The U.S. Supreme Court accepts only around 80 cases a year, most of them involving Americans, and it is a rare event to have a Japanese citizen’s dispute come before the court.
That is the case this week, however. Kouichi Taniguchi, a former professional baseball player, will have his case heard at the highest court in the U.S. on Tuesday.
The dispute sounds as if it were cooked up by some avant-garde European literary theorist: How should the court interpret the meaning of “interpretation”?
Consider the facts. In 2008, Mr. Taniguchi filed suit against a hotel in Saipan, accusing it of negligence after he fell through a wooden deck on the premises in 2006. The hotel won and, following a provision in U.S. federal law that says the winner can recoup “interpretation” costs, sent Mr. Taniguchi a bill for $5,517.20, according to court records. Of that amount, $5,257.20 was actually for document translations including some of Mr. Taniguchi’s medical records from Japan.
Mr. Taniguchi’s lawyers objected, saying the word “interpretation” doesn’t include translation of written material. They lost in a federal appeals court in San Francisco and brought their case to the Supreme Court.
The high court accepts less than 1% of appeals – so why this one? Credit probably goes to Judge Richard Posner in Chicago, one of the nation’s best-known appellate judges, who in 2006 ruled that translations don’t count as interpretations. “Robert Fagles made famous translations into English of the Iliad, the Odyssey, and the Aeneid, but no one would refer to him as an English-language ‘interpreter’ of those works,” averred Judge Posner.
There was thus a split among appeals courts – with the San Francisco court, joined by others, taking one interpretation of “interpretation” and Judge Posner taking another. Such splits can only be resolved by the U.S. Supreme Court.
According to his Wikipedia page, Mr. Taniguchi was a first-round draft pick by Tokyo’s Yomiuri Giants but hurt his left shoulder and played only seven games in the Japanese major leagues. He also had a brief minor-league career in the U.S. According to Dream Next, a website that tracks former professional Japanese baseball players, Mr. Taniguchi now runs an izakaya, or pub, in his native Osaka.
Thousands of Americans dream of getting their day at the Supreme Court, and the vast majority are disappointed. Though his unfortunate injury prevented him from fulfilling his promise in professional baseball, Mr. Taniguchi has now made history in another way.
For more information: http://blogs.wsj.com/japanrealtime/2012/02/20/lost-in-interpretation-japan-citizen-case-goes-to-supreme-court/?mod=wsj_share_twitter