“This is, like, one of my biggest pet peeves.”
— Brandon Vezmar
“While damages sought are modest, the principle is important as defendant’s behavior is a threat to civilized society.”
— Movie texting lawsuit
A few months ago, my wife and I took the kids to see a movie at the Strand. It had already been out for a few weeks so it had been moved up to the balcony theater. (Note: the balcony theater at the Strand, the only one not to have been upgraded, is scheduled to undergo a major renovation this fall.)
We were several rows back from the screen and enjoying the first few minutes of the movie when a woman in front of us took out her cell phone, brightly illuminating the entire area.
That same moviegoer continued to check her cell phone every few minutes for the entire length of the film. Each time she did, she blinded everyone around her, whose eyes had adjusted to movie theater darkness. It’s entirely possible, of course, that this theater patron was waiting for important news about a loved one, or had some other compelling reason for checking her phone.
But a similar experience by a Texas moviegoer, who knew that there was no good reason for obsessive phone use, has now led to a most unusual small claims court action.
Brandon Vezmar, 37, told the Austin American Statesman newspaper that he really hates it when people use their phones during a movie. That’s why he was appalled when a first date trip to a movie theater ended up with him asking his date to go out to lobby because she was obsessively texting on her phone.
Once the movie was over, he asked her to repay him the money he spent on tickets. She refused, and he has now filed a small claims court action against her seeking the whopping sum of $17.31 in damages.
The suit seems humorous at first glance, but Vezmar’s date, who the newspaper chose not to name, says that his behavior in the theater was bizarre and made her ‘extremely uncomfortable’. She says she eventually chose to leave on her own because she was worried for her own safety and that she is now considering filing for a civil protection order against Vezmar.
This is by no means the first example of a lawsuit arising from movie-going activities. Back in 2012 a Michigan man filed a class-action lawsuit against AMC Theaters alleging that their policy prohibiting outside food being brought into theaters violated Michigan’s consumer protection act. His case was thrown out in 2013 when a judge ruled that the act didn’t cover theater popcorn.
That was actually the second time a court in that state up north had rejected a movie lawsuit on those grounds. The year before, a woman had sued the movie distribution company
FilmDistrict on the grounds that the trailer for the Ryan Gosling film ‘Drive’ was misleading and did not accurately portray the movie. She lost too, but her lawyer attempted to revive the lawsuit in federal court in January of this year, now alleging a vast conspiracy that included AMC Theaters, Apple, Google, Amazon.com, Netflix, Sony Pictures and Albert Brooks.
In an odd coincidence, some brief research for this column revealed that a phone conference on the defendants’ motion to dismiss that action is actually scheduled today.
This past January a California moviegoer sued Nestle alleging that nearly half of the movie-sized box of Raisinetes was empty ‘slack-fill’. Also filed as a class-action lawsuit, the plaintiff voluntarily dismissed that case back in March, though it could be filed again.
So if you’re heading to the Strand anytime soon, enjoy the best popcorn east of the Mississippi, go ahead and have some Raisinettes (although I’m partial to Reese’s Pieces, myself) and please, please, put your cell phone away (or go to the lobby to use it).
David Hejmanowski is Judge of the Probate/Juvenile Division of the Delaware County Delaware County Court of Common Pleas.