There is a school of thought in legal writing that you should never put anything too important in footnotes, as some readers might skip over them.  See, e.g.,  Well, if you are one of those readers, then you would have missed a good footnote from an unpublished Fourth Circuit opinion issued on Monday.    The opinion starts with the sentence “This appeal presents conflict of laws and conflict of interests questions in an insurance coverage dispute.”  This sentence also contains a footnote, which reads, “We apologize in advance for the excitement generated by our framing of the issues presented here.”  In a time when we all could stand to have a smile put on our faces, it is nice to see the Fourth Circuit with a sense of humor.

The author of the opinion is Judge Quattlebaum, who is no stranger to opening his opinions with humorous footnotes.  He authored an opinion last year that addressed defendant class actions and noted that such actions “are so rare they have been compared to ‘unicorns.'” Opinion here, citing CIGNA HealthCare of St. Louis, Inc. v. Kaiser, 294 F.3d 849, 853 (7th Cir. 2002).  He footnoted this sentence, however, to point out the following:

This analogy is apt insofar as it relates the infrequency of defendant class actions
and unicorns. But after that, the analogy breaks down. A survey of literature reveals that
unicorns are often majestic and even magical creatures with attributes superior to those of
traditional animals. One example is Jewel, the unicorn who is King Tirian’s best friend
from C.S. Lewis’s The Last Battle. In that story, Jewel is a fierce warrior with attributes
that are crucial in the battle to save Narnia from the forces of evil. In contrast, the
attributes of defendant class actions are, at least at times, not so noble. In fact, the
inherent risks of such proceedings are likely the reason for their rareness.

So, what can practitioners learn from this (other than some history of unicorns in literature)?  When reading an opinion, always read the footnotes.  You might gain some important information.  And if it’s an opinion from Judge Quattlebaum, you might also get a chuckle.

Special thanks to Steve Russell for pointing me to yesterday’s footnote (I would have put this thanks in a footnote, but our blog platform doesn’t allow it).

–Patrick Kane