A Federal Case Against the Devil


U.S. ex rel. Gerald Mayo v. Satan and his Staff

Memorandum Order

United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania
Weber, J.
Gerald Mayo, pro se
Misc. No. 5357

Plaintiff, alleging jurisdiction under 18 U.S.C. § 241, 28 U.S.C. § 1343, and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 prays for leave to file a complaint for violation of his civil rights in forma pauperis. He alleges that Satan has on numerous occasions caused plaintiff misery and unwarranted threats, against the will of plaintiff, that Satan has placed deliberate obstacles in his path and has caused plaintiff’s downfall.

Plaintiff alleges that by reason of these acts Satan has deprived him of his constitutional rights.

We feel that the application to file and proceed in forma pauperis must be denied. Even if plaintiff’s complaint reveals a prima facie recital of the infringement of the civil rights of a citizen of the United States, the Court has serious doubts that the complaint reveals a cause of action upon which relief can be granted by the court. We question whether plaintiff may obtain personal jurisdiction over the defendant in this judicial district. The complaint contains no allegation of residence in this district. While the official reports disclose no case where this defendant has appeared as defendant there is an unofficial account of a trial in New Hampshire where this defendant filed an action of mortgage foreclosure as plaintiff. The defendant in that action was represented by the preeminent advocate of that day, and raised the defense that the plaintiff was a foreign prince with no standing to sue in an American Court. This defense was overcome by overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Whether or not this would raise an estoppel in the present case we are unable to determine at this time.

If such action were to be allowed we would also face the question of whether it may be maintained as a class action. It appears to meet the requirements of Fed.R. of Civ.P. 23 that the class is so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable, there are questions of law and fact common to the class, and the claims of the representative party is [sic] typical of the claims of the class. We cannot now determine if the representative party will fairly protect the interests of the class.

We note that the plaintiff has failed to include with his complaint the required form of instructions for the United States Marshal for directions as to service of process.

For the foregoing reasons we must exercise our discretion to refuse the prayer of plaintiff to proceed in forma pauperis.

It is ordered that the complaint be given a miscellaneous docket number and leave to proceed in forma pauperis be denied.

Further Information

The opinion was published in 54 F.R.D. 282 (Federal Rules Decisions, vol. 54, pp. 282–283), including one headnote by the publisher stating, in the publisher’s editorial view, a holding of the court on the subject of Federal civil procedure, a headnote that refers to “Satan and his servants”. Some capitalization is inconsistent but is so in the original.

Lay explanations: “J.” after Weber’s name means ‘Judge’. A party who is “pro se” is self-represented, i.e., without a lawyer. “U.S.C.” is the United States Code, which states Federal statutes. “Fed.R. Civ.P.”, or Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, states rules applied in the Federal courts for civil cases; Fed.R. Civ.P. 23 is Rule 23 of those rules; there are other rules for criminal cases. In forma pauperis is the method for people who cannot afford to pay the costs of proceeding in court; if leave (which is permission) is granted to proceed in forma pauperis, the party can proceed with some or all costs waived by the court. A prima facie case is a case by one side which is sufficient for legal purposes provided that its allegations of fact are true, so that the truth of the allegations is yet to be determined. An estoppel prevents someone from taking some kinds of contradictory positions; for example, if you accept jurisdiction over yourself, you are estopped from later denying that you were subject to that jurisdiction.

Regarding service of process in this case, what the plaintiff had not provided was instruction on how the marshal was to deliver the paper to the Devil.

More seriously, it appears that Gerald Mayo was a prisoner in Pennsylvania. Other than that, I don’t know what happened to him since the case or, for that matter, before it, after I did only a superficial Google search. The judge was Gerald Weber, by no longer sitting on the bench. The plaintiff’s name appears to be rather common, and I don’t know if the plaintiff is the same person who was a plaintiff in a case nearly a quarter-century later filed by a prisoner, possibly a more legitimate case, which involved a consent decree.

I think I orginally learned of this case in an article or note in the New York University Law Review decades ago, written by two lawyers who were already providing services to pro se individuals in a Federal court-sponsored program in New York, N.Y. The case was cited as an example of the kinds of problems judges face when parties are unrepresented, another case being that of a prisoner who applied for a writ of habeas corpus, a Constitutionally-referenced writ usually petitioned for to gain release from custody or for an improvement in custodial conditions, if either is required by law, but in this case the prisoner was asking for a double strawberry malted and other things. There are, according to other sourcing, many applications by unrepresented prisoners who are illiterate, lack professional counsel, and are offered assistance by other prisoners who are not well-intentioned or are incompetent, typically for some kind of compensation, and who make requests backed by alleged cases with case names like Mickey Mouse v. Donald Duck, leaving the petitioner with their claim extinguished and, often because of the legal principle of res judicata, not allowed to try again. Most prisoners probably do not have legitimate claims, at least not for release, but a few likely do, and such untutored applications damage their already-tenuous chances.