More about defining parentheticals …

Let’s talk some more about using defining parentheticals. *Yay!* Last week’s column suggested that defining parentheticals are often unnecessary because the reader doesn’t need help figuring out that, for example, “Allstate” means “Allstate Insurance Company.” But sometimes a defining parenthetical can be both helpful to the reader and a subtly persuasive device.

In multiparty cases it is often hard to remember who did what. If Smith hired Jones, and Jones arranged for Smith to purchase property from Williams and Cook, then Williams and Cook decided to sell the property to Johnson…well, do you suppose the court might have a hard time keeping straight the respective roles of Smith, Jones, Williams, Cook and Johnson?

Next time, instead of referring to the parties by name, or by case status (plaintiff, defendant, third-party defendant), use a defining parenthetical to identify the party by its role in the events giving rise to the case. Consider these paragraphs and decide which one is easier to follow:

  • Plaintiff Suzy Smith (hereinafter “Smith”) hired defendant Bill Jones (hereinafter “Jones”) to assist Smith in purchasing some property owned by defendants William Williams and Harry Cook (hereinafter “Williams and Cook”). Smith, through Jones, reached an agreement with Williams and Cook to purchase the property. But before that transaction closed, Jones assisted Williams and Cook to sell the property to John Johnson (hereinafter “Johnson”). In this action, Smith seeks damages from Jones, Williams and Cook, and Johnson.
  • Suzy Smith (“Buyer”) hired real estate agent Bill Jones (“Agent”) to assist in the purchase of real property from William Williams and Harry Cook (“Sellers”). Buyer, through Agent, reached an agreement with Seller to purchase the property. But before that transaction closed, Agent assisted Sellers to sell the property to John Johnson (“Actual Purchaser”). In this action, Buyer seeks damages from Agent, Sellers, and Actual Purchaser.

In this example, we’ve used defining parentheticals to eliminate names altogether and identify the parties by the roles they played in the transaction.

The term or phrase you choose to identify the party should always be fair and neutral. For example, it would be inappropriate to do something like this: “This action involves claims by Plaintiff Mary Smith (“Malingerer”).” But it is perfectly fair to choose a neutral term that has more or less favorable connotations. For example, we once had a case involving a tavern shooting, and the gunman was the third-party defendant. We defined him as “the Shooter.” Although that was a neutral term, it couldn’t help but remind the court who the real wrongdoer was in the case.

That is all for now …

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