The summer of ’69 was a time of youth and restlessness. It was a year commonly associated with playing guitar until your fingers bled, professing eternal love on your mother’s porch, and every other summer dream envisioned in the Bryan Adams hit song. 

But while others were having the best days of their lives, Betty Penrose was dealing with a terrible personal tragedy. 

Disaster strikes

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Penrose worked as a legal secretary in Phoenix, Arizona. Her home was struck by lightning during a passing storm, putting her in an unusual and terrifying situation.

Penrose lost everything when the subsequent fire destroyed her home. She cast her gaze to the heavens from the ashes of her broken life, vowing God would pay for this big time.

A lawsuit against God

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Betty Penrose’s boss, Rusell Tansie, a lawyer, sympathized with her tragedy and decided to sue God on her behalf.

According to the lawsuit, God was in charge of “The upkeep and operation of the universe, including the weather in and upon the State of Arizona.”

As a result, he was to blame for the lightning strike on Ms. Penrose’s home. The lawsuit sought $75,000 in general damages and a further $25,000 in punitive damages.

The strategy

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Tansie must have known what he was doing because he strategically chose Sonoma, California, rather than Phoenix, Arizona, to file the lawsuit. Sonoma was the location of a unique Hippie commune. The land on which it stood was originally owned by a peculiar person named Louis Gottlieb, who believed in peace and free love. In a moment of divine inspiration, Gottlieb filed a grant deed gifting his 30-acre ranch to God, transferring the title to the “rightful owner.”

So, according to the Sonoma County Recorder’s office, God acquired ownership of 30 acres in Sonoma, California, on May 6, 1969. Tansie concluded that if God could own property in Sonoma, he could also sue God there. He was right, of course.

God’s day in court

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On the day of the trial, the court noted that the defendant — God — did not appear, though it did not elaborate on how the court determined that the Omnipresent was not present. God was not represented by a solicitor either.

Penrose won the case by default because God did not appear in court. She was awarded $100,000 in damages.

Finding and pursuing God for money proved difficult, and it is unknown whether Betty Penrose ever received a dime. 

Gottlieb’s deed was later declared invalid when the court ruled that God had no right to take ownership of any property, but not before Betty Penrose had won her case.

Is it still possible to sue God?

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In theory, modern western courts operate with an open-door policy. As a result, you can sue anyone, including God. However, this does not obligate the court to hear the case. Aside from that, suing God presents several unique challenges:

– First, the court must have jurisdiction over the person before you can sue them. This means that the person must live or operate a business in the state. Tansie could sue God because he “owned land” in California in 1969. How else can you assert jurisdiction over God?

– Second, the defendant must receive notice of the lawsuit. The server would have to deliver the summons and complaint to God in person.

– Third, the court must be able to enforce its decisions. Even if the plaintiff wins the legal battle against God, you can’t exactly detain and imprison him.

– Fourth, you may be called upon to mediate with God and his legal representative. It might be difficult to serve notice for examinations for discovery to review evidence or pre-trial motions to settle out of court.

– Finally, perhaps the most difficult challenge is that to sue someone, you must first prove that they exist — which is a matter of faith rather than fact.