By: Rob Harris
In an article titled “TV host goes on epic rant about airlines losing his clubs,” Golf Digest’s Joel Beall regales us with the annotated Twitter feed of Roland Martin, as he became increasingly upset at the prospect of having to play in a golf outing with George Lopez while his clubs were MIA courtesy of American Airlines.
Take heart, Mr. Martin. You’re not alone. The obsession known as golf has taken over many a soul. I share with you, Mr. Beal, Mr. Lopez, American Airlines and all others the unfortunate saga of Henry W. Jessup, about whom I first posted on Golf Dispute Resolution five years ago. The year was 1911 and Mr. Jessup, a Princeton alum and noted New York City attorney, found himself on Long Island, looking forward to a competitive round of golf.
Occurring before the advent of Twitter, we lack a contemporaneous record of the events as they unfolded, yet the court admirably captured the agony enveloping Mr. Jessup. I encourage you to read the following aloud, slowly, to fully grasp the despair surrounding Attorney Jessup:
“Plaintiff testified that on the 15th day of July, 1911, he broke his Tom Morris cleek, a club which had been shaped to suit his peculiar idiosyncrasies as a golf player, in the use of which club he had attained great proficiency; that, upon offering the broken club for shipment to defendant’s agent, he stated to the agent that he was in trouble; that his golf was spoiled and his club was broken; that he was on his vacation, was soon to play a match game, and he wanted the club shipped at once, so that it might be repaired and immediately returned. Defendant’s agent furnished plaintiff with twine and tags, and plaintiff tied a tag to the club in defendant’s office and wrote on the tag the address of the consignee. Defendant’s agent then accepted the club and forwarded it to New York the same day. It is conceded that reasonable time for a shipment to reach New York was one day. Upon delivering the club for shipment, plaintiff sent an order to the consignee to immediately repair and return it to him at Montrose. On the eighteenth of July, plaintiff went to the express company, and was told that the club had not arrived. He telegraphed to New York, and received an answer that it had not been delivered to the consignee. On the nineteenth of July, he communicated with the agent of the defendant and asked him to telegraph to New York, but the agent stated that he would make the report in the usual way. Plaintiff then wrote a letter setting forth the facts, and delivering it to the defendant’s agent, who attached a copy to his way-bill and statement in regard to the matter, and mailed it to the claim agent in New York. In the letter, plaintiff requested the immediate tracing and return of the cleek, and stated that the matter was urgent; that the use of the cleek was worth five dollars a day to him, and that he could not play without it.
“On July twenty-fifth, the club not having been delivered, and plaintiff having received no reply to his previous letter, he again wrote the defendant company urging them to forward his club, stating that it was a very expensive club to start with; that he had been offered very many times what he had paid for it; that, as a result of numerous experiments, he had finally reshafted the iron so as to make it one of the most powerful clubs he had ever seen, capable of driving 225 yards; that with it he was able to play the drive and second shot with the same club, which was an enormous advantage; that it could not be duplicated; and that on the following Saturday he had to play a match game, and could not do without this club. The letter was delivered by plaintiff’s representative to an authorized agent of the defendant, who replied: “We have not yet taken the matter up.” On July twenty-seventh, the plaintiff came to New York to look for his club, expending about twelve dollars and seventy-five cents for traveling expenses, and two dollars and twenty-five cents in the purchase of a suitable club, which turned out to be entirely unsatisfactory. The club shipped by plaintiff was finally found and delivered to the consignee on July twenty-ninth, fourteen days after its delivery to the defendant. Plaintiff now sues to recover, by reason of defendant’s negligence, the expenses necessarily incurred by him in searching for his club, and the value of the use of the club during the time he was deprived of such use.”
With no ability to Twitter-shame the offending delivery company, Attorney Jessup took to another channel–the proverbial lawsuit. Imagine next the sadness, the pain, the victimization felt by Attorney Jessup when, after convincing the court that he was wronged, the judge granted damages in the amount of $0.01.
So, Attorney Jessup plowed on. He appealed. And finally, justice was served. As the appellate court ruled:
“The trial judge, learned in all things but golf, has evidently misconceived this case and treated it in a spirit of levity not at all warranted by the facts.
“The judgment in favor of plaintiff for one cent and costs was not in accord with the evidence and did not properly or adequately represent plaintiff’s damage. He is entitled to recover moneys necessarily expended by him in searching for the property wrongfully detained, and the $2.25 expended in purchasing a new club, less its value after use, upon plaintiff’s return from his vacation … and, so far as the same may be established by competent proof, the reasonable value of the use of the club detained during the period of its wrongful detention.”
Even here, however, the overdue victory was muddled by the dissenting voice of Judge Lehman, who, in fairness, acknowledged that he didn’t understand the compulsion that is golf:
“Though, like the trial justice, I am not learned in golf, my acquaintance with golf players leaves no doubt in my mind but that the failure to deliver to the plaintiff a golf club to which he was attached substantially deprived him of the enjoyment of his vacation. It is, therefore, in no spirit of levity but rather in a spirit of sympathy that I have reached the conclusion that, while the award of one cent damages can in no degree compensate him for his loss of pleasure, it is not in any legal sense inadequate. The law gives to the plaintiff no balm for his outraged feelings but merely attempts to reimburse him for the value of the use of the club during the time when he was wrongfully deprived of its use. The rental value during the interim would ordinarily furnish a full and sufficient compensation, but I am informed by my associates learned in golf as in all other things that when a golfer has found a club peculiarly adapted to his own physique and style the value of the use of that club cannot be estimated by its rental value to some other person, for no real golfer could be content with golf clubs picked out at random.
“It would rather appear that such clubs have no rental value, and that if the plaintiff is limited to the recovery of the rental value then the trial justice correctly awarded merely nominal damages. It is true that the rental value is ordinarily adopted as the measure of damages merely because it does ordinarily furnish an adequate compensation for deprivation of use, but where the article is of a peculiar nature so that no substitute can be rented, and the deprivation of its use causes peculiar injury to the owner, he is entitled in a case where notice of its peculiar character and use was given to show its actual value to him. The plaintiff is entitled to the benefit of this rule, but on analysis of the injury suffered by the plaintiff and of the value of the club to him I find only injury to his feelings and value only as adding to his enjoyment, and these are elements of which our law, the creature of a materialistic age and race, takes no account.”