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Reconsidering circumcision, Star Tribune, May 19, 1997.
Circumcision, A Reply to the Star
circumcision, female mutilation aren't comparable,
Opinion Page, Minot Daily News, May 27, 1997.
Circumcision, A Reply to Nonsense.
Minot Daily News
editorial revealed generally prevailing attitudes, A Reply, Minot
Daily News, June 18, 1997
Female genital mutilation law will stand, court
says, Bismarck Tribune, May 1996.
Suit to ask
for equal protection, Bismarck Tribune, May 2, 1996.
Off-site: >Lawsuit argues N.D. female
mutilation law is
unconstitutional because it doesn't protect males, too.
Associated Press, Minot Daily News, June 8, 1996.
>Suit claims N.D.
genital mutilation law biased, Patrick Springer, Fargo Forum, June 7, 1996
of the Twin Cities
Monday, May 19, 1997
A lawsuit to be heard in
St. Paul today alleges that a North Dakota law banning
female genital mutilation is unconstitutional because it should also
N.D. woman challenges male circumcision
By Maura Lerner
Star Tribune Staff Writer
For years, Jody McLaughlin
of Minot, N.D., has been crusading to stop circumcision of baby boys. In
her view, it's an unnecessary and harmful medical procedure v that's
imposed on helpless infants against their will. But try as she might,
she couldn't persuade her state's legislators to take up her cause.
So now, with the help of a
Minnesota [and Fargo] lawyer, she's trying to get around the
politicians: She's challenging a recent North Dakota law that bans
female genital mutilation, saying it is unconstitutional because it
doesn't protect boys. Today the battle moves to a hearing before the
U.S. Court of Appeals in St. Paul, and her lawyer has vowed to challenge
similar laws in Minnesota and Congress.
"We cannot protect one
gender against something and not protect the other," said
McLaughlin, 46, an activist who publishes a natural childbirth magazine
called the Compleat Mother.
McLaughlin and her lawyer,
Zenas Baer of Hawley, Minn., are trying to force the public to take a
fresh look at an emotional issue that touches on law, medicine and
of the penis' foreskin—is both a medical procedure [sic] and a
old religious practice sacred to Muslims and Jews.
It's far more common in the
United States than elsewhere, largely because of notions that it's a
healthy practice. Nationwide, more than 60 percent of newborn boys are
circumcised (about the same percentage as in 1979, but down from a high
of 95 percent in the 1960s), according to government statistics. But
only a few per
cent of boys in Europe and Asia are circumcised.
U.S. doctors have debated
the benefits and risks for, decades. For the most part they have
considered circumcision cosmetic surgery, neither necessary nor harmful.
This year––for the fourth time in 22 years—the American Academy of
Pediatrics is reconsidering its neutral position in light of new
evidence that circumcision could help prevent urinary tract infections
and sexually transmitted diseases.
A moral equivalent?
But activists are trying to
put male circumcision in a new light by comparing it to female genital
mutilation. Sometimes known as female circumcision, it is a widely
condemned ritual common in Africa and the Middle East, done to curb
women's sexual desire.
"What's good for the
girl is good for the boy," Baer said. "In both instances, you
have the removal of otherwise healthy genital tissue for a purely
social, religious or cultural reason,"
Activists argue that
circumcision cuts off some of the male's most sexually sensitive tissue
and exposes babies to the threat of unnecessary complications, such as
infections. But they also say there's great resistance to change.
"What man wants to
admit that the best part of his penis is thrown into a trash can?"
asked Marilyn Milos, a nurse who runs the National Organization of Cir
cumcision Information Resource Centers in San Anselmo, Calif. "What
mother wants to admit that her precious baby's been harmed needlessly?
What doctor wants to admit he's got blood on his hands?"
Even some activists against
female mutilation see a parallel.
"I'm also sympathetic
to their goals, frankly," said Dr. Nahib Toubia, whose New York
based group, the Research Action and Information Network for Bodily
Integrity of Women, campaigns against female circumcision. “A health
professional should never touch a child and remove some normal body
But others say it's unfair
to compare male circumcision to female genital mutilation. "It is
an oppressive practice for females," said Rabbi Jonathan Ginsburg,
of Temple of Aaron in St. Paul and coordinator of the Minnesota
Rabbinical Association. "The male circumcision . . . we've been
doing for 4,000 years, and we're fine. There's not a single Jewish guy
who complains about it."
McLaughlin, who has two
grown daughters, tried and failed to convince the North Dakota
Legislature that the two rituals are linked. She and Duane Voskuil, a
philosophy professor in Bismarck, N.D., drafted a law to ban genital
alterations in both boys and girls. But when legislators refused to
sponsor it, she said, they [legislators] rewrote it to mention girls only. "We
knew at the time that this bill would be unconstitutional, but it passed
both houses unanimously," she said.
They challenged own law
Then she and Voskuil joined
with Donna Fishbeck, who had a newborn son, to challenge the law that
McLaughlin and Voskuil had [originally] written [in a gender-neutral
form]. The North Dakota attorney general's
office fought back. "The Legislature did not intend to criminalize
neonatal male circumcision," Doug Bahr, an assistant attorney
activists lost the first round in October when a federal judge in
Bismarck threw out the case, saying the plaintiffs had no legal standing
to challenge the law.
But Judge Patrick Conmy
wasn't entirely unsympathetic. "This may very well be a worthwhile
goal," he wrote, but "the plaintiffs accomplish nothing by
this action." If they won, he said, they'd merely invalidate the
protection for girls. "This battle is one for the education of new
parents and for the legislatures of this [country]—not the
Although today’s court
hearing is only on the North Dakota law, Baer says he plans to use this
as a steppingstone to challenge a similar 1994  Minnesota law and a
federal law on female mutilation that took effect in March .
These days doctors find
themselves walking a fine line, especially when parents ask for advice.
"As pediatricians we're sort of neutral to the idea," said Dr.
Mary Meland, a Health Partners pediatrician in Bloomington. "But
the fact is, there are some high quality studies showing there is some
More than 25 years ago, the
American Academy of Pediatrics declared there were no valid medical
reasons for routine circumcision. That changed, somewhat, in 1989 after
studies indicated that circumcision reduced the rate of infant urinary
tract infections and penile cancer. But those are rare conditions, and
the group recommended that parents weigh the facts and make their own
This year the group's task
force is evaluating more evidence of possible benefits, including
reduced risk of sexually transmitted diseases. "People feel it's
really time to revisit and reconsider," said University of North
Carolina pediatrician Carole Lannon, task force chairwoman.
Critics dismiss the
benefits as myths and say they don't outweigh the risks, including
bleeding, pain and, in extremely rare cases, death.
But Dr. Howard Stang, a
Health Partners pediatrician in White Bear Lake, says studies have shown
that it's tough to talk parents out of the procedure.
"In America, it's such
an ingrained type of practice, it basically comes down to a gut
feeling," said Stang, whose research helped encourage the
widespread use of anesthesia during circumcisions.
"I don't spend a lot
of my time trying to talk parents out of it," he said. "But I
also applaud them for deciding not to circumcise their baby. I tell them
that's fine, too."
Circumcision, Reply to Star Tribune
I read with dismay the May 18  article about
male circumcision. How can the practice occur so often in our so-called
The medical benefits from the procedure seem
dubious at best. You wouldn't remove a person's toenails for the reason
of reducing the remote chance of he/she having nail fungus. You wouldn't
remove a woman's breasts to simply eliminate her chances of getting
Religion is also not a valid reason. Much
destruction has been done, wars fought, and many barbaric acts committed
in the name of religion.
Circumcision, at a minimum, should not be performed
on any newborn or child until they are old enough to make an informed
decision about it on their own.
Evolution (whether through God's hand or not) gave
our bodies everything they have.
—Lyle Bergman, St. Paul
Jewish Bulletin of Northern California June 20, 1997
U.S. appeals court rejects lawsuit by circumcision foes
MORDECAI SPECKTOR The American Jewish World
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Opponents of male infant circumcision argue that the
religious ritual conducted by Jews and Muslims, as well as the operation
done under medical auspices, is harmful and tantamount to child abuse.
In a novel tactic to advance their cause, several crusaders against male
circumcision have challenged a recent North Dakota law banning female
genital mutilation (FGM), which is sometimes referred to as female
circumcision. They contend that the law protecting girls should also
protect boys based on the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.
However, their legal strategy received a setback recently when a federal
appeals court rejected their lawsuit. The adverse ruling marks the
second time the suit has been thrown out. It was first rejected in
October by a federal judge in Bismarck on the basis that the plaintiffs
did not have legal standing to challenge the law. On June 3, the U.S.
Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit, which had heard oral arguments
during a May 19 session in St. Paul, affirmed the district court's
decision. "We're pleased with the decision and the quickness with which
the court reached it," said Doug Bahr, assistant attorney general for
North Dakota, during a telephone interview. "The 8th Circuit found that
the parties did not have any standing because this lawsuit really has no
impact upon them." Bringing the lawsuit were Donna Fishbeck, suing as an
individual and "as mother and natural guardian of her infant son,
Jonathan Fishbeck"; Jody McLaughlin; and Duane Voskuil. McLaughlin is
the publisher of a journal, The Compleat Mother, devoted to natural
childbirth and related issues. With Voskuil, McLaughlin heads NOCIRC-ND,
a group opposed to circumcision that is attempting to enlarge FGM bans
to include infant male circumcision. Their attorney, Zenas Baer of
Hawley, Minn., said he intends to appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme
Court. "I think the issue is whether or not -- in the name of culture or
in the name of religion -- we can sit idly by and watch the children,
those who have no ability to consent...mutilated by the surgical
amputation of otherwise healthy genital tissue," said Baer. Equating
male circumcision with female genital mutilation is "a long stretch,"
said Dr. Sheldon Berkowitz, a pediatrician and mohel in Minneapolis.
"They're only similar in that they're done on the genitalia...[and]
done on someone without their consent [emphasis added]."
Berkowitz explained that FGM is done "to decrease sexual pleasure and
prevent sexual activity for a long period of time. "There is no medical
reason I have ever heard about for doing female circumcision," he added.
[see Comparing FGM and MGM.] Carol Hogard,
a women's studies instructor at Minneapolis Community and Technical
College, observed that "female circumcision" is a euphemism. "It should
really be called female castration," she remarked, and added that
Minnesota passed a law against FGM in 1994, and congressional
legislation banning the practice was signed into law last year by
President Clinton. In discussing the North Dakota statute proscribing
FGM, attorney Zenas Baer contended that banning FGM while allowing
infant male circumcision is an example of "cultural elitism, where we
are passing judgment on the cultures and rituals practiced by the
Mideast and African cultures, and not looking critically at our own
culture." But observers like Berkowitz and Hogard point to the
qualitative differences between the two practices. "This is not culture,
it is torture," Hogard said regarding FGM. "Once it's done women have
serious health problems for the rest of their lives."
Copyright Notice (c)
1997, San Francisco Jewish Community Publications Inc., dba Jewish
Bulletin of Northern California. All rights reserved. This material may
not be reproduced in any form without permission.
Minot Daily News
May 27, 1997
Male circumcision, female mutilation aren't
She's at it again.
McLaughlin of Minot wants to change a North Dakota law barring female
circumcision so the law also would apply to males.
But it's ludicrous to equate the circumcision of
males to the mutilation of female genitalia.
mutilation of females occurs primarily in Muslim countries and in East
is intended, at least in part, to decrease or eliminate a woman’s
ability to haste pleasure during sex. Human rights activists around the
world have campaigned against the practice.
North Dakota enacted its law in
1995 precisely because it's such an inhumane practice.
of males involves removing some of the foreskin on the penis. It's a
common medical procedure, and it’s a 4,000-year old religious practice
sacred to Muslims and Jews. Statistics indicate some 60 percent of males
in the United States have been circumcised. Medical specialists say
circumcision does nothing to reduce sexual enjoyment for males, and as
Rabbi Jonathan Ginsburg of the Temple of Aaron in St. Paul has said,
"There's not a single Jewish guy who complains about it."
McLaughlin, who publishes a magazine called
Compleat Mother to promote natural childbirth and breast-feeding,
brought her challenge to federal court, but Federal District Judge
Patrick Conmy dismissed the case. McLaughlin appealed, and a three-judge
panel in St. Paul, Minn., has 90 days to decide whether the word
"female" should be struck from the North Dakota law.
If the judges
broaden the law, the North Dakota attorney general's
office could ask that the ruling be placed on hold. That would allow
finale circumcision to continue until the state could appeal the ruling.
The state would make its request to the appeals court. If denied, the
request could be brought by the state to the U.S. Supreme Court.
if the appeals panel should change the law to include males, the state
Legislature has the option of leaving the law on the
books or repealing the law.
It would make the most sense for the appeals court
to let the North Dakota law remain intact.
The judges should realize how ridiculous it is to
speak of male circumcision in the same breath as removal of female
genitalia, and they should realize there's no good reason to change North Dakota’s law.
Circumcision, A Reply
to "Nonsense" Editorial
by Marilyn Milos, San Anselm, CA
responding to your May 27 editorial titled "Nonsense: Male
circumcision, female mutilation aren't comparable." It is important
to note that the female genital mutilation law is being challenged for
its unconstitutionality because it deals with only one half of the
problem. In other words, it protects girls from surgical alteration,
but not boys. With this legal challenge, no one is comparing the amount
of pain, trauma, damage or suffering inflicted on a child. These vary
from child to child, male or female. The challenge is to bring to an end
to the human rights violation that begins with the first cut on the body
of an unconsenting minor child, regardless of race, creed, culture or
gender, because human rights supersedes them all.
Wednesday, June 18, 1997
editorial revealed generally prevailing
A Reply to "Nonsense"
by Duane Voskuil
Your decision to publish the "Nonsense: Male circumcision, female
mutilation aren't comparable" editorial in the May 27 Minot Daily
News is appreciated. I would like to thank the writer for this condensed
version of a prevailing attitude regarding the issue of genital
integrity or the absence thereof. However, I would like to point out a
few incorrect statements that were made.
Well-educated, serious, respected and informed people, including the
judges of the 8th
Circuit Court of Appeals find much that is comparable between
non-consensual male and non-consensual female genital modifications.
Your use of the emotional terms "ludicrous" and
"ridiculous" to describe such a comparison only betrays an
inability to objectively evaluate one's own cultural rituals in the
context of constitutional protections of our state and nation.
The practice of amputating the most sensitive portion of a male's
genitals has been justified as a way to "decrease or
eliminate" his "ability to have pleasure during sex."
Prepuce amputation began in earnest in the United States in the late
l9th century as an attempt to prevent children from masturbating. At
that time, the prevailing medical belief was that sexual arousal led to
a loss of lifeforce and degenerative diseases would follow.
Although routine infant circumcision of males is practiced in the U.S.,
it is NOT a standard practice in the rest of the world. Physicians, the
state health officer, Blue Cross Blue Shield, and the board of medical
examiners, all say circumcision as practiced in our culture is not a
medical issue, it is a cultural and
social issue. At this time, anyone, not just doctors it seems, can
circumcise a non-consenting child with impunity. Apparently this can be
done at any age without a danger of being charged with a violation of
the laws. Our attorney general has been asked about this possibility
and, as yet, has not been willing to address this issue.
When physicians perform this ritual they are functioning as agents for a
social custom not as health care providers. It has been stated
repeatedly by medical experts and medical organizations that routine
circumcision does not serve a medical need. The removal of healthy
genital tissue from anyone is always suspect, even more so when the
individual undergoing the procedure has not consented.
Rabbi Jonathan Ginsburg's statement, "There is not a single Jewish
guy who complains about it" which was printed earlier this month in
the Minneapolis Star Tribune, is simply wrong. He is unaware that more
than any other group, Jews are involved in the social movement to end
non-consenting circumcision. He must not know Dr. Ronald Goldman, a Jew
who wrote "Circumcision: The Hidden Trauma" and, who
encourages and supports Jews and nonJews alike to protect all children
from circumcision. He knows many Jews, Moslems and others who are angry
at having part of their genitals amputated in the name of medicine,
ritual or custom.
Freedom of religion means one is free to believe and practice one's own
religion, so long as it does not cause harm to others, including one's
children. Parents practicing other religious faiths have been taken to
court for allowing harm to come to their children in the name of
Thank you for clearly conveying in your editorial that in our country we
do have double standards, and in this one it is males who suffer from
—Duane Voskuil, Bismarck,
Female genital mutilation law will
stand, court says
JANELL COLE, staff writer
• Challengers wanted both sexes
• “It is gratifying knowing (the
state law) will stand.” North Dakota Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp
North Dakota's female genital
mutilation law will stand, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has
The law was challenged as
unconstitutional by two anti-circumcision activists, Duane Voskuil of
Bismarck and Jody McLaughlin of Minot, along with a new mother, Donna
Fishbeck, and her infant son of Mandan, who was circumcised without her
consent after the law passed in 1995.
The plaintiffs said a law that protects
one sex and not the other from genital cutting is unconstitutional.
McLaughlin and Voskuil say routine circumcision of baby boys is
medically unnecessary and harmful.
North Dakota Attorney General Heidi
Heitkamp said Thursday, "It is gratifying knowing (the state law)
The Eighth Circuit decision does not
address the merits of the case, Voskuil told the Tribune.
The appeals panel instead agreed with
U.S. District Judge Patrick Conmy of Bismarck that the three plaintiffs
lack standing to challenge the law.
The female-only law was passed by the
1995 Legislature in part due to favorable testimony by
Female genital mutilation is a widely condoned
practice in African and Mideastern countries, where
parents and practitioners believe it limits the sexual arousal of girls.
It became known in this country when immigrants from Africa and the
Mideast began having it performed on their daughters here.
Voskuil said he and McLaughlin agreed
to testify for the 1995 bill that only addressed female genital
mutilation because it was "better than nothing." He said their
original bill was drafted as gender-neutral, but legislative sponsors
were in favor only of an anti-FGM bill, so it was rewritten to address
Voskuil said he warned legislators at
the time that it could be unconstitutional if it did not also protect
Voskuil said the judges ignored the
fact that he, McLaughlin and many other citizens pay for male
circumcision through higher medical insurance premiums and Medicaid
The Eighth Circuit also said Fishbeck,
while having a more personal interest in the case, also does not have
standing because "the injury that her son received, if it is an
injury, is in the past. Nothing that happens in this lawsuit can change
The judges said it is only speculation
that Fishbeck may have another baby, that the baby would be a boy and
that her husband would want him circumcised.
"Their dismissal of her was really
cavalier," Voskuil said.
*Testimony on North Dakota Senate Bill No.
Duane Voskuil, Ph.D., Philosophy and
Ethics, Bismarck State College--2/27/95
My name is
Duane Voskuil. I have been in education for 35 years teaching
languages, visual arts and philosophy. As a liberal arts professor, I
place a high value on individual freedom and respect a wide range of
Cultures develop and
change, so moral sensitivity is not constant. Conflicts of freedoms do
occur, especially so in cultures placing a high value on personal
freedom. We are here today examining whether or not to allow a
cultural tradition at least 2,000 years old. We are also addressing a
moral and legal conflict between the rights of parents and children.
Millions of parents claim a right to modify the genitals of their
daughters to fit cultural expectations or personal belief. They
sincerely believe the operations they force upon their daughters are
for their benefit, even though most of us, hopefully, will find the
reasons given for the operations to be unconvincing. (So you can judge
this for yourself, I have attached a list of such reasons gathered by
a woman who spent many years in Africa where these operations are most
Most western cultures
consider female prepuce amputations, clitoridectomies, labia
amputations and suturing the vagina to be child sexual abuse and
physical mutilation, so the practice in these countries is usually
underground and hard to monitor. However, parents are asking
physicians in the U.S. and Canada to perform these operations. Europe
has already prosecuted parents for maiming their daughters, and U.S.
prosecutors are working on it.
Last May I was shocked
as I videotaped an Elgin, MN, woman of Scandinavian descent addressing
an international conference on genital mutilation, emotionally
disclosing for the first time how she still remembers the pain and
mistrust of those closest to her as a Wahpeton, ND, physician excised
her normal clitoris forty-some years ago when she was three years old.
No one has been prosecuted nor even censored for this amputation done
to stop her from masturbating. (My research has found some BlueShield
plans even paid for this kind of procedure as late as 1977.) If for no
other reason, we owe her (and those others like her) this Bill as
belated recognition of her life-long suffering and our culture’s
Passage of Senate Bill
2454 will send a clear message that premature genital tissue
separations and non-medically indicated surgeries are indeed
mutilations and beyond the scope of tolerance even by
independent-minded North Dakotans. We pride ourselves with the wide
latitude we have to raise our children. However, there are also many
precedents in which the state has set limits on parents’ and
physicians’ behavior, knowing our trust has been betrayed before.
Just as we in this
country no longer accept men as the only voters, nor people as slaves
(nor even smoking in rooms like this), we must now declare this
practice, also imposed on non-consenting individuals, to violate their
right to free choice and an intact body. It cannot be an acceptable
part of our North Dakota heritage.
Unless surgery is undisputedly necessary for the
health of the child,
each and every child must have a legal, as well as a human right, to
grow up with an intact body.
I urge you to recommend
passage of this Bill. Thank you.
Suit to ask for
May 2, 1996
The group of people who urged passage
of a bill outlawing female genital mutilation plans to file a lawsuit in
federal court claiming that the law violates the Constitution.
Jody McLaughlin of Minot said she
believes the Female Genital Mutilation Law violates the Equal Protection
Clause because it only applies to females, not males. McLaughlin will be
one of the plaintiffs. Specifically, McLaughlin and the others want
routine infant circumcision outlawed. The lawsuit will name the State of
North Dakota as the defendant, McLaughlin said.
"(The law) does not go far enough
to protect babies of both sexes," said McLaughlin, who asked a
Fargo senator to introduce the bill. The law makes it a Class C felony
to "knowingly separate or surgically alter normal, healthy,
functioning genital tissue of a female minor." McLaughlin said they
wanted the bill to include male and females, but they couldn't find
But Dr. Ray Hippehen, a pediatrician at
Mid Dakota Clinic, said male circumcision and clitoridectomies and other
mutilations of young girls' genitalia are "vastly different procedures."
"I think there are valid
objections to male circumcisions that can be made," Hippehen said,
adding male circumcision is controversial with cultural and religious
implications. "But I don't think you can link the two in the same
bit of legislation. That appeals to emotionalism. It sounds very radical
Minnesota attorney Zenas Baer, who is
handling the plaintiff's case, confirmed he plans to file the case
within the next two weeks but declined to comment further. He would only
say the "general theory is equal protection."
Shelley Barker, a spokeswoman in the
attorney general's office, said they weren't aware of the lawsuit.
McLaughlin said the lawsuit developed because of the difficulty to get
agencies -- including the North Dakota Medical Association and the North
Dakota Board of Medical Examiners -- to address routine infant
Cathy Rydell, executive vice
president of the North Dakota Medical Association, said the association
hasn't taken a stand on routine infant circumcision. , The committee on
legislative issues met Wednesday in Minot, and circumcision was on the
agenda, Rydell said. If they were to take a stand, it wouldn't be a
"philosophical position, it would be based on good medicine."
[No statement was ever issued, but the >American
Academy of Pediatrics' statement -- supposedly also based only
one "good medicine" goes into all manner of socio-cultural
reasons to continue to allow it even when they could find NO medical
basis for the procedure.]
"My opinion is it is a society
issue," Rydell said, "The medical issue is a separate issue we
will be discussing."
The North Dakota Board of Medical
Examiners won't prosecute physicians who perform routine male infant
circumcisions, said Rolf Sletten, executive secretary of the board.
"What we have said is if people
like Jody McLaughlin want to prohibit those procedures, they ought to go
to the Legislature and have it debated there," Sletten said. The
board told the state Medical Association they might want to discuss it.
McLaughlin said she filed a complaint with the Board of Medical
Examiners about a doctor who was performing female genital mutilation.
Sletten said state law specifies he can't comment on any complaint that
might have been filed.
Routine infant circumcision serves no
health purpose, McLaughlin said. In fact, she said, it's medically
unnecessary and has short-term complications, including hemorrhaging,
infection and death. McLaughlin said she didn't know how many infants
die each year from circumcision but said the estimates are around 200.
Most people don't know it's not only "contraindicated but also
harmful," McLaughlin said.
"One of the long-term problems
that I'm being told about is the inability to achieve and sustain an
adequate erection, "McLaughlin said.
She said she hasn't met a physician who
will say routine infant circumcision is medically necessary. Physicians
tell her it's done for social, cultural or philosophical reasons,
McLaughlin said. "Since when are physicians agents for social
customs?" she asked.
Media Articles on Circumcision
FGM Lawsuit Court Papers