Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Sushi Law, and What It Teaches Us

Over the weekend, the news media reported on a sushi-related discrimination lawsuit currently working its way through the Los Angeles County trial court system. David Martin visited a southern California sushi house and ordered its all-you-can-eat buffet for $28. But when restaurateur Jay Oh noticed leftover nuggets of rice on Martin’s plate, he argued that Martin should be charged the higher price for sashimi (raw fish without rice) than for nigiri (raw fish served atop a hand-packed wad of vinegared rice). Since sashimi is traditionally priced higher than nigiri, the restaurant’s policy for the sushi buffet requires diners to clean their plates completely in order to receive the next round of food. Martin responded with a lawsuit, alleging that A Ca-Shi Restaurant’s requirement that patrons consume the sushi rice along with the fish in order to qualify for the all-you-can-eat price constituted discrimination against diabetics like him.

Though several news sources picked up this story (including the ABA Journal), virtually all quoted their sources as an L.A. Times op-ed rather than the lawsuit filing itself. While it’s common for the popular media to omit key details like case names, docket numbers, and sometimes even the court where suit was filed, this can be a frustrating situation for legal eagles who want to use their research skills to track down and read the original documents. If you’re curious to see Martin’s complaint, or obtain other information about the case, where do you go from here?

In times like this, our Court Records & Briefs research guide can help you get started. The “Specific Document Types” section points to sources for tracking down lawsuit information in both federal and state courts. You’ll need to pinpoint the correct jurisdiction based on information provided in the article, which can be tricky at the state level if you’re unfamiliar with the county boundaries in that state. Fortunately, the news articles in this case specifically named the Los Angeles County Court, saving you a painstaking step of searching county boundary maps online.

Using the tips in the research guide, you’ll discover that California trial-level civil court filings are available to the Law School community through LexisNexis ( Legal > States Legal - U.S. > California > Search Court Records, Briefs and Filings > Find Filings > Civil & Criminal Court Filings and Regulatory Actions > Civil & Criminal Filings - Selected States > California > CA Superior Court Civil Case Index - Los Angeles County) and Westlaw (CA-FILINGS database). Unfortunately, the Martin documents do not appear in any search result. The Lexis and Westlaw court filing databases often have gaps in coverage (for state-level databases, entire counties may be missing; for county-level databases, the update schedule might be irregular); you should always check the “Information” button (an icon containing the letter “i” next to the database name) to determine the contents of a particular database.

If Lexis and/or Westlaw can’t help you, your next stop should be the website of the court itself, to look for online document search systems or the court clerk’s office contact information. Los Angeles County Court offers an online service to search party names across its civil courts; unfortunately, it is fee-based and requires registration. Some detective work in the free online Civil Calendar, based on the information provided by the news articles, does provide the docket number in the case, and also tells us that a hearing in the case of Martin v. A Ca-Shi Sushi, No. 10E06168, is scheduled for the Los Angeles County Van Nuys East courthouse on Friday, February 25 at 1:30 p.m. Pacific time. (Interestingly, the calendar data also tells us that this case was filed nearly a year ago, on May 20, 2010 – though it didn’t seem to make a splash in the news until the L.A. Times picked up the story last Thursday.)

While you still don’t have Martin’s complaint in hand, you now have enough information to obtain it from the court clerk for a modest fee. The Court Records & Briefs research guide can help you track down documents from any newsworthy case you may be interested in reading. If you need assistance with navigating the various options for obtaining court filings, be sure to Ask a Librarian.