Thursday, June 01, 2006, 4:55 PM

The "Over A Barrel" Case

The Seventh Circuit's decision in Home Protective Services, Inc. v. ADT Security Services, 483 F.3d 716 (7th Cir. 2006) will likely be known as the "over a barrel" case because of the court's statement that the Wisconsin Fair Dealership Law does not apply unless "the grantor has the alleged dealer 'over a barrel' -- that is, [the grantor] has such great economic power over the dealer that the dealer will be unable to negotiate with the grantor or comparison-shop with other grantors." To read more about this case, see this previous post.

This case prompted me to explore the origin of the phrase "over a barrel." The Oxford English Dictionary reports that the first use was Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep, published in 1939. The OED suggests the expression was an allusion to placing a person rescued from drowning over a barrel to clear their lungs of water. This origin, however, does not fit the current meaning of the phrase: to have someone in a helpless position. Others, however, claim that the true origin of the expression is from the practice of placing a person on or rolling them over a barrel as a humiliating punishment.

Regardless of the origin of the phrase, it will be interesting to see how courts apply the "over a barrel" test to future disputes involving the WFDL.

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