Still Pissed Off About the Hawley-Smoot Tariff

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Local Civil Rights Case Goes to Supreme Court

A Nevada "civil rights" case is going up to the Supreme Court, according to John L. Smith, writing in today's Review-Journal.

I put "civil rights" in quotes because if you read the story, it looks like an ordinary corporate law/contract dispute, with an allegation of racism tossed in for good measure. The article jumps all over the place, too.

"It's no secret. Small-business owners don't have much clout in the corporate universe. In a system of supergiants, the sole proprietor is barely a speck of dust in the vastness of space."

Well from this beginning, one might reasonably conclude that this is a story about the evils of the large corporation (here, Dominos Pizza), but the facts of the case quickly belie such a conclusion. Besides, "clout" is a term best reserved for political influence, not for lawsuits. To use the term with respect to a judge is to imply that the judge is considering factors other than the law -- a very serious accusation, and one that requires substantiation. None is forthcoming.

"When John McDonald's one-man development company entered into a contract with Domino's Pizza Inc. to build four of its popular shops in Southern Nevada, by all appearances it was an example of a small business and a large corporation working together toward a mutual benefit.

"The corporate giant would get pizza parlors built by a minority contractor. McDonald, who is black, would get a chance to do what he's done for many years: develop properties.

"The first store was completed without a problem, but the second encountered problems with zoning.

"Construction delays caused a rift between McDonald and Domino's, and the pizza king played hardball. It canceled his contract and attempted to shove him out of a deal in which he had everything invested. When Domino's corporate employee Deborah Pear Phillips told him, 'I don't like dealing with you people anyway,' McDonald knew he was up against more than corporate bullying.

"His company went bankrupt. His personal finances were ruined."

Here we get to the meat of the story, the central operating facts (colored by Smith's obvious desire to show who is the bad guy in this scenario). The problem is that the facts don't match up with Smith's conclusions. According to the story as set forth above, Dominos entered into a contract with MacDonald, then declared the contract void, then a Dominos employee made a statement that arguably smacks of racism, and then MacDonald was ruined financially.

There's really only one issue here: was the contract properly voided? If so, then it makes no difference whatsoever what Deborah Pear Phillips told him. She could have said "I hate stupid niggers," and it wouldn't change the outcome one bit. Because the fact of the matter is that contract disputes are not won or lost based on whether one party is racist, or a jerk, or a massive corporation.

Now it may be argued that the contract was voided because Dominos hires racist employees. If that's the case, it's clearly an improper breach, and MacDonald deserves to recover. But the facts don't support such a theory. As Smith notes from the outset, the contract looked to be mutually beneficial. MacDonald built one of four buildings under the contract. Zoning problems (completely unrelated to skin color or the good faith of Dominos) prevented the construction of the second building.

Were those zoning issues sufficient to void the contract? I don't know, and the article doesn't say. But that is the issue -- and the only issue -- in this case.

And if Phillips really was a racist? Makes no difference. This is a breach of contract case. And if MacDonald lost his business? Makes no difference. This is a breach of contract case.

I don't mean to sound completely unsympathetic to MacDonald. Certainly it's horrible that the business deal went south and he lost everything. But the law is not in place to make sure every business deal works out, or that the more powerful party gets screwed when deals go bad, or even that private corporations refrain from saying arguably racist things. Because the author completely loses sight of that, the whole opinion column must rely on an appeal to sympathy, making the huge, faceless corporation awful because a) it's big, b) it's racist, and c) it's big.

It's sad enough that race-baiting has warped social policy issues, but now that the ACLU is injecting race-baiting into standard contract cases, it seems they're trying to wreck all the rest of our laws:

"It's hard to fathom how the fate of that small pizza joint could change the course of American civil rights and knock the corporate world for a loop, but the legal wrangling between John McDonald and Domino's Pizza promises to do just that."

Yeah, thanks a lot, ACLU.