“The Incredibles” made this point (Dec. 2 and links therein), but, with the critical and box-office success of the comic-book movie “Batman Begins,” it’s worth exploring how today’s litigation culture would make sequels impossible in real life. (Lots of spoilers after the jump.)
The entire movie could be a “spot-the-issues” law school exam. And not just the easy ones, like Bruce Wayne getting prosecuted for arson for allegedly burning down his mansion.
- Batman will find himself a civil, if not a criminal, defendant for the excessive force he used in capturing bad guys. He’ll also be sued for the destruction wrought by the Batmobile on millions of dollars of public property.
- If the September 11 litigation against Motorola is any clue, Wayne Industries will be sued as a deep pocket for their role in manufacturing a microwave beam that was used with catastrophic consequences. They’ll probably also face suits for the damage to buildings caused by the collapsing monorail, as plaintiffs’ lawyers hold a press conference asking why was it so necessary to have the monorail located many dozens of stories above the ground instead of three or four like other cities? “It’s not about the money. We just want to send a message to corporations not to risk public safety for mere aesthetics.”
- As these suits come to light, the stock price will drop, and shareholders will sue Wayne Industries and its directors and officers for failure to disclose the potential liability from the microwave beam.
- Aha, you say, but Bruce Wayne bought up all of the stock at the end of the movie. This just guarantees that he’ll be named as a civil co-defendant, and accused of conspiring to engage in stock-price manipulation.
- Bruce Wayne has other securities law problems. By using front buyers to purchase more than 5% of the publicly-traded Wayne Inustries without disclosing his controlling role as a beneficial owner, and then taking over the corporation, he has violated multiple provisions of the Williams Act, the only securities law named after a convicted felon, and is subject to federal criminal penalties, as well as civil lawsuits.
- Richard Earle’s firing could not have been accomplished without his knowledge unless Wayne had held a Board of Directors meeting without notice (and how could he, since he’s not on the Board? And why would the Board acquiesce?) Or Bruce Wayne reconstituted the Board of the company when he secretly took it private, which almost certainly violated the corporation’s existing by-laws and articles of incorporation regarding director selection. It’s hard to imagine that Richard Earle, the fired CEO of Wayne Industries, who had run the company for at least 27 years, give or take, would simply relinquish his high-paying job under such suspicious circumstances without suit or threat of suit.
- If the City of Gotham had problems before, lawyers will attempt to bankrupt it, asking courts to hold the city liable for the role of corrupt police in the Ras-al-Ghoul scheme. Witness the bogus “Notorious B.I.G.” suit currently taking place in California, where the rapper’s family is asking for $100 million from the city of Los Angeles on the conspiracy theory that a corrupt cop was the one who murdered the rapper.
- Separately, Wayne’s escapades would never have been possible in the first place if there had been an estate tax: otherwise, his wealth would’ve been dissipated by the government by two successive taxations on the Wayne Estate, one when his parents died, the other when Alfred declared him dead and inherited Bruce’s assets.