Gravitaphobia could be the legal profession’s worst nightmare. It means a fear of scales. Since ancient Rome, Lady Justice, or Jusitia, has been holding scales which represent the balance between truth and fairness. And every day, judges, juries and lawyers are tasked with weighing the support and opposition of a given case and reaching a fair and just verdict.
While her sword might be the perfect antidote to ward off a case of gravitaphobia, it actually symbolizes the power of reason and justice, which may be wielded either for or against any party.
What exactly is being measured by the scales of justice in 2014?
Lady Justice has her hands full with an assessment of credibility.
Under Missouri law, the credibility of a witness is always a relevant issue. Jurors must be aware of facts which might cause a witness to be less than fully truthful or untruthful.
Trial judges are tasked to measure credibility by observing the witnesses — paying attention to the inflection in their voices, their manner of answering questions and the pauses they might take in responding.
The scales of justice tilt up and down on a constant spectrum of reasonableness. In employment law, reasonableness requires an employee not to assume the worst and not to jump to conclusions too fast. Legally, there is no constructive discharge where an employee quits without giving the employer a reasonable chance to work out a problem.
Missouri law provides for involuntary dissolution of a closed corporation by its shareholders if the “directors or those in control of the corporation have acted, are acting, or will act in a manner that is illegal, oppressive, or fraudulent.”
The measurement of shareholder oppression suggests (1) burdensome, harsh and wrongful conduct; (2) a lack of probity and fair dealing in the company’s affairs to the prejudice of some of its members; or (3) a visible departure from the standards of fair dealing and a violation of fair play on which every shareholder is entitled to rely when entrusting his or her money to a company.
This definition is intended to describe the boundaries of the oppression concept in broad terms rather than as a narrow definition in order to retain its flexibility in practice. The existence of shareholder oppression must be determined on a case-by-case basis.
Arbitrary and Capricious
The decision of every state agency (such as the Missouri Department of Revenue, for example) is examined on its own scale.
A court must determine whether any agency’s decision is arbitrary and capricious, which is defined as “willful and unreasoning action, without consideration of and in disregard of the facts and circumstances.” For example, when a Missouri agency categorically refused to close any county road, regardless of cost of maintenance or the utility of the road, an appeals court found that that position showed a complete disregard for the facts and circumstances that affect vacation of a road. In the court’s weighing, that scale read “arbitrary and capricious.”
Missouri law recognizes that every contract includes an implied duty of good faith and fair dealing.
In federal and state courts, the balance is described as follows: That duty prevents one party to the contract to exercise a judgment conferred by the express terms of agreement in such a manner as to evade the spirit of the transaction or so as to deny the other party the expected benefit of the contract.
Examples of conduct which would tip Lady Justice’s scales toward an adverse result in a contract dispute would be (1) willfully rendering imperfect performance; (2) abusing power in the specification of terms; or (3) wrongfully interfering with or failing to cooperate with the other party’s performance.