Pies and Torts

August 9, 2011

Earlier this week the protestor who threw a shaving-cream pie at Rupert Murdoch was sentenced to six weeks in jail.  Jonnie Marbles isn’t the first pie-thrower to face consequences in court.

On Westlaw.com, I ran the following search across state and federal cases to pick up other pie-throwing cases: thr*w! hit! strik! struck /s pie /100 assault battery tort disorderly abet! conspir! 

The earliest pie-throwing case shows up in 1977, and is notable for the fact that it’s not the hurling of the pie which is at issue.  In Goldfarb v. Baker, 547 S.W.2d 567, after a pie was thrown at a professor, the professor threw the student who he believed responsible out of the classroom, and the student brought a claim against the professor for “outrageous conduct.”  The student’s case was dismissed.

In Geraci v. St. Xavier High School, 1978 WL 216591, the court found in favor of a private school after a student was expelled for his role in a pie-throwing conspiracy.  In that case, the student induced a friend to throw the pie, although he later said that he didn’t think the friend would go through with it.  The student’s conspiring role was enough, however, to find that he had violated the school’s code of conduct and thereby breached the contract with the school.

In another twist on the pie-throwing conspiracy, in State of Connecticut v. Diorio, 529 A.2d 1320, the court upheld a parent’s conviction for breach of the peace, for hiring a clown for her daughter’s junior-high graduation to throw a pie in the face of the dean of students.  The clown later testified against the parent at trial.

And then there’s the political pie-throwing: 

State of Ohio v. Conliff, 401 N.E.2d 469, concerns a fellow who was acquitted by a jury of assault after throwing a pie at the governor of Ohio.  (Interestingly, that’s another case where the throwing of the pie was ancillary to the case; the issue on appeal was whether the pie-thrower was subject to criminal contempt for saying to the judge, off the record but in the course of the proceedings, “Are you ready for your ounce of flesh now, your Honor?”)

Another pie-thrower did not get off so lightly in State of Minnesota v. Greenberg, 2000 WL 781092.  The court found sufficient evidence for convictions for intimidating a legislator and disorderly conduct, and that pushing a pie into someone’s face is not a form of constitutionally-protected speech.