The woman who sued God and won

On Aug 17, 1960, Betty Penrose's house in Phoenix was hit by lightning. Nine years later she sued God for damages — and won. Kinda. Sorta. Technically, what she won was the right to summon God to a trial which (assuming God would be a no-show) would have resulted in a default judgement against the deity.

Sydney Morning Herald - May 15, 1969

Some additional context is necessary to understand Penrose's case.

Over in Sebastapol, California, singer Lou Gottlieb had been fighting the county government's attempt to shut down the hippie commune he had started on his Morning Star Ranch. As a legal maneuver to avoid paying the county's fines, Gottlieb deeded his land to God. Then he declared that the county could try collecting the fines from God.

This caused Phoenix attorney Russell Tansie, who was Penrose's employer, to realize that if God now legally owned property (the Morning Star Ranch), then God could be sued for damages. And that's how Penrose's suit emerged.

Indianapolis Star - May 14, 1969

However, I don't think Penrose's case ever made it to trial because, back in California, a judge had ruled that God, being neither a "natural or artificial person," could not legally own Gottlieb's ranch. So Gottlieb was still the owner and had to pay the fines.

And if God didn't own the ranch, then Penrose's case became moot.

But if Penrose's case had proceeded, it was possible God wouldn't have been a no-show. San Quentin prisoner Paul Yerkes Bechtel claimed to be God. So he might have appeared in court. And Joseph Njue of Kenya had also offered to defend God.

Santa Rosa Press Democrat - June 12, 1969

Arizona Republic - May 22, 1969

     Posted By: Alex - Tue Dec 20, 2022
     Category: Religion | Lawsuits | 1960s

I'm not a lawyer, but wouldn't a summons have to be served on the Defendant?
Posted by ges on 12/20/22 at 08:32 AM
@ges -- The law allows alternatives to a process server handing you a summons. If it didn't, people could avoid being sued by just making themselves scarce. After a certain number of attempts to deliver it in person, the summons can be posted on your residence (nailed to the door of a church?) or given to a competent relative or someone who shares your residence (handed to a priest/rabbi/shaman?). Remember newspapers? Their classified ads section always had a Legal Notices column for such things when the defendant couldn't be found.

It has to be more than a decade ago that Ernie Chambers sued God. One of those activist churches petitioned against it, saying he deserved being on the receiving end of God's wrath.

Posted by Phideaux on 12/20/22 at 01:34 PM
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