Putting My ALR Skills to “Good Use”

Every year, my parents give us kids a page-a-day calendar. One year it was Dilbert. One year it was Lawyer Jokes. This year? “Duh! The Dumbest Things Ever Said or Done.” Each day is a new adventure into just how ridiculous we are as a species. Last Friday’s entry was no exception:

Original Thinkers

In 1975 a North Dakota schoolteacher asked a court to change his name to 1069, which, he claimed, represented his unique relationship with the universe. When the judge turned him down, 1069 pursued his right to use a number as a name through the appeals court, where a judge asked if he would consider using the name Juan instead of the number One.

The appeals court found the idea of using a number for a name “offensive to human dignity.” The Supreme Court refused to hear 1069’s case bceause it lacked “a substantial federal question.”

Of course, this little bit piqued my interest. What better way, I thought, to put my new found Advanced Legal Research skills to the test than by tracking down ol’ 1069’s cases and seeing if the Supreme Court really did throw it out for a lack of subject matter jurisdiction? So, I hopped on Westlaw, did some quick searching, and moments later I was staring at his North Dakota Supreme Court opinion. In re Dengler, 246 N.W.2d 758 (N.D. 1976). Problem is, there’s no subsequent appellate history. He didn’t appeal it to the U.S. Supreme Court. Plus, there’s no reference to the name being “offensive to human dignity.” The case does contain a citation to a New Jersey case that said names would be refused if it is “the choice of a name that is bizarre, unduly lengthy, ridiculous or offensive to common decency and good taste,” but there’s no further mention of offensiveness. The court’s rejection of his application is mainly on the grounds of statutory construction in that “1069” doesn’t fit the statutory definition of a name.

The fact that this blurb got the facts of the case so incredibly wrong caused me to do a little more digging. I pulled his name from the case, Michael Herbert Dengler, and plugged it into Google. Apparently this guy garnered some attention, with Time Magazine doing a piece on him in 1977. The details were somewhat different, though. This 1069 was seeking to change his name in Minnesota, not North Dakota. This 1069 was a short order cook, not a schoolteacher. Then there’s the date… 1977, a year after the North Dakota decision. So I did a bit more research. Slate had the answers. Apparently he was so intent on changing his name to 1069 that he went to Minnesota and tried the whole thing again. The Minnesota Supreme Court did in fact agree with the trial court’s assessment that calling a person by a number was an “abject dehumanization and totalitarian deprivation of dignified human privacy.” In re Dengler, 287 N.W.2d 637 (Minn. 1979). Additionally, the Supreme Court did in fact reject 1069’s petition for certiorari in that case for lack of a substantial federal question.

The sad thing… I looked all of this up on Westlaw. A quick google search and subsequent Google Scholar search would have yielded me the same answers and saved a ton of money in Westlaw billing fees. So much for good use… I suppose the joke’s on me.

Next Time on Adventures in Law School Nerdiness: Was the North Dakota suit issue preclusive of 1069’s Minnesota claim?


6 Responses to “Putting My ALR Skills to “Good Use””

  1. 1 Prof. ALR January 29, 2010 at 5:45 pm

    So I’ve apparently failed you after all.

    This will be advanced assignment #2 next quarter.

  2. 2 pbpope January 29, 2010 at 6:17 pm

    Never. I was able to track down the information using the skill you provided me. I just did it in an expensive manner.

    Putting this in the Advanced Assignments would be completely awesome.

  3. 4 caleb December 24, 2011 at 3:02 am

    I knew the man and worked with him in Minneapolis as a door to door political fundraiser…he was one of a kind and I am a better person for having known him

  4. 5 Bob January 8, 2012 at 10:20 pm

    He came to a party at my apartment in Minneapolis in about 1984 — he was a friend of a friend. Quiet, intense, weird, ate a whole bowl of popcorn himself.

    He reportedly got the Edina school system write checks to 1069 for work as a substitute teacher. The last I heard of him was an attempt to get a marriage license sometime in maybe the late ’80’s. It was filled out as prior name of “1069” and new name “Michael IO Holzt” (you get a free name change when you get married in MN). They wouldn’t grant the marriage license. It was a clever idea since you can always revert to a previous name and if they had granted the license that would mean they had acknowledged 1069 as his name and he could change it back to that.

  5. 6 Amy LaBounty April 29, 2012 at 1:40 pm

    Mr. Dengler was my gymnastics teacher when I was little in Fargo, North Dakota. I remember seeing him interviewed on The Tomorrow Show with Tom Snyder at 1:00 AM in 1976. Okay, he may be a little strange, but it takes all kinds to make this world interesting. Wonder what he is doing now.

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