The Volokh Conspiracy

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The "Tipsy Coachman Rule" (in Florida)

DUI, appellate procedure, rap battles, and Edmund Burke, together in one post.


Most courts take the view that "if a trial court reaches the right result, but for the wrong reasons, it will be upheld if there is any basis which would support the judgment in the record." But Florida courts are unusual in that they call it the "tipsy coachman rule." (Thanks to Jenny Wilson for the pointer.)

The rule apparently emerged from a Georgia case, but the label didn't stick as much in that state. Here's the explanation from what seems to be the font of the rule, Lee v. Porter (Ga. 1879):

It not infrequently happens that a judgment is affirmed upon a theory of the case which did not occur to the court that rendered it, or which did occur and was expressly repudiated. The human mind is so constituted that in many instances it finds the truth when wholly unable to find the way that leads to it.

"The pupil of impulse, it forc'd him along,
His conduct still right, with his argument wrong;
Still aiming at honor, yet fearing to roam
The coachman was tipsy, the chariot drove home."

The passage itself is from the poem Retaliation by Oliver Goldsmith, apparently written as part of a 1770s rap battle, where a group of writers who knew one another roasted each other with epithets. This one appears to have been aimed at William Burke, a Member of Parliament, perhaps a relative of Edmund Burke, and "one of the supposed authors of Junius's Letters."

The immediately preceding epithet, by the way, was for Edmund Burke himself, and began:

Here lies our good Edmund, whose genius was such,
We scarcely can praise it, or blame it too much;
Who, born for the universe, narrow'd his mind,
And to party gave up what was meant for mankind:
Tho' fraught with all learning, yet straining his throat
To persuade Tommy Townshend to lend him a vote;
Who, too deep for his hearers, still went on refining,
And thought of convincing, while they thought of dining;
Though equal to all things, for all things unfit;
Too nice for a statesman, too proud for a wit;
For a patriot, too cool; for a drudge, disobedient;
And too fond of the right to pursue the expedient.

To go further down the historical connections rabbit hole, Tommy Townshend likely refers to the MP after whom Sydney, Australia was eventually named. Coming soon: Lin-Manuel Miranda, Appellate Procedure: The Musical.