096: Watch While I Pull a Rabbit out of This Hat

Stella Case No. 096, Originally Published: 2 November 2005

Professional magicians mystify us and entertain us. From Houdini to Henning to who knows who is up-and-coming, we marvel at their sleight of hand and wonder how they did it.

Christopher Roller of Burnsville, Minnesota, wonders too. He wonders so much that he has sued two of the best-known names in magic demanding that they reveal their secrets to him: David Blaine and David Copperfield.

Roller says that if Blaine and Copperfield show him their tricks “with scientific principals [sic] that don’t defy laws of physics” — and allow him to “imitate/copy in slow motion” as they do it — and, if in his judgement there is a “worldly” explanation for their tricks, he will drop the suits. But he’s fairly confident that they cannot do the tricks with mere worldly power, because they are surely using “godly” powers to do their tricks. And that, he says, is the basis for his suits, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota this summer.

How’s that? Roller argues, with apparent seriousness, that if the magicians’ powers are godly, then they stole that power from him. Um, how’s that? “I am deity,” he says, “a messenger of god.” And since the magicians are using, in Roller’s opinion, godly powers to perform tricks, that’s coming through his special channel to god (er, I guess that would be some god higher than himself) — and they don’t have his permission to do that. Thus, he says, he deserves 10 percent of their earnings because their magical ability was taken from him. “I am the guy responsible for his powers,” he says, not specifying which magician(s) he’s referring to.

Roller, from his web site (more on that below).

So is Roller saying Blaine and Copperfield somehow saw him perform tricks somewhere, and stole them? Nope: Roller says he’s not a magician himself, and does not perform. “I am a programmer and a writer,” he admits. “I have my own Internet software I sell.”

But he’s serious about the lawsuits. “I would not go to federal court just to pull somebody’s leg,” he insists. No, but he would go to federal court to pull someone’s wallet: the suit against Blaine, for instance, asks for “over $2,000,000” because somehow, “David Blaine has been using my godly powers to perform his magic.”

Apparently Copperfield has made more money from Roller’s god-powers. A lot more: Roller wants $50 million from him. In the Copperfield suit, which is similarly brief, Roller notes— well, let me simply quote it in its entirety. You better sit down for this one.

David Copperfield has been using my godly powers to perform his magic. This is a labor dispute in accordance with Minn Statute 179.06 for past/future commission compensation.

[My web site] explains my life and my journey to godliness. I believe David Copperfield has been using my godly powers to perform his magic.

We’ve all seen clips of UFO videos. They dance around in the sky at the speed of thought. So we know that godly powers can coexist on planet Earth. Godly powers means using thought to control actions/results, usually defying explanation and laws of physics. I believe magicians have also been granted godly powers by me somehow, but they have been keeping it a secret and keeping the credits from me.

If David has godly powers, then he must be using my powers. That, or I need detailed explanation (in person) of how he does his tricks, performed/explained in the courtroom (complete confidentiality), and I will leave him alone if I’m wrong – i.e. tricks/illusions are done conventionally. I’ve politely asked David, via email, to show me how his tricks are done, with no response.

If godly, I want back-pay compensation – 10% past/future career earnings. Estimating 10% of past career earnings of over $50,000,000.

That’s the entire lawsuit. (Can you tell he wrote it himself without the aid of an attorney?) It cost Roller “like $250” to file it in Federal court, but at least he didn’t do it until he “politely asked” “David” to reveal his trade secrets to a complete stranger, and didn’t get a reply.

If Roller is so godly and Blaine and Copperfield are using his powers to perform magic, then how come he doesn’t already know how to do the tricks? Unfortunately, there’s no room for common sense in his argument.

Some of Copperfield’s lawyers’ response to the court is worthy of quotation too:

Seeing as how Roller has never worked for Copperfield in any capacity anywhere ever and has no relation to Copperfield whatsoever, he has no claim currently nor could he ever have any employment or labor claim against Copperfield. Plaintiff’s Complaint is best described as a claim for usurpation of Godly powers, which as this Court is aware, is beyond the jurisdiction of this Court or any court of this earth.

(Keep going: it gets even better.)

Defendant respectfully urges the Court to visit Plaintiff’s website…. Therein Plaintiff makes the following claims including:

  • Plaintiff is running for President of the United States in 2008 with Bill Gates as his running mate.
  • Plaintiff claims he is Jesus Christ.
  • Plaintiff claims he is God.
  • Plaintiff claims that [NBC news host] Katie Couric and [singer] Celine Dion are his wives and are going to have his children.
  • Plaintiff claims there is a movie coming out soon about his life that stars Tom Hanks.
  • Plaintiff claims he has killed all of his enemies.
  • Plaintiff claims he will father 1,000,000 babies.
Visit his web site? OK, I did! (via Archive.org) Here’s a tiny snippet from April 2005 to give you an idea. (Click to see larger.)

While most people would simply call Roller a nutball and roll their eyes, that Just Won’t Do in a court of law. Rather, they just point out a few facts and let the judge come to his own conclusion.

But the formal response is indeed the time and place to ask the judge to dismiss the suit, and they do: “Accordingly,” Copperfield’s response concludes, “dismissal with prejudice is warranted.” (“With prejudice” means Roller would be enjoined from refiling the suit again, even if he amends it.)

In federal courts, there is a procedural rule about frivolous lawsuits and motions — Rule 11. When that rule is invoked, the judge can award damages against the frivolous action. No doubt wanting to get the suit over with as soon as possible, Copperfield’s attorneys have not asked for such damages, but there’s a clear warning to Roller in the response:

Without waiving its right to later do so, it should be noted that Defendant has not brought a Rule 11 motion at this time despite ample grounds to do so. Obviously, to the extent Plaintiff were to continue to pursue his “claim” herein, Defendant may be forced to seek sanctions under Rule 11 in order to deter Plaintiff from the repetition of such conduct.

Yes, on the one hand the whole thing is funny, but on the other hand it’s also awfully sad. The victims of the suits are reasonably rich men, and they can afford to hire good attorneys to fight back.

But what if the defendant were, say, you? Then you would have to hire an attorney (or two, like Copperfield) to fight back, and you may not be a rich celebrity with the money to do that. You might have to take out a second mortgage on your house to afford it, and take time off work to brief the attorney on what’s going on so he can protect you.

Copperfield’s attorney didn’t demand “Rule 11” compensation to pay the magician back for the money spent fighting this junk, but why should that be necessary? When cases are this ridiculous, it should simply happen anyway in a sort of court-ordered magic trick.

And Presto! Maybe that would have stopped Roller from filing the second suit …or maybe even the first one.

Sources

  • “‘God’s Messenger’ Sues for a Big Piece on Earth”, Minneapolis Star Tribune, 14 June 2005.
  • Lawsuit filing against David Copperfield (quoted above), date unclear.
  • “Defendant’s Memorandum in Support of its Motion to Dismiss”, Court Filing, 15 June 2005.

Case Status

You’ll be shocked (shocked!) to learn Roller kept fighting. He filed an amended complaint to increase his odds (from none to a tiny shade more than none), which kept the case going for another two years.

Two parts are particularly notable. First, as Copperfield’s attorneys threatened, they applied for sanctions against Roller, and were modest about it, only asking for fees and costs — “as well as an order barring Roller from filing further lawsuits in this District.”

Second, the judge wrote that “Judge Richard H. Kyle … recently addressed this concern in another case, Roller v. The James Randi Educational Foundation. No. 06-4702 (D.Minn.). Like the current case, it involved allegations of godlike powers and far-reaching conspiracies. By an order on September 28, 2007, Judge Kyle barred Roller from filing any further complaints

“regarding claims or allegations against any defendant similar to those alleged in the complaint, without the signature of an attorney admitted to practice before this Court or prior leave of an appointed judicial officer of the federal court of Minnesota.

“(Emphasis in text.)”

She continues:

“Being duly advised of all the files, records, and proceedings herein, IT IS HEREBY RECOMMENDED THAT:

1. Copperfield’s motion to dismiss (Doc. No. 2) be GRANTED.
2. Copperfield’s motion for sanctions (Doc. No. 12) be DENIED.
3. All claims in this litigation be DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.
4. All other nondispositive motions (Doc. Nos. 19, 26) be DENIED AS MOOT.
5. This case be closed and judgment entered.

JEANNE GRAHAM, Magistrate Judge”

And I believe that has to be where it ended, and the Blaine case ended the same way.

Source: “Opinion”, Roller v. David Copperfield’s Disappearing, Inc., Civil No. 07-1182 (JNE/JJG). 20 November 2007.

My 2021 Thoughts on the Case

For all of Roller’s protestations about rights and intellectual property, you may be amused to know the domain name he used: MyTrumanShow.com, after the 1995 Jim Carrey film. But don’t go there: he didn’t renew the domain at some point and now it’s a Chinese site.

Oh, but that’s about him too: “I am the True Man in The Truman Show. The movie was made because of me.” he says on the front page of his site later. There’s a psychological syndrome named for such a feeling.

And then below that, a disclaimer of sorts:

This entire site is not based on reality. To some (comedian/psychiatrist/insane/psycho/sci-fi geek?), it is ~fact. You know who you are. To the rest, it is not reality and can be taken as a funny funny joke I’m conducting and will continue. Do play along though, and confess your sins. I crack myself up. By the way, magic and supernatural does not exist in reality. Any mention of it on this website is part of the fantasy I’m portraying.

Not based on reality? You don’t say!

You might wonder if he’s insane. But really, even if so it doesn’t matter: he still caused a lot of bother and expense for other to fight off his irrational lawsuits, because if they don’t fight back, he would win by default. And that’s the real tragedy of True Stella Awards cases.

Letters

The letters for Case #95, of the woman who sued her rescuers.

Bill in California: “I read with some alarm about the women who wound up suing everyone in sight a few months after her profuse proclamations of gratitude after being pulled from a submerged vehicle and revived. Having been a volunteer fireman, and being someone who stops at accidents to see if I can be of help, the thought of possibly being sued is pretty sobering. California has a ‘Good Samaritan Law’ that is supposed to protect from this sort of garbage. At the extreme stretch of empathy I can see maybe suing the son-in-law for reckless driving. Who knows? Maybe he did something that was a factor in the accident happening. The most probable truth is that she’s found her moment of opportunity to collect some quick settlements and is going to cash in. If she’s successful, God help the next poor soul that needs fire & rescue services around there. They’ll probably arrive at the scene with Release of Liability statements to be signed before acting.”

Anthony in ACT, Australia: “Sadly, suing one’s rescuers is becoming common in my country as well. I recently completed a First Aid course and heard a number of stories where first aid personnel with decades of experience have to think twice when they see someone in distress. There have been times when they cover up their first aid kit in their car. They don’t like it, but there have been too many of these cases bought by people who have no idea what a civil society is and what it takes to maintain one.”

If you get into an accident, do you want someone to help you? Especially when they’ve actually had training in how to do it right? The more of this type of suit, the less likely anyone will stop and help you. Think about it! Would you do it knowing you could be sued?

Liza, a physician in Kentucky: “Is there a legal defense fund for the rescuers? I’d like to send a contribution if there is.”

I don’t know the answer to that. But rather than my trying to focus the attention of the entire TSA readership on this case, I’ll urge you to check with your local rescue squad. They may be volunteers, or (as in this case) cops who take on an additional (and very hazardous) duty. Do they need equipment that their strained budget can’t afford? Are they facing similar liability issues? If you want to help, they’ll probably be grateful for yours, and you’ll be helping your own community in the process.

One more “pro” letter before I get to the other side.

Marc, a surgeon in Illinois: “[The case] made me seethe. It also recalled my own experience with a similar situation. A 65-year-old woman with a bleeding ulcer came through the ER. As we put her to sleep, her blood pressure was 60/0 — 5 minutes delay on our part and she would have died. She survived without any complication and left the hospital 8 days later. Two years later with no symptoms during the interval, she developed an adhesion due to internal scarring and which was totally unpreventable, which caused partial bowel obstruction and necessitated a second operation. She tried to sue me, but could not find a doctor who would say that anything I had done was wrong. The lawyer for my insurance company wanted to pay her lawyer a token $5-7,000, but I refused to approve it. It was one of the factors that led me to change from General Surgery to doing Hair Transplants. The patients I give hair to are far more grateful than the ones whose lives I saved.”

Sorry, Marc, but I have to say it: it’s because of this garbage that a talented emergency surgeon gave up his practice and switched to vanity hair transplants. That, dear readers, is what frivolous lawsuits are doing to this country, and it’s spreading around the world. Is this really what we as a society want? Again, think about it. This is why I think my book is so important. This has to stop!

But not everyone agrees with this reasoning.

Allan, an attorney in Michigan: “It is not absurd to hold the rescuers liable for taking arguably unnecessary time in a life threatening situation before donning their rescue gear; of course, they have no obligation to put their own lives at risk. But the law is settled that, even if you have no duty to rescue, once you volunteer for the job, you must act without negligence and especially without increasing the risk of harm to the victim (e.g., if by showing up, but then wasting time putting on gear you should have been readying while traveling — these guys all have a partner who drives the vehicle — you have inhibited other folks from venturing to the rescue, you have put the victim at greater risk. Most places grant such official rescuers some form of statutory immunity; that has its own unfairness — instead of making society responsible for the shortcomings of government, and spreading the costs over all taxpayers, it makes random innocent victims bear the entire loss; here, you would have the victim bear the entire cost of the damages she suffered by being rescued too slowly. Apparently there is no such immunity wherever this incident occurred; thus, the Legislature has consented that common law liability of this type may continue to be enforced. Is this strange? Clearly wrong? Absurd? I think not. Nor is it inconsistent for the victim to express (for which we have only hearsay reports as to what her daughter claims she said) gratitude for those who tried to help — which included unofficial rescuers, according to your story, who are not being sued — while also seeking recompense for the unnecessary exacerbations to her problems that their negligence caused (and bear in mind she has to prove her claims, i.e., that they did act too slowly, and could and should have acted more promptly without significant risk to themselves; you too often take umbrage at claims, but here, if she proves her claims, I see nothing amiss with allowing her to recoup the consequential damages from those whose negligence contributed thereto.”

Attorney Allan isn’t a nutcase; he’s a long-time TSA reader who has commented on cases before.

I’ll take issue with a couple of things: not every rescue person has a driver. One of the reasons I’m sensitive to this case is I am a volunteer first responder where I live. In clear sunny weather, it takes 20-25 minutes for an ambulance to get to my house in an emergency. Snowy and dark? Add more time. So when a neighbor calls for help, I roll. And I’m often by myself; no driver. The rescue divers in the case write-up are cops; it’s very likely they don’t have drivers either. And even if they did, how safe would it be to change into a wetsuit while your driver is speeding to a crash? Indeed, they WOULD be “putting their own lives at risk.”

The bottom line is, we want rescuers to help us. If, and only if, they do something that’s negligent and create harm should they be at risk of being sued. And I just don’t see either of those requirements as being met in this case.

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4 Comments on “096: Watch While I Pull a Rabbit out of This Hat

  1. I am amazed the Judge denied Copperfield’s request to be reimbursed for costs and fees. I’d not only have granted, I’d have tripled. And yes. I do know the physics behind most of Copperfield’s act. Most of them are easy to figure out.

    Reply
  2. Well, Randy, you let me down. I thought for sure somewhere in this story I’d find the phrase “Holy Roller.”

    What, and rob you of the joy of coming up with something clever on your own?! -rc

    Reply
  3. There is a bit more to Roller’s Godly Powers, a patent application.

    Indeed I did not know about that! Roller did file for a patent on his “Godly Powers”, which can be viewed in Google Patents. It was filed in July 2005, its “First worldwide family litigation filed” in February 2007 (hopefully someone with patent knowledge will explain what that means), and is shown as “Abandoned”. Since Google doesn’t show details on that, I logged into the USPTO data base to look: it notes that it was changed to “Status: Abandoned” in May 2009 due to “Failure to Respond to an Office Action”. Just a wild guess, but I think Patent Examiner Tod Van Roy posed a challenge to Roller, and when there was no response it was declared as abandoned. -rc

    Reply
  4. I followed Chris Roller on the Internet, trying to understand him better. What I discovered was that this young man (ten years younger than me. Anyone six months younger is young) suffered from Bi-Polar Depression. This does not excuse him, but perhaps makes him a bit more understandable.

    Chris passed away in Colorado Springs in 2018. His obituary has a lot of very nice things to say, and some quite possibly difficult things to believe. However, it is apparent that he was a human, tried many things, loved a few people and succumbed to the ills that are the fate of us all. While his lawsuit is ridiculous, in my opinion, it was more a symptom of the snakes in his head, rather than a malicious act. Randy, I love you column. It brings me joy and makes me think and research. Even though I have great respect for you, I still find the need to validate and research, which I suspect it your intent all along. You are a treasure and a jewel. Thanks.

    Thanks both for your kind words and the update, Chester — I did not know he had died; sadly it didn’t turn up when I searched for case updates. Roller was indeed talented, as the obit I found (apparently written by his mother) explains. I’ve always though it’s a great tragedy for a parent to outlive their offspring, and Chris Roller was the third(!) of his mother’s children to die. Tragic. -rc

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