Legally Infernal: Mayo v. Satan and His Staff

Just about a full year ago, I wrote a post called Legally Haunted which combined my love for the law (which is my day job) and the supernatural. Now, I do not really believe in the supernatural but I have found it fun to pretend ever since I was a kid. One of my favorite things in fiction is when stuff from our real world intersects with the fantasy world. The idea that a court would have to seriously contemplate matters usually relegated to myths and folktales is absolutely hilarious to me. While there are moments where it probably causes stress headaches to those involved, there are probably a lot of fun moments too. Last year I discussed a case where somebody was sued for not disclosing that the house they sold was haunted. This year, I want to talk about a man who wanted to sue Satan.


Would you really want this guy intimidating your jury?

Yes, you read that right. Satan aka Lucifer aka The Morning Star aka the Lord of Lies aka a lot of other impressive epithets was temporarily in real danger of being summoned to a court of law in the United States. Did this happen a long time ago when people were more superstitious? No, the event in question actually happened in 1971 which was well before Satan made his brief reunion tour during the ridiculous Satanic Panic of the eighties. What caused it? The short answer is misery. If a person suffers enough, they can often start to lose their grip on sanity as they reach or go past their limit. Though, perhaps he knew exactly what he was doing and was just making a grand statement so everybody could hear and see it. Maybe he was just intentionally wasting everybody’s time.


Would a jury be able to vote against this guy?

Whatever the case was, I am getting a little ahead of myself. The story goes as follows: Gerald Mayo was a 22-year-old citizen of the United States of America who had had a bad time of it. At the time of the lawsuit, he was an inmate serving time at the recently closed Western Penitentiary in Pittsburgh. Unfortunately, I cannot find what alleged crimes caused Mayo’s imprisonment. Whatever his circumstances were, he was not only in prison but he was flat broke as well. It was for this reason that he decided to file a complaint against “Satan and His Staff” in the United States District Court in Western Pennsylvania. I assume since he was broke, that he wrote the complaint himself. I imagine him taking great pains in the prison library, researching and writing everything out.

The complaint, which was unfortunately never recorded, alleged that Satan (with the support of his staff) had violated Mr. Mayo’s constitutional rights. Under Title 18 Chapter 241 of the US Constitution, if two or more people injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate any person while they are exercising their constitutional rights, they will be fined, imprisoned, or sentenced to death. Under Title 28 Chapter 1343, the US District Court has jurisdiction over civil cases having to do with a citizen being deprived of their constitutional rights. Title 42 Chapter 1983 makes anybody responsible for depriving somebody of their rights liable for any damages to the plaintiff. Legalese aside, if Mayo could prove that Satan was responsible for his troubles, he might actually have a case against Lucifer and all of his demons. In fact, in the response, the judge stated that there was nothing wrong with the above laws that Mayo cites in his complaint.

On a side note: I was very interested in another part of Mayo’s complaint that had very little to do with infernal forces. He filed the complaint “in forma pauperis” which is a Latin term. The legal system in the United States loves to Latin terms mostly because they come from a dead language which acts as a barrier against the terms being contaminated by the differences in English dialects. In this case, In Forma Pauperis means what you might imagine. It is a statement that the person filing the complaint (or the defendant in a criminal case) are poor and cannot afford court costs. It is a request asking for those costs to be waived. The purpose is obvious as it allows the poor to get justice too and the judge usually decides to grant or deny the request without a hearing. I was familiar with the concept previously but it was interesting to see it spelled out.

The Conclusion

Anyway, the law is clear. If *anybody* is found to have harassed somebody in a way that deprives them of their constitutional rights, the law has the power to remedy it. People file these sorts of complaints every day in an attempt to get money to heal the damage to their lives in an effort to move on. It is a totally legitimate thing to do. However, the problem is with the chosen defendant. The judge had a real problem with whether or not the United States Courts have jurisdiction over Satan. He is not a citizen of the United States of America or its territories. He is not a resident of the district of Western Pennsylvania. The judge then got a little sassy and made a sly reference to The Devil and Daniel Webster’s argument that the Devil is a foreign prince and therefore has no standing in an American court. The judge quickly dismisses this as an “unofficial account”, though.

Finally, the judge denied Mayo’s in forma pauperis request. While the judge acknowledged that Mayo was indeed poor, there was another technical issue involved. Normally, when you file a complaint against somebody, you have to “serve” that person. In legal terms, serving means that you have to provide a copy of the complaint to the courts and the defendant. In normal circumstances, you have to pay for service, either by doing it yourself or by hiring a third party company to do it. When an in forma pauperis request is granted, the court agrees to perform service through the US Marshals office. The judge denied the request because Mayo failed to provide instructions on how the US Marshals could serve Satan with the complaint. I mean, does Satan even get mail? Does he show up predictably on Earth so he could be handed the documents? The judge had a point there.

While the end result is kind of silly, this case is a decent primer on two different legal concepts. The first is jurisdiction. Establishing jurisdiction is crucial when filing a case against somebody. It helps you decide whether you are filing in the correct court and whether or not that court has authority over the person being charged or filed against. The other concept is in forma pauperis which I have already explained above. It is an important tool that affords justice to those who might otherwise be powerless. It is a rule that seeks to counter the usual way of things which is “Money Buys Justice”. Of course, it is not to be used for frivolous lawsuits against defendants that do not exist.

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