Dear Sir: Your astonishment's odd;
I am always about in the quad.
And that's why the tree
Will continue to be
Since observed by, Yours faithfully, God."
10.17.2008 7:23am
pmorem (mail):
Chambers' claim of service (omniscient God) seems to be dependent on God indeed being omniscient.

I believe that is a point of some dispute. I believe the judge was correct to say that he failed to serve the defendant.
10.17.2008 7:26am
Eric Jablow (mail):
I first read of the similar case, Mayo vs. Satan, on this site. That case was rejected for failure of service too. However, there is a striking account of a man appealing to G-d an unjust sentence, and G-d actually appearing to answer the man, speaking from a whirlwind. There is Biblical sanction for this type of lawsuit; I fear that the courts of the United States have no sanction to hear one.
10.17.2008 8:14am
GMUSOL05:
I don't practice in federal court (yet), but had this been brought in my state, the simple result would have been that the plaintiff would have had one year from filing to effect service upon the defendant, and upon not having done so, the matter would be dismissed. No need for judicial and theological entanglements there.
10.17.2008 8:36am
Esquire:
God must find all this quite amusing.

What about the notion that laws apply only to people, not other species, objects, Dieties, etc.

I suppose this is where social conservatives have a point about needing some kind of broad theistic underpinning to our legal system...one can hardly imagine the older English or early American courts that forged our legal doctrines ever entertaining these ideas. After all, the view that God could be sued is blasphemous to some while the opposite would offend others, so it's not like there's any such thing as religious "neutrality."
10.17.2008 8:43am
FantasiaWHT:
Wouldn't substituted service be really easy?

Just to take a common statute - leave it at the place of the defendant's usual abode with a competent member of his family over the age of 14.

1) God lives everywhere
2) Many Christians believe they are the "children" of God
3) Find a Christian over the age of 14, give him or her the summons &complaint.

What about service by publication?

God lives everywhere, so pick a paper anywhere and publish it.
10.17.2008 8:45am
bornyesterday (mail) (www):
I can't wait to see the appeal in which Chambers claims that God illegally influenced the judge and that the judge was therefore biased and should have recused himself, but didn't.
10.17.2008 9:02am
CDU (mail) (www):
After all, if God exists, he must be omnipresent and omnipotent.


Not all religions view God as omnipresent and omnipotent. For the court to decide that he is would be a violation of the First Amendment.
10.17.2008 9:10am
Hoya:
The redressability argument is a fine argument, but surely not because of God's omnipotence. If, after all, God were the sort of being that took orders from humans, then God's omnipotence would not count against redressability: indeed, it would count massively in favor of it! The problem is that God has shown Himself to be the sort of being whose main policies of action seem pretty well settled and no one seems to have a quite reliable way of diverting Him from employing them. So, tough luck, Senator Chambers, you entertaining flake, you.
10.17.2008 9:12am
JoelP:
"Nobody should stand at the courthouse door to predetermine who has access to the courts,"
Bah. The judges need to restrict their attentions to situations they are likely to improve. Since they cannot improve upon the Divine will...
10.17.2008 9:23am
Arkady:

A better technical legal ground for dismissing lawsuits against God might be lack of redressability, which is a requirement of standing under federal law and (I presume) Nebraska law as well. If the plaintiff's injury can't be redressed by a judicial ruling, he doesn't have standing to file a suit. Since God is omnipotent, the judicial injunction Chambers seeks can't possibly force him to do anything he doesn't want to do anyway. Thus, no redessability and no standing.


I dunno.

Genesis 24-30


24 And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day.

25 And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob's thigh was strained, as he wrestled with him.

26 And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.

27 And he said unto him, What is thy name? And he said, Jacob.

28 And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for thou hast striven with God and with men, and hast prevailed.

29 And Jacob asked him, and said, Tell me, I pray thee, thy name. And he said, Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after my name? And he blessed him there.

30 And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for, said he, I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.
10.17.2008 9:42am
Melancton Smith:

And also suppose that past injunctions have not had any effect on the chieftain, that the chieftain violates injunctions as he pleases and that police power in the part of the country where he operates is far too weak to exert any pressure on him. Does it follow, then, that there's no real redressability and therefore no standing for people to seek future injunctions, so long as the chieftain remains too powerful to be touched?


This is why we have the 2nd Amendment to keep our 'chieftain' redressable.
10.17.2008 9:58am
Just Dropping By (mail):
Along the lines of FantasiaWHT's reasoning, you can also typically serve someone by leaving the summons and complaint at their "usual place of business." Just serve the documents at a church/synagogue/temple/etc.
10.17.2008 10:00am
BruceM (mail) (www):
"Nobody should stand at the courthouse door to predetermine who has access to the courts," he said. "My point is that anyone can sue anyone else, even God."

I'm not sure what his point is. He was NOT able to sue God. The suit was dismissed. If he believes that "Nobody should stand at the courthouse door to predetermine who has access to the courts" in other words, nobody should determine who can and cannot be sued pre-suit, but rather jurisdiction over a defendant (and whether a defendant is proper) should only be determined by the court after suit has been filed, then his point was proven quite well - that's precisely what happened.

If he wants a law on the books that says nobody can sue God - that would seem to contradict the intent of his first point.

People always complain about frivilous lawsuits, and they often get a lot of attention, but the same is not true about when they're summarily dismissed. This guy couldn't even get to the summary judgment stage against God - the suit was dismissed at the first possible opportunity without the other party even having to make an appearance. What's so offensive about that?

Seems like the system worked perfectly. Of course, "Act of God" is just a term of art, interchangeable with "force majure."
10.17.2008 10:03am
cirby (mail):
God may be everywhere, as people claim.

But we know his primary residence in Heaven.

Therefore, to serve him with papers, just write them up, hand them to a process server of good Christian character, and shoot him dead. Process served.

Of course, you may have other legal issues at that point...
10.17.2008 10:05am
BruceM (mail) (www):
I should also mention, I've long said that organized religions should be strictly liable for the actions of their followers taken in faith towards the furtherance of their religion. Perhaps religions should also be liable for the acts of their god. There's no way to know "which" god (christian, jewish, muslim, etc) "did" a hurricane, but if, say, Pat Robertson were to get on the 700 Club and say "God caused Katrina to flood New Orleans because of blah blah gay blah blah abortion blah blah America blah blah" then perhaps Christianity should be liable, as an agent of the tortfeasor diety.
10.17.2008 10:08am
r.friedman (mail):
Ilya, I don't think there's any such doctrine as constitutional standing where the police power is involved. Standing is necessary in federal court because the federal government is generally not the sovereign, and Article III jurisdiction exists solely as to "cases and controversies" "arising under" the Constitution and federal law (which itself is generally made not under the general sovereign power, but under enumerated powers). For example, a number of states permit the state supreme court to issue advisory opinions. In those cases where the federal government exercises sovereign police power (DC, unorganized territories, within federal facilities, special maritime jurisdiction), I think the standing requirement need not exist. For example, it would be permissible to have a private attorney general (or rewardless qui tam) action in federal court against the captain of any vessel dumping bilge water within the special maritime jurisdiction without the plaintiff/relator having any actual controversy with the captain; statutory damages or declaratory relief could be available. Perhaps you could have a prudential standing doctrine, so that captains couldn't have their brother-in-law sue them and lose.

So as to God, I think sovereign immunity is the big problem rather than service of process or standing. However, there are certain occasions when the courts of one sovereign have to resolve the sovereignty of another purported sovereign. The Supreme Court has such a case on its docket this year, No. 07-615. This is frequently used by tax protestors ("render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's and unto God that which is God's"), but Caesar tends to say "that's mine" and Pontius Pilate says "Yassah boss". Alternatively, one might implead God by sueing His earthly agents for torts committed in fulfilling His Word and then attempting to pierce the corporate veil. However, one would be more likely to get a ruling that the defendant was acting in propria persona rather than that his Principal did or did not exist.
10.17.2008 10:10am
BruceM (mail) (www):
cirby: that assumes Christianity is the one proper religion. You'd have to hand papers to a process server of each religion, and kill all of them. Of course, there is always the (very likely) alternative that the named defendant does not exist.
10.17.2008 10:11am
ChrisIowa (mail):

After all, if God exists, he must be omnipresent and omnipotent.


I heard or read somewhere the argument that God can be all knowing, all powerful, or merciful, but not all three. (see Job) It cannot be determined which of the three God is not. So you can't automatically conclude the above, which asserts that God is not merciful.
10.17.2008 10:19am
Patrick S. O'Donnell (mail):
See the Australian film, The Man Who Sued God, and the comment on same at ContractsProf Blog last year.
10.17.2008 10:25am
Houston Lawyer:
I would have dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. I don't believe that God has ever been seen within the territory of the United States and I'm pretty sure that he hasn't consented to the jursidiction of the U.S. Courts.

In addition, I don't believe that any U.S. statute or court ruling implies that the U.S. courts have ever claimed jurisdiction over God. It is the plaintiff's burden to prove otherwise.
10.17.2008 10:49am
TruePath (mail) (www):
Surely the inability of the court to force god to do anything is irrelevant. I mean suppose I start up a crazy cult and arm myself with tons of guns while staying within the law. The mere fact that I might be able to forcibly resist any attempt to enforce a court order doesn't mean the court should throw out lawsuits against me. After all the injury still could be redressed through a court ruling since there is no reason to presume I won't comply.

Similarly, god might choose to comply with the court ordering because of it's moral force or what not so it's not clear to me that the suit should be thrown out on these grounds.
10.17.2008 10:50am
Proctor John (mail):
As mentioned above, an older, somewhat similar case comes from the federal system: Mayo v Satan, 54 FRD 282 (WDPA 1971). There, though, for personal jurisdiction, it was not clear that Satan has a presence in PA (in contrast to an omnipresent God). That decision also notes problems with a class-action suit (size of the class) and foreign sovereign immunity. The precedent of the mortgage-foreclosure action brought by Satan in New Hampshire and defended by Daniel Webster is also recognized.
10.17.2008 10:56am
Sean O'Hara (mail) (www):

After all, if God exists, he must be omnipresent and omnipotent.


Only if we assume he's told the truth to people. I mean, Zeus and Wotan weren't omnipotent, so why should Jehovah be?

I do recall an old trivia book I had as a child reported on a similar case, where the plaintiff won summary judgment because God didn't show up.
10.17.2008 11:04am
TruePath (mail) (www):
Perhaps a more plausible hypothetical about readresibility would be if another tribe of indians had sought a court order barring the army from evicting them after Andrew Jackson ignored the order barring him from creating the trail of tears. I mean in this case we have strong evidence the court has no means to truly enforce it's injunctions as the army is loyal to the president in this matter but do you think it follows then that the court should have barred any other claims by indian tribes as a matter of law.
10.17.2008 11:10am
RMF (mail) (www):
Same result reached as in Satan and His Staff 54 F.R.D. 282 (W.D. Pa. 1971). Dismissed for inability to serve process.
10.17.2008 11:16am
Aeon J. Skoble (mail):
TIAVSB:
Ilya says "Since God is omnipotent, the judicial injunction Chambers seeks can't possibly force him to do anything he doesn't want to do anyway. Thus, no redessability and no standing."

Right, but presumably God wants to do what is just, so if the suit has merit, there wouldn't be an issue of God not wanting to comply.
10.17.2008 11:23am
KenB (mail):
I like the sovereign immunity comment. Also, what exactly is the reach of Nebraska's long-arm statute?
10.17.2008 11:29am
Cornellian (mail):
I don't think you get to ignore service rules on the basis that defendant already knows about your lawsuit.
10.17.2008 11:33am
Jettboy (mail) (www):
"I would have dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. I don't believe that God has ever been seen within the territory of the United States and I'm pretty sure that he hasn't consented to the jursidiction of the U.S. Courts."

At least for one example, if your a Mormon you believe G-d has at least once been seen in the United States and His son Jesus Christ multiple times. As for consenting to jurisdiction, again for Mormons the whole U.S. consitution, and by extention legal system, was inspired by G-d to men who were hand picked to develop it.
10.17.2008 11:34am
Guiseppe:
How about pursuing convictions of God and the heavenly host under RICO?
10.17.2008 11:47am
Glenn W. Bowen (mail):
Ya can't serve God and Ernie Chambers, too.

Is there anything the Douglas County District Court can do to Chambers for screwing around and wasting the Court's and People's time and money?
10.17.2008 11:56am
Kevin Raley (mail):
I just read all this and conclude that Mr. Chambers' likely goal of wasting a bunch of people's time is accomplished.
10.17.2008 12:08pm
_JP (mail):
I'm pretty sure this was the correct result. To avoid the formal service of process required by Rule 4, the plaintiff has the burden of proof of establishing that service was reasonably calculated to provide actual notice and an opportunity to respond. Accordingly, plaintiff would have to establish--with admissible evidence--that God is omniscient and/or omnipresent. Plaintiff's conclusory assertion is not sufficient ("Since God knows everything, God has notice of this lawsuit").

Which of course raises the question: Is there admissible evidence a plaintiff could present to establish that it is more likely than not that God is omniscient?
10.17.2008 12:12pm
Oren:

Isn't this a case of sovereign immunity?

I was leaning towards judicial immunity.
10.17.2008 12:27pm
sonicfrog (mail) (www):
Sue God?

Already Been Done!!!

Court Reporter: Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?

God: So help me Me.
10.17.2008 12:32pm
BruceM (mail) (www):
Sonicfrog: I was thinking about that movie with Billy Connolly, where he sued god in australia. Saw it a while ago, and don't recall the specifics. But it was based in Australia, in its courts. No idea what Australia's rules are re: personal jurisdiction and service of process.
10.17.2008 12:37pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Perhaps religions should also be liable for the acts of their god. There's no way to know "which" god (christian, jewish, muslim, etc) "did" a hurricane, but if, say, Pat Robertson were to get on the 700 Club and say "God caused Katrina to flood New Orleans because of blah blah gay blah blah abortion blah blah America blah blah" then perhaps Christianity should be liable, as an agent of the tortfeasor diety.
Uh, what? Since when is an agent liable for the acts of the principal?

There are situations when an agent is personally liable for his own act as agent, but I'm pretty sure that that doesn't fit the facts you describe.
10.17.2008 12:41pm
Bob from Ohio (mail):
Silly of course but taking it half serious for a moment I lean to the service by publication side. We serve "unknown heirs of so and so" all the time by publication.


Is there admissible evidence a plaintiff could present to establish that it is more likely than not that God is omniscient?


Courts can take judicial notice of publications. So take the The Bible, Torah or Koran and you have admissible evidence. The trier of fact can then decide on what weight, if any, to give to the evidence.
10.17.2008 12:42pm
sonicfrog (mail) (www):
I figure God is found not guilty. Since He is all knowing and knows this, He probably figures why bother showing up, since I will be found innocent anyway. Rhere are, after all, more important things to do...
10.17.2008 12:59pm
Curmudgeon:
>A better technical legal ground for dismissing lawsuits against God might be lack of redressability,

Many churches readily acknowledge that their building is 'God's House,' so the court could probably seize His property located in its district. It might be able to enjoin His designated representative, the Pope.
10.17.2008 1:03pm
sonicfrog (mail) (www):
cirby wrote

God may be everywhere, as people claim.

But we know his primary residence in Heaven.

Therefore, to serve him with papers, just write them up, hand them to a process server of good Christian character, and shoot him dead. Process served.

Of course, you may have other legal issues at that point...


There is a better way.

Find all the inmate on death row who are suspected of being innocent, but whose appeals have run out. Give them the papers to be served. Surely one of them will make it to heaven, and unlike your first scenario, the execution is an act sanctioned by the state, so there should be no legal repercussions.

We cannot let this go. Even God should not be allowed to escape justice!
10.17.2008 1:10pm
gerbilsbite:
Would notice by publication suffice, provided it was nailed to a church door?
10.17.2008 1:30pm
r.friedman (mail):
I don't think legal redressability has thing one to do with whether the defendant will comply with the court's order. Worcester v. Ga. did not involve Andrew Jackson at all. Certainly Georgia and its officials were subject to the contempt power of the courts if they refused to release Worcester and continued to enforce their license to enter Indian territory law. The court had power to appoint its own prosecutor for contempts, and that prosecutor could levy against the state. If state officers prevented that from happening in Georgia, and federal officers would not intervene, state-owned property (e.g. Georgia Railroad locomotives and cars) could be seized outside the state and sold. (Andrew Jackson himself, of course, was found in contempt of court for defying a writ of habeas corpus while leading US troops after the Battle of New Orleans; he defaulted and paid a fine, and ultimately achieved legislative reversal.)

Redressability might have been an issue if Massachusetts had asked EPA to hold back the tides or be responsible to coastal area for losses due to global warming, but all it sought was that EPA exercise what powers it had in the manner its regulations required.

It is within God's power to hold back the tides (Exodus 14:21-27), but there is no law requiring him to do so.
But Pharoah could not have resorted to equity because of the clean hands doctrine (not to mention that he served a different God, and therefore the case would have had to go to an interdeital forum).
10.17.2008 1:36pm
Dan Schmutter:
Aeon -


Right, but presumably God wants to do what is just, so if the suit has merit, there wouldn't be an issue of God not wanting to comply



If God is omniscient then he always knows what is just.

If God wants to do what is just, then presumably he always does what is just since he always knows the just thing to do.

If God already causes earthquakes and tornados, then he must already have concluded that they are just. An injunction issued by a Nebraska court will not change his mind. God will therefore not comply with such an order.

Dan Schmutter
10.17.2008 2:08pm
Barbara Skolaut (mail):
I remember reading in a newspaper years ago about a case in (I believe) Florida where someone who couldn't sue the city for some injury because it was considered "an act of God" instead filed suit against 4 large (presumably rich) churches in the area (as agents of God, I suppose).

The judge dismissed the case on the grounds that the plaintiff couldn't prove God resided in these particular churches. Guess the judge had been reading Soloman that day.

I can't find the case, darn it (wish I could), but I do clearly remember the story.
10.17.2008 2:38pm
Alan K. Henderson (mail) (www):
Our founding legal document formally acknowledges that God exists and that human governments are subordinate to God (and to the consent of the people).

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed...
This pretty much nails down the applicability of sovereign immunity.

Proving or disproving the existence of God doesn't change the Declaration. To take God out of the chain of command (on paper) we'd have to abolish our unilateral treaty with Great Britain (the Declaration resembles a treaty more than anything else) and come up with a new one.
10.17.2008 2:44pm
Jake Turner:
It says a lot about ideological double standards that Chambers, the wacko liberal legislator who brought the lawsuit against God, is taken seriously by the press and the political establishment despite this lunatic lawsuit, and Chambers' raving, intemperate attacks on people who disagree with him.

People like Obama and Clinton sought his support, and journalists and liberal officials embrace him.

Mother Jones magazine called him a "national treasure," and his liberal colleagues and reporters have praised him for his "heart," "conscience," and "empathy."

Nevermind that he advocated "afrocentric" segregation in Nebraska -- redrawing school district boundary lines in order to create an almost entirely-black school district.

Can anyone imagine a right-wing nut who advocated segregation and suing God being treated with such reverence?

Any conservative politician who'd ever sought his support or worked with him would be toast.

But he, and his enablers, have gotten away with it, because he's a left-wing nut, not a right-wing nut.
10.17.2008 3:02pm
Milhouse (www):
The suit is frivolous because God is not subject to the laws of the USA. Quite the contrary. If you want to sue God, you have to do so under His laws, not yours. And no, issuing imperious injunctions on the grounds that He might choose to obey them doesn't seem at all prudent; He's far more likely to take offense.

The USA had the power to declare independence from the UK because the UK's sovereignty was merely a "government instituted among men" for a particular purpose, and when it failed that purpose it was "the right of the people to alter or to abolish it". God's sovereignty is not instituted by men, nor was it instituted for some purpose; God is sovereign because He made the world and everything in it, and nothing can alter or abolish that situation. Therefore a federal court has no more authority to enjoin Him from executing His judgments than a state or local court would have had to enjoin the federal government from executing Timothy McVeigh.
10.17.2008 3:04pm
Latinist:
if God exists, he must be omnipresent and omnipotent. Therefore, it logically follows that he can be served with court papers anywhere

But that's a very big "if," isn't it? I mean, what if there is rumored to be a reclusive person living in an old house in my town -- but his existence is not agreed on by all. If I drop papers in his mail slot, and can assure that, if he exists, he will receive them, have I served him? Wouldn't I have to make it clear that he does exist, and did receive the papers?
10.17.2008 3:13pm
Gabriel McCall (mail):
Doesn't the subject of a suit have to be a person? If someone tried to file a suit against the Grand Canyon or a flock of geese, what grounds would be used to dismiss it? If there is indeed a personhood requirement, simply maintain that God is not a person.
10.17.2008 3:20pm
rrr (mail):
Interestingly, a bunch of lawyers here and no one is aware that this has been done--at least poetically. The biblical book of Job is the story of Job's seeking a lawsuit against God, demanding that God show just cause for Job's travails. Job even pronounces an ancient Near Eastern "oath of innocence" when he's convinced that 1) God won't show and 2) if he did show Job can't get a fair trial.

God eventually did show and never bothered to answer Job's charge. Instead, he basically charged Job with arrogance based on ignorance and berated him, "You're a child. Don't open your mouth until you grow up." Job closes his mouth.

We'll probably have no such luck with the likes of Chalmers.
10.17.2008 3:38pm
tim maguire (mail):
Nebraska may be different, but in most jurisdictions I'm familiar with, actual notice is immaterial. As a defendant you have a right to demand that service rules be followed, but you do not have a right to actually receive service (for instance if the plaintiff follows "nail and mail" and both get lost, tough luck for the defendant). And it works the other way--if plaintiff does not follow service rules but defendant finds out anyway, the court still does not have jurisdiction over the defendant.

That said, it would be the defendant's job to raise the issue. The court should not be raising it for him.

Aren't there alternative service rules in Nebraska? Such as, the court could grant permission to serve by publication.
10.17.2008 4:03pm
Aeon J. Skoble (mail):
Dan-
You're correct - but that means that suit is without merit. No theology needed: if God exists, the suit lacks merit for the reason you and I are describing, and if God doesn't exist, the suit lacks merit for even more obvious reasons.
10.17.2008 4:23pm
FantasiaWHT:

Courts can take judicial notice of publications. So take the The Bible, Torah or Koran and you have admissible evidence.


Courts can't take judicial notice of publications, they take notice of facts. Facts that can, perhaps, be found in publications, but the publications have to "unimpeachable sources". I would wager millenia-old history books wouldn't be considered "unimpeachable" by any court.


Doesn't the subject of a suit have to be a person? If someone tried to file a suit against the Grand Canyon or a flock of geese, what grounds would be used to dismiss it? If there is indeed a personhood requirement, simply maintain that God is not a person.


You've never heard the phrase "God in Three Persons"? I wonder if that's a partnership and you have to serve all three.
10.17.2008 4:37pm
Ohio Scrivener (mail):
Senator Chambers should be thankful he did not get sanctioned for filing such a frivolous suit. What a waste of time: A state senator suing God and forcing a state court judge (who I suspect has a few other cases on his docket) to issue an opinion with the profound conclusion that God can't be served with process.

Of course, given Senator Chambers' faulty logic, I am sure he can invent grounds for an appeal. Perhaps he can cite Romans 14:10 which promises that "all of us will stand before the judgment seat of God" to argue that the case should simply be stayed pending service. If so, he better pray the appellate court has a sense of humor.
10.17.2008 4:37pm
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
Omniscience cannot be invoked, since actual knowledge is not enough to constitute proper service of process.

But since papers can be served on anyone of suitable age and discretion at the defendant's residence, and God is omnipresent, couldn't he just have served any adult in any house? I think that's how it was done in the famous antitrust suit brought by Odin, Jove, and Ba'al, alleging that He had monopolized their field and driven them out of business.
10.17.2008 4:42pm
Jeff Medcalf (mail) (www):
Others have pointed out that this adopts the explicitly Abrahamic conception of Deity. Some other conceptions might have other results.

Polytheism is the concept that there are many gods, each divine and each sovereign, and all existing independently of each other and the Universe as a whole. Typically, polytheistic religions see the gods as preexisting the universe, much as the monotheistic religions do. Which god is, in this event, at issue?

Pantheism is the concept that the Universe is, in corporate whole, Divine. (Alternately, that all life is, in corporate whole, Divine.) Pantheistic religions see Divinity as being inextricably a part of the Universe. (And thus, on a side note, at least theoretically reachable by scientific investigation.) Can one sue one's self? Can one sue one's self as part of a larger entity; for example, could one sue one's self as an American citizen to compel the government to appear?

Panentheistic religions believe that God interpenetrates the entire Universe, but is distinct from it. I believe that this is the way that Protestant Christian religions practice. (Let's not get into a debate about how a religion with at least 3 and arguably 4 and arguably thousands of gods can be a monotheistic religion, shall we?) In this case, jurisdiction certainly becomes a problem.
10.17.2008 4:43pm
Fan of Kingsfield:
Could the judge be forced to recuse himself because he swore an oath to the defendant?
10.17.2008 4:44pm
Tom Hanna (www):

There's no way to know "which" god (christian, jewish, muslim, etc) "did" a hurricane, but if, say, Pat Robertson were to get on the 700 Club and say "God caused Katrina to flood New Orleans because of blah blah gay blah blah abortion blah blah America blah blah" then perhaps Christianity should be liable, as an agent of the tortfeasor diety.


Not all Christians should be held responsible, but those who own the action - like Robertson in your example - could. Make them put their money where their mouths are. But if we're going to do that, we should also impose an income tax surcharge on any politician who advocates a tax hike. Of course, in that battle, religious types have the upper hand, since they voluntarily mobilize an army of volunteers for every natural or man made disaster, while tax hiking politicians tend to be notoriously stingy with their own money.
10.17.2008 5:02pm
Aeon J. Skoble (mail):
"You've never heard the phrase "God in Three Persons"? I wonder if that's a partnership and you have to serve all three."
All the more reason to make it a RICO action.
10.17.2008 5:04pm
Fan of Kingsfield:
"Batter my heart, three person'd God"? A tort?
10.17.2008 5:31pm
Mark Linder (mail) (www):
Since Senator Chambers confesses to being an atheist, perhaps he lacks standing to sue a defendant whom he doesn't believe to exist.

The true richness of the irony lies in the fact that this was how Senator Chambers sought to illustrate why there should not be limits on frivolous lawsuits. I've only lived in Omaha for a couple of years, but explaining the fiasco that is its safe haven law and the contentious state of education in the local school districts does not require much research.
10.17.2008 5:32pm
one of many:
How about pursuing convictions of God and the heavenly host under RICO? Difficult theological ground there (as also for M. Skoble's comment). Easily resolved as the RICO act itself defines ""person" includes any individual or entity capable of holding a legal or beneficial interest in property;" which would exclude the heavenly host. God, being omnipotent, is certainly capable of holding property even though the law would seem to indicate otherwise (apparently God has chosen not to exercise that power in the US) however the heavenly host is not capable of owning property in the US.

The difficulty is most likely not service itself, but proof of service or alternatively proof that God spends time in an area covered by a publication so that service by publication can take place. Sewer service might work with a sympathetic judge (but Nebraska may have rules which require a judge to dismiss an affidavit of service if the judge believes it to be false), but it remains sewer service. How can you convince a judge that your process server is telling the truth when they sign an affidavit that they served God?
10.17.2008 5:41pm
Twistelton-Twistelton (mail):
Old Jewish joke. Man travel to far away to present the local rabbi with his case against G-d. Rabbi asks him why he traveled and didn't present it to local rabbi. Man answers 'my rabbi is G-d fearing, I. would for sure lose. With you I have a chance'
10.17.2008 5:45pm
Potter:
God didn't bother showing up for the lawsuit because he already knew it was going to be dismissed.
10.17.2008 5:50pm
willis (mail):
Given God's omnipresence, I think we can assume that God was indeed served. Given his omnipotence, I think we can also assume that he also won the case. What do you think made the judge render a ruling that could so easily be argued otherwise?
10.17.2008 5:52pm
Sean P (mail):
Sasha Volokh wrote:

"I'm wondering, though... who was representing God here? Why didn't he just win by default judgment? Any ground for him to lose ought to be one that the court has to raise sua sponte, for instance its own jurisdiction"

Actually, failure to provide proof of service of the complaint is one of the grounds state court judges have to dismiss sua sponte, at least here in California (and other states as well, I suspect). If a plaintiff hasn't filed a proof of service with the court around six months after filing, the courts are authorized to set an Order to Show Cause re dismissal sue sponte. If the plaintiff doesn't show up to the hearing -- or offer a plausible explaination of how they intend to serve the defendant -- dismissal is permitted. Plus, if a complaint is not served on the defendant within three years of filing, dismissal of the complaint is mandatory.

The only difference with California is that the dismissal for failure to prosecute rules is that the dismissal is without prejudice, so the type of dismissal is a little different, but that could just be a difference in Nebraska state law.
10.17.2008 6:14pm
austinred:
I don't want to be nearby when the counterclaim gets filed.
10.17.2008 6:25pm
Pat C (mail):
sonicfrog wrote:

I figure God is found not guilty. Since He is all knowing and knows this, He probably figures why bother showing up, since I will be found innocent anyway. There are, after all, more important things to do...


Yes, for example He must decide next year's Grammy winners.
10.17.2008 6:44pm
Kevin Murphy:

Indeed, he must have foreseen that Chambers would file the suit long before Chambers himself knew that he would do it.
Not clear at all. You ignore both the question of free will and Heisenberg's uncertainty principle. God may well have created a world that is unpredictable, even by Himself. Some things (such as position and momentum simultaneously) may be unknowable even to God.
10.17.2008 6:47pm
Dr. T (mail) (www):
This publicity stunt never should have reached a court or a judge. It is equivalent to filing a suit against "Anonymous" or "Unknown Party." Such a filing should never be accepted by court clerks.
10.17.2008 7:39pm
sonicfrog (mail) (www):
Suing God?

Michael Nudow must be kicking himself about now...
10.17.2008 7:56pm
Joshua:
Ohio Scrivener: Of course, given Senator Chambers' faulty logic, I am sure he can invent grounds for an appeal. Perhaps he can cite Romans 14:10 which promises that "all of us will stand before the judgment seat of God" to argue that the case should simply be stayed pending service. If so, he better pray the appellate court has a sense of humor.

Asking the very party he just tried to sue to bail him out of the mess he made for himself by trying to sue Him? That would have to be the ultimate in chutzpah.

Pat C: Yes, for example He must decide next year's Grammy winners.

And kick record-breaking game-winning field goals.

After the game, Detroit linebacker Wayne Walker told reporters, "Tom Dempsey didn't kick that field goal. God kicked it."
10.17.2008 9:18pm
Waldensian (mail):

There, though, for personal jurisdiction, it was not clear that Satan has a presence in PA (in contrast to an omnipresent God).

It is, in fact, quite clear that Satan has a presence in PA.

Exhibit 1 would be the Allentown-Bethlehem area in general.

Exhibit 2: that stretch of I-95 that blows right through that horrible neighborhood outside Philly, just southeast of the 476 exit.

Yep, you've got a fiend in PA.
10.17.2008 9:31pm
Devil's Advocate:
I think the court got it right. In order for there to be in personam jurisdiction, there must be valid service of process. Attwell v. LaSalle Nat. Bank, 607 F.2d 1157 (5th Cir. 1979), cert. denied 445 U.S. 954, 63 L.Ed.2d 791. Service of process isn't merely about notice, it's also necessary for the court to exercise personal jurisdiction. See Albert Levine Associates, Inc. v. Hudson, 43 F.R.D. 392 (S.D.N.Y. 1967) (Fed. R. Civ. P. 4's serves to limit the exercise of personal jurisdiction and give adequate notice that an action is pending). If service of process is impossible, the court cannot exert jurisdiction over the person named in the suit. Dodco, Inc. v. American Bonding Co., 7 F3d 1387, 1388 (8th Cir. 1993)(a court lacks jurisdiction over a defendant who has not been properly served). Substituted service or service by publication doesn't work, because there's no proof that "God" exists. Attempting, and then failing, service of process to prove that God is omniscient assumes (and proves) too much.
10.17.2008 10:53pm
Anthony A (mail):
The notion of omniscience is not actually a basic theological requirement of Christianity. While it can be argued that omnipotence implies omniscience, the word "omnipotent" in the latin version of the Nicene Creed has different connotations than the work "pantokrator" in the Greek. Omnipresence is not theologically required either - an omnipotent God could choose to be omnipresent, and can choose to be present at any time and any place he chooses, but could also choose to not be omnipresent. So it is possible that God chose to not be in Nebraska when alternative service was filed.

There's another legal issue, which would likely bar claims in state court, though not federal court. If God is omnipresent, he was present before the colonization of America by Europeans, and thus is a Native American. God is present on reservations, and thus outside the jurisdiction of the State of Nebraska, though not necessarily outside the jurisdiction of the United States.
10.18.2008 3:35am
Michael Drake (mail) (www):
Setting aside the various standing and jurisdictional infirmities pointed out above, God's omnibenevolence defeats the lawsuit on the merits. The suit alleges that God committed a legal wrong. But being omnibenevolent, God would do no wrong. Therefore, God cannot be liable for any legal wrong(s) alleged.
10.18.2008 12:49pm
karen marie (mail):
i love lawyers when they talk legal.
10.18.2008 1:07pm
js5 (mail):
Anyone have the time to sue the Flying Spaghetti Monster?

For pirates and such...
10.18.2008 1:34pm
markm (mail):
Suppose Pat Robertson showed up in court and claimed to have been appointed as God's agent to respond to this suit?
10.19.2008 2:36pm
ReaderY:
Wasn't there a medieval French case in which the rats of Paris were sued to enjoin them from biting and harassing Paris' human population? As a recall a lawyer for the rats was located, who kept raising various technical arguments about service of process and the like.
10.19.2008 5:59pm
ReaderY:
Actually, the Cheftain arguments are standard arguments against giving U.S. courts unlimited jurisdiction. The argurment really is that letting courts handle unenforcable suits makes a mockery of the judciary.

I had had always understood it to be one of the underpinnings of the Miller decision, which basically held that martial law is lawful where there is combat going on rendering it impossible to hold courts or enforce judgments.
10.19.2008 6:04pm
Alan K. Henderson (mail) (www):
Can Pat produce a power of attorney to prove that God authorized him as a divine agent?
10.20.2008 10:56am
Bill McGonigle (www):
I would think a jurisdictional argument would be making the theological decision that God does not have operations in the USA, making several hundred thousand churches quite uneasy.

IIRC, the Mormons believe Jesus had operations in Missouri at one point.

And further, there's some way to sue somebody who has fled the country, no? Jesus has promised to return, so he could be served then. The Sheriff might be smote on the spot, but that's not really the court's problem.

I think this just serves to illustrate that you need to sue a God of a particular religion, not God in general, to know how to properly proceed. This court has essentially endorsed the ignostic position on theology.
10.20.2008 5:19pm