Stella Case No. 110, Originally Published: 12 July 2006
Lots of people look like celebrities. Some turn their looks into a career, making personal appearances at parties and events. Some enjoy the spillover of fame. Some are annoyed. And some are really, really irritated.
Allen Ray Heckard, 51, is one of the latter. The Portland, Oregon, man says he looks a lot like former basketball star Michael Jordan, even though he’s 3 inches shorter, 25 pounds lighter, and 8 years older. But, like Jordan, he shaves his head and wears a pierced earring on the left side.
“Don’t get me wrong, it’s definitely a positive thing,” Heckard said in an interview. “Because Michael, like I say, is one of the best ballplayers that I’ve known to play the game. But then again, that’s Michael and I’m me.”
Right: Michael is an incredible athlete — an Olympic gold medal winner — who makes huge money lending his name to endorse products like Nike shoes. And Heckard is an ex-con (from a drug conviction), an airport shuttle driver, and auto detailer. Jordan played for the Chicago Bulls; Heckard lives in Oregon. Still, Heckard says, it’s “distressing” to be confused with Jordan, so he has filed a lawsuit.
Apparently, Heckard didn’t find any lawyers who would take his case seriously, so he filed his typo-laden suit “pro se” — on his own, without a lawyer — in Oregon’s Circuit Court for the County of Washington. The suit names Michael Jordan and Phil Knight, the co-founder of Nike, as defendants.
So what in the world could be the basis for such a lawsuit? “I… bring this suit… on the ground of defamation by subjecting heckard to harassment of disconfort of unplesant feelings, and permanent injury by denying heckard the right to live a normal life,” his suit reads — verbatim, including misspellings and the lack of capitalization of his own name. “Heckard base his legal claim on the fact that Michael Jordan high profile life style with the contributed of Phil H. Knight help has infected an injury upon his life style that, according to every reasonable probability, will continue throughout the remainder of his life.”
Heckard complains that whenever he goes out in public, “people are continally on a daily base harassing him of looking like Michael Jordan. Thses unpleasant feeling from the public has trouble heckard nerves and denied him the right to a peace of mind for at least 15-years or more.”
So what does the Nike founder have to do with this? “Since Phil H. Knight signed Michael Jordan to a lucrative endorsement contract, give him his own television commercial and shoe, blow him up larger than life, now people are continually harassing heckard of looking like Michael Jordan on a daily base.”
That, he says, “has cause heckard to suffer pain and stress, mentally, and emotionally due to the harassment from the public of harassing him of looking like Michael Jordan.”
Well gee, what would fix that terrible problem that so many other enjoy or even profit from? Money, of course, and lots of it: “Heckard request the Court to grant compensatory damage against Michael Jordan in the amount of $52,000,000.00 dollars for defamation and permanent injury” — plus “Punitive damage for emotional pain and suffering in the amount of 364,000,000.00″ (presumably dollars). That’s right: $52 million for actual damages plus $364 million in punitive damages, or $416 million. From Jordan alone. He asks the same from Knight, for a grand total of $832 million.
“We don’t believe the suit to have merit and will move to dismiss it,”
said a Nike spokeswoman.
Yeah, the suit is obviously stupid. Yeah, it’ll obviously be thrown out. But yeah, Jordan and Knight have to hire lawyers to get it thrown out. What a pathetic waste of time, money, and court attention.
- “Man Didn’t Ask to Be like Mike, So He’s Suing”, Portland Oregonian, 8 July 2006,
- Lawsuit Filing, Heckard v. Jordan and Knight, Civil Case #C062274CV, 29 June 2006.
Well, the case didn’t last very long. Within a month Heckard announced he would, with help from a lawyer representing Jordan and Knight(!), file a “stipulated judgment of dismissal.”
Heckard didn’t say why he was dropping the case, but a Nike spokesman said Heckard “finally realized he would end up paying our court costs if the lawsuit went to trial.” No doubt that was explained carefully by the defendants’ lawyer.
Source: “Man Throws in Towel on Jordan Lawsuit”, Portland Oregonian, 1 August 2006.
My 2022 Thoughts on the Case
Heckard “wins” because he’s the epitome of what most people feel the Stella Awards are all about: someone who had no valid claim whatever who thought his lot in life (awwww, he looked a bit like a well-respected sports star!) was worthy of huge (nearly a billion bucks!) damages.
Comments and Letters
A reader had a question/suggestion brought forth by readers several times in the past —
Don in New York: “I am greatly amused, though also saddened, by your column. After reading the latest, I thought I’d do a Yahoo lookup on the people reported on. Not surprisingly, many seem to be unlisted — at least by Yahoo. Hopefully some are in jail or have left the country. Anyway, given that you clearly have some research tools you’re using, I thought it might be useful to include stuff like [the plaintiffs’] address, phone number, place of employment, email, etc. My sense is you’re writing this not simply for our amusement, so you might want to make it a bit easier for us to let these people — and their bosses and neighbors — know how we feel.”
I’m writing for amusement and to give people real information about what’s really going on in our courts so they can form an opinion about it all, decide whether it’s right or wrong, and then work to change the system with careful tweaks in how it works to ensure we don’t screw it up for people who have a legitimate beef.
I’m not writing the stories in order for strangers to accost or harass each other by mail — “e” or snail. While it’s “wrong” to abuse the courts, it’s also wrong to harass others. Not only is it true that “two wrongs don’t make a right,” it’s fairly foolish to commit what are probably federal crimes against people who have demonstrated an inclination to sue others!
True Stella Awards Case No. 109 about the child run over and killed by his day care operator (or, at least, her husband) brought a lot of mail, but none better than a minor who has a lot more common sense and wisdom than most people involved in the case.
Emma in Maryland is only 14 years old: “As a babysitter, I was first shocked by what happened, the carelessness of the caretakers, and that the caretakers were not sued in the end. I took the Red Cross training course when I was 11 or 12 and one of the most-stressed points was about leaving young children alone. I think there are many places you could put the blame — on the caretakers for being irresponsible, on the parents for choosing inadequate caretakers, etc. But the lawn mower’s manufacturer?? That’s a very sad story, but it’s a shame that the family cares so much about money that they have to sue someone. I sympathize with them, but they seem to be just suing out of revenge/greed to get as much money as possible. Mostly greed — if they really wanted to avenge the child’s death, they would sue the caretakers. It’s a shame that this is what some people have come to, taking their sorrows into a court. Wastes time on things which actually need to be decided on — which is the point of Stella Awards, I know.”
See what I mean by common sense? Or really, as I put it in my podcast title, Uncommon Sense. (Yeah, the podcast is irregular in its schedule, but if you haven’t listened to it, I highly recommend starting with the first episode. It’ll take you a bit to catch up.) Meanwhile, I hope Emma is still one of my readers.
Mark in Ontario, Canada: “There is no greater loss than the loss of a child. But where is the grief counseling that helps to bring these people back to reality? It can be so easy to say ‘if only…’ and cast it in a thousand directions. If only the mower didn’t operate when it moves backwards. If only it had been raining, they wouldn’t have been cutting the grass. If only we had stayed home with the kids that day. If only… If only… Where do you draw the line? I can only wonder: when the $2 million runs out and the pain remains, what will the parents do then?”
Miriam in Florida: “Perhaps most offensive of all is the suggestion that $6 million vs. $100,000 will somehow better compensate for an infinite loss. I tried imagining myself in their shoes. An approximation of justice, for me, would be the assurance that the Reedys would never again have the opportunity to care for someone else’s child. Then, honoring my son’s memory, I would (hopefully) immediately try to move on and make a meaningful life for myself and my family.”
Jonathan in Oregon: “Naturally, we know that the only true winners here were the lawyers. The award of such an enormous amount to the Simmonses from a company who had no fault in their tragedy is ludicrous. Unfortunately for all of us, it won’t be terrorists who do us in, but greedy individuals, corporations, attorneys and the ignorant public who make it impossible to do anything but wall ourselves off from everything and everyone just to be safe.”
I’m amazed that the next writer could bring herself to read the story.
Leanne in Michigan,: “I had a son that died in a daycare. Honestly, I sued not to get any money but to find out what really happened that day. So this could also be the case with the Simmons. When are safety devices ever designed? Usually when an incident has happened and not before. Why are most safety devices placed on items? To prevent those incidents because there are negligent, stupid people out there. If my child died by any type of machinery, from negligence or not, I would sue the manufacturer to wake them up to the fact that a safety device needs to be designed for that machine to prevent any more incidents. If the manufacturer currently had a safety device on newer machinery then I would not sue.”
And indeed, I got a somewhat incorrect impression from the newspaper report about such safety devices. While it had not been invented at the time the mower in this case was manufactured, the device is now common on mowers. Sort of. Read on.
Brendan in California: “I bought a new riding mower last spring. While describing the operation of one of the riding mowers the salesman pointed out the safety switch. All the mowers I looked at, including the one I eventually bought, had a safety shut-off switch. This switch will automatically shut the blades off when the lawnmower goes in reverse. (However, because cutting in reverse is a very handy option, if not necessary at times, the riding mowers can be set to cut in reverse, in my case by turning the key to the correct position and pressing a button after turning on the blades.) The salesman told me this switch was put on all riding mowers last year because a man had run over his child while mowing in reverse and sued the company.”
Tony, a tech in Illinois who repairs mowers, confirms that — but with a caveat.
“The safety device that the Simmons’ sued for not being installed is now installed on all of the tractors I repair, kind of. What they ‘invented’ is a switch that kills the motor whenever the tractor is shifted into reverse. If the tractor was to just roll backward as stated in the original case, this device wouldn’t help. The manufacturer also added another position on the ignition switch. The operator can switch to this position and the tractor will continue to run when shifted into reverse. What they don’t tell the consumer is this key switch position does not allow the battery its normal charging, and after a couple of mows the battery is dead and I get called and have to explain the system to the owner. I tell customers every day the first 12 pages of your owners manual is the litigation pages. Every one of the warning is because someone did something stupid and the manufacturer had to write a warning to cover themselves from frivolous lawsuits.”
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