Cheer Up Little Buckaroo: The Legal Issues of Better Off Dead

Everyone who has had one crazy summer knows the film Better Off Dead. In true 1980s fashion, I re-watched the film on VHS to analyze the fact pattern like it was a bar exam question. I am sure there are people who still have it on Beta and Laserdisc.

JoshBetterOffDead_1214_edited-2The off-beat 1985 cult classic focuses on John Cusack’s character Lane Meyer, whose heartbreak over a girl leads to multiple legal issues. This is ironic, because the fictional father (played by David Ogden Stiers) was an attorney.

Was Lane Meyer a Such a Danger to Himself to Be Involuntarily Confined?

California’s Welfare and Institutions Code section 5150 allows a person to be involuntarily confined if they are a danger to themselves from a mental disorder. The law specifically states:

(a) When any person, as a result of mental disorder, is a danger to others, or to himself or herself, or gravely disabled, a peace officer, member of the attending staff, as defined by regulation, of an evaluation facility designated by the county, or other professional person designated by the county may, upon probable cause, take, or cause to be taken, the person into custody and place him or her in a facility designated by the county and approved by the State Department of Health Care Services as a facility for 72-hour treatment and evaluation.

(b) The facility shall require an application in writing stating the circumstances under which the person’s condition was called to the attention of the officer, member of the attending staff, or professional person, and stating that the officer, member of the attending staff, or professional person has probable cause to believe that the person is, as a result of mental disorder, a danger to others, or to himself or herself, or gravely disabled. If the probable cause is based on the statement of a person other than the officer, member of the attending staff, or professional person, the person shall be liable in a civil action for intentionally giving a statement which he or she knows to be false.

Cal Wel & Inst Code § 5150

Lane Meyer without a doubt could have been placed under a 72-hour hold in California. Lane showed obsessive behavior toward his girlfriend Beth, which included sleeping with a photo of her, photos of her on all of his clothes hangers and other photos decorated all over his room. Lane sank into a depression after Beth’s break-up line, “Lane, I think it’d be in my best interest if I dated somebody more popular. Better looking. Drives a nicer car,” and took affirmative actions to commit suicide.

And then his drawings started talking to him.

To show probable cause, “a state of facts must be known to the peace officer (or other authorized person) that would lead a person of ordinary care and prudence to believe, or to entertain a strong suspicion, that the person detained is mentally disordered and is a danger to himself or herself or is gravely disabled. In justifying the particular intrusion, the officer must be able to point to specific and articulable facts which, taken together with rational inferences from those facts, reasonably warrant his or her belief or suspicion. [Citations.] Each case must be decided on the facts and circumstances presented to the [detaining person] at the time of the detention [citation], and the [detaining person] is justified in taking into account the past conduct, character, and reputation of the detainee. [Citation.]”  Heater v. Southwood Psychiatric Center, 42 Cal. App. 4th 1068, 1080 (Cal. App. 4th Dist. 1996).

All of these factors clearly show a mental disorder and Lane becoming a danger to himself that would demonstrate probable cause to justify a psychiatric hold for evaluation. Moreover, the affirmative acts to commit suicide would be enough to establish probable cause. People v. Triplett (1983, Cal App 1st Dist) 144 Cal App 3d 283.

You Wash Your Hands On Your Own Time

The intent of the California Retail Food Code is for the people of California to have food that is “pure, safe, and unadulterated.” Cal Health & Saf Code § 113705. To be blunt, everyone wants some hand soap to wash their hands before cooking food.

WashingHandsThe events at Pig Burger flew in the face of California law with the owner’s comment “Wash your hands on your own time.” The law requires:

(a) Except as specified in subdivision (b), all employees shall thoroughly wash their hands and that portion, if any, of their arms exposed to direct food contact with cleanser and warm water by vigorously rubbing together the surfaces of their lathered hands and arms for at least 10 to 15 seconds and thoroughly rinsing with clean running water followed by drying of cleaned hands and that portion, if any, of their arms exposed. Employees shall pay particular attention to the areas underneath the fingernails and between the fingers. Employees shall wash their hands in all of the following instances:

(1) Immediately before engaging in food preparation, including working with nonprepackaged food, clean equipment and utensils, and unwrapped single-use food containers and utensils.

(2) After touching bare human body parts other than clean hands and clean, exposed portions of arms.

(3) After using the toilet room.

(4) After caring for or handling any animal allowed in a food facility pursuant to this part.

(5) After coughing, sneezing, using a handkerchief or disposable tissue, using tobacco, eating, or drinking.

(6) After handling soiled equipment or utensils.

(7) During food preparation, as often as necessary to remove soil and contamination and to prevent cross-contamination when changing tasks.

(8) When switching between working with raw food and working with ready-to-eat food.

(9) Before donning gloves for working with food.

(10) Before dispensing or serving food or handling clean tableware and serving utensils in the food service area.

(11) After engaging in other activities that contaminate the hands.

(b) If approved and capable of removing the types of soils encountered in the food operations involved, an automatic handwashing facility may be used by food employees to clean their hands.

Cal Health & Saf Code § 113953.3

There is simply no way an employer could tell an employee to wash his hands on their own time and have it be legal.

The Paperboy: Property Damage & Collections

The Paperboy raises several issues: Property Damage; Unlawful Collection; and Gang Violence.

The Paperboy damaged the windows of the Meyers’ garage door repeatedly. This property damage would be unlawful, subjecting the paperboy and newspaper to liability, because the windows were broken repeatedly.

Newspaper DeliveryThe actions the Paperboy took to collect his “two dollars” raise multiple legal issues. First, the law prohibits harassment. Federal law states that a “debt collector may not engage in any conduct the natural consequence of which is to harass, oppress, or abuse any person…” and also prohibits the use of obscene or profane language to the hearer or reader. 15 United States Code section 1692d(2). Also, California law prohibits collection agency employees from physically threatening or injuring someone. California Civil Code section 1788.10.

The Paperboy chasing Lane Meyer would violate both Federal and state law. Moreover, the multiple paperboys working together to threaten Lane after the high school dance could rise to the level of gang violence under California Penal Code 186.22.

Despite the collection sins of the Paperboy, Roy Stalin was not legally justified in pushing the child off a cliff while skiing K12. That would be attempted murder.

Mail Order Exchange Student

The French exchange student Monique was treated like a mail order bride by her host family. The actions by Ricky’s mother would violate multiple human trafficking laws, since the mother’s intent appeared to be to select a woman for her creepy son.

Sorry Your Mom Blew Up

Mrs. Smith lit a cigarette after drinking the primer that Lane intended to use to kill himself in the Meyer home. Mrs. Smith would be able to prevail on a theory of premise liability if she could prove the Meyers were negligent in failing to use “reasonable care to keep their home reasonably safe” or “give adequate warning of anything that could be reasonably expected to harm others.” 2-10 California Forms of Jury Instruction 1001.

The primer was put on the table, which Mrs. Smith drank. The primer was labeled and Lane knew it to be dangerous, since he was planning to use it to light himself on fire. These facts might be enough to show negligence to establish liability for Mrs. Smith’s injuries.

Illegal Street Racing

The car racing with Lane Meyer and the brothers Yee Sook Ree and Chen Ree would be illegal in California as a “drag race” or “street race.” Those who cause injuries in a street race can be found guilty of assault with a deadly weapon from reckless driving under California of Pen. Code, § 245, subd. (a)(1). See, People v. Aznavoleh, 210 Cal. App. 4th 1181, 1189 (Cal. App. 2d Dist. 2012).

BlackCamaroLane’s backing into the owner of Pig Burger and landing in the puddle with Monique and Ricky would place him in both civil and criminal jeopardy for his actions. In the second race, Monique stepping on the accelerator would be a mitigating factor.

Delinquency of a Minor

The parents of Badger Meyer were negligent in their son’s development. The child ordered the book “How to Pick Up on Trashy Women,” which he put to use entertaining women in his bedroom, complete with underage drinking.

Between the moral issues of Badger’s childhood, he built a working laser gun and launched a homemade Space Shuttle through the roof of the house. These actions would cause liability to the parents for the child’s actions and a harsh visit from Child Protective Services.

Trespassing & Reckless Driving

There is simply no legal way to drive a car onto the field at Dodger Stadium.

Unless you are making a movie.