Are there any situations in which some party would seek to be sued?

The thought came up while I was looking at some law related to copyright and public domain where it was noted that some parts were unclear due to the lack of precedent. If that lack of clarity were sufficiently problematic (worse than any reasonable resolution as it precludes acting under "both" interpretations), it would seem that a reasonable action would be to seek out a suitable plaintiff and arrange for them to sue you for nominal damages after you internally take carefully constructed action to give them standing to do so.

Would/could a decision from such a situation be used to set precedent and resolve the general legal question? Has that sort of thing been done? Are there "safer" ways to get the same resolution?

5 Answers 5


The Scopes "Monkey Trial" and the Supreme Court cases about evolution

In Tennessee v Scopes a school teacher deliberately incriminated themselves of breaching a law against teaching the theory of evolution, in order to be prosecuted and allow a supporting group to push the case further.

In Epperson v Arkansas the same thing happened, except that the teaching of evolution was required by the local school despite being banned by the state. The teacher filed suit seeking nullification and an injunction against employment effects due to breaching the law, expecting that if successful the state would try to argue the case back (it did) and with the supporting group then hoping to get to the Supreme Court (it did).


Anti-abortion laws in the US

The heavy-handed laws introduced in some states are a deliberate challenge to Roe v Wade and are designed so that the state will lose a case and appeal all the way to the Supreme Court specifically for the purpose of testing the law.


Epic Games deliberately flouted App Store guidelines with the intent of initiating legal action with Apple and Google.

Since Apple countersued Epic and Epic probably knew they would, I would say Epic was trying to be sued.


Besides the reasons to provoke a lawsuit just to gain public attention which were already covered by the other answers, a "defendant" might sometimes bring up a potential infraction of themselves to the attention of a court in order to achieve a declaratory judgment.

Why would someone do that?

Often to get a legal uncertainty out of the world which might otherwise affect them at a later time where it will be far more inconvenient for them. For example, someone might plan to create a movie based on an intellectual property they might or might not have the rights to use. Perhaps what they want to do is covered by fair use... or not, a fair use defense is often kinda shaky. Perhaps it's already in the public domain, but the whole creation history of the work is kinda lost in the mists of time. Perhaps they might actually own the legal rights through some vague contract clause from 50 years ago between the creator and another company which then went through a wild history of mergers, splits, reincorporations, liquidations and acquisitions so nobody understands anymore who owns what IP rights... the whole legal situation is unclear. Their lawyers say that if the suspected copyright owner of the work sues them, then they might win or lose. It's a 50/50 matter which depends on a lot of unknowns and the mood of the judge.

When they proceed with the project, then they might waste millions of dollars and years of work on the project just to then get sued, lose and end up with a net loss. So what do they do to avoid that uncertainty?

They go to a court and request a declaratory judgment in the case. That way they can find out whether or not they have the right to do what they want to do before they start to invest time and money.


Among Attorneys General, they might wish to see the state (their "client") sued for laws that they do not agree with politically but must defend due to the nature of their office. In a perfect world, an AG in this position would mount a defense as if he or she agreed with the law, however in practice many will simply "not contest the suit" or settle so that they can help get the law changed to more favorable terms.

It should be noted that unlike the Federal DOJ head, many state Attorneys General are voted into office independent of the elected executive officer (The Governor) despite being a cabinet level position. The effect is the governor and AG are not in the same political party, especially if the AG and Governor are not voted into office during the same election cycle.

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