As It Happens

Scathing 'ruling' issued against Miami reporter with too many items in the express checkout

A ruling about express checkout line etiquette would have wide-ranging implications for grocery shoppers everywhere — if only it were real.
How many items is too many for a grocery store express checkout line? (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)
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Do "buy one, get one free" groceries count as one item in an express lane checkout?

Absolutely not, according to a totally non-binding "ruling" issued against a Miami Herald crime reporter who tried to skirt a 10-item limit on a technicality.

"I have been ruled against. I won't appeal it. I am vowing to reform my shopping habits," David Ovalle told As It Happens host Carol Off. 

It all started when Ovalle was shopping at his local Publix super market on Boxing Day and the cashier scolded him for being over the limit.

"I'm not going to lie — I've been that guy who's been counting other people's things in lines," he said. "But in this case, I'm like well, I'll skate by on a technicality."

He argued on Twitter that his "buy-one, get one free" items (BOGOs) should have count as one apiece. 

"Am I wrong?" he tweeted.

Dozens of replies followed — some of them agreeing with Ovalle, others vehemently rebutting him.

"I was kind of hoping for validation and it turns out Twitter failed me," he said. "The internet has rained down judgment on me."

Due to the nature of Ovalle's work, his Twitter followers include several legal scholars, many of whom offered their own arguments.

Ultimately, a judge ruled against him — that is, messaged him to say he was wrong — but Ovalle vowed to appeal. 

That's when defence attorney David S. Weinstein offered to take up the case.

But in a stunning defeat for Ovalle, and a boon for all shoppers in a rush, a faux judicial ruling sided with the lower court's ruling on Sunday and struck down the crime reporter's appeal. 

"Since the dawn of Supermarkets, the issue of BOGOs and the 10-item express lane has proved vexatious to citizens and shoppers alike," reads the ruling, signed by two retired judges, but actually written by a defence lawyer who blogs under the pseudonym Horace Rumpole.

Citing the Google and Dictionary.com definitions of "item," it reads: "If an 'item' is an individualized unit, then Ovalle's cart, with more than 10 units, violated the posted rules and Ovalle was required to go wait in line behind the abuella with a full cart and a fist-full of coupons and all the time in the world."

What's more, the ruling found Ovalle's argument could open a can of worms, leaving the express checkout system ripe for abuse.

"If Ovalle bought 10 BOGOs, then his cart would have 20 items, twice the limit," it reads.

"If Ovalle's argument that an item is a separate grocery product, then Ovalle could load his cart or multiple carts with 20 or 30 cases of the same brand of beer, and amble up to the express lane and demand to be checked out, arguing that he only had one 'item'. This would be a clear violation of the intent of the rule."

It noted there were "several Amicus tweets that were filed in this matter, and the majority support the proposition that Ovalle was wrong."

"Ovalle's specious arguments are precisely why Miami Herald Reporters should report the law, and not make it," the "judges" concluded. 

David Ovalle is a Miami Herald reporter who took one too many items through the express checkout at Publix. (Submitted by David Ovalle )

The debate has also spilled into Ovalle's real life.

"It divided our newsroom," he said. "Everyone was complaining to each other about it."

"I went back to court this morning, it was like every lawyer in the hallway was stopping me to chuckle and to kind of wag their finger at me for being in the express lane with too many items."

Still, Ovalle said he accepts the "judges'" wisdom and will change his ways. 

"I think I doomed it for the rest of us," he said.

"Any time someone else tries to to go to the express lane with some BOGOs, I think, you know, you can just hold up this opinion and say, 'Get to the regular line, quit trying to cheat the system.'"

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