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Santa's1 been taken to court!

Kids in the United States have complained that they're getting too much coal and the class-action lawyers heard their cries for redress! Obedient to a summons from the Superior Court of California, San Fransisco,2 Santa is facing charges of not treating children with moral equity. Obviously, there are more nice children in America than he thinks!

But in the 2020 legal environment, in the eye of at least half the public nationally, the definition of moral fortitude has become... somewhat... flexible.3

Question: What legal defense could Santa's attorneys use to defend his authority to decide who's naughty and who's nice?

  • The case is being judged using California state law.

  • Federal law and circuit court law may be used to establish precedent.

  • Santa is being charged with unlawfully withholding at least $40 million in anticipated welfare disbursements in the State of California.

  • If a legal defense cannot be found, the reindeer and sleigh go up for auction. Santa's entire future is riding on this defense.


1In times past we've allowed sillier-than-usual Santa questions during the Christmas season. I honestly don't know if we're still doing that. We have some precedent historically and this comment from Monica some years back. If the mods/community think the time for Santa questions has passed, let me know and I'll delete the question.

2Which Santa responded to by traveling to San Fransisco in traditional style: his sleigh and eight reindeer. There are, of course, only eight reindeer. That nonsense invented by Robert L. May in 1939 about a red-nosed ninth reindeer has caused Santa no end of trouble. An outstanding trademark infringement case against May's estate is outstanding because Santa's been forced to follow up in every individual supreme court world-wide — and most of them think the case is superfluous.

3NOTE: If you believe I'm poking fun at just one aspect of the U.S. Political System, you're entirely wrong. I'm poking fun at the ENTIRE U.S. Political System. I once called it our National Circus complete with Donkeys and Elephants, Clowns and Ringmasters. I'm still of that opinion. Besides, if you're inclined to down vote an answer simply because you disagree with it's political alignment or leanings — you might have both missed the point of this question and the point of asking fun questions at Christmas.

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  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica Dec 8 '20 at 15:55
  • $\begingroup$ I personally disagree with the use of the tag alternate-reality. The tag is poorly described, but if real world questions are on-topic then does this mean that every single real world question needs to include alternate-reality because they have their own story set in that real world? Tags should reflect what the question is about, not what it contains. Your world contains a divergence from the world (Santa exists) but it is about a specific legal struggle involving Claus, not so much about how the existence of Claus affects the world in various ways. I recognise that it's subjective though. $\endgroup$ – KeizerHarm Dec 8 '20 at 20:45
  • $\begingroup$ @KeizerHarm In my alternate reality Santa exists (spoilers if you're under the age of 9) and that means a rational interpretation of modern law to accommodate the alternate reality. Nevertheless, if that's the worst thing about this question... I'm doing great! $\endgroup$ – JBH Dec 8 '20 at 20:47

12 Answers 12

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Case dropped for two reasons. There is no law enforcing Santa to give anyone anything therefore anything of value is a gift that is given to anyone nice.
Second reason for dropping the case is that it's not Santa's obligation to describe the value of the gift to the recipient.
For some, a broken guitar is worth nothing. For others it's worth 52 thousand pounds because it was broken by Pete Townsend.

The coal is not only worth its BTU in weight but also the type of energy it can be turned into and therefore any other taxes and deductions it came with it.

Or as a Vintage paper holder, natural black soap, folk song inspiration, Nobel water filter, jewellery.

Also the package might say COAL but the content is toffee. https://www.fortnumandmason.com/christmas-coal-250g

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  • $\begingroup$ Re broken guitars, see also the book "The $12 Million Stuffed Shark". $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Dec 7 '20 at 18:16
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    $\begingroup$ The coal question reminds me of the Duck Tales (2017) episode "How Santa Stole Christmas", Nov. 30, 2020. $\endgroup$ – M. A. Golding Dec 7 '20 at 18:36
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    $\begingroup$ @chrylis-cautiouslyoptimistic- No one... absolutely no one, should look too closely at Santa's operations. 😜 $\endgroup$ – JBH Dec 7 '20 at 18:38
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    $\begingroup$ @chrylis -cautiouslyoptimistic: That seems like a non sequitur. Could you explain? AFAIK, Santa's work force is all volunteer, there are no import regulations on the presents (and least the ones Santa brings: no telling about the ones from parents or weird Uncle Ernie :-)) and no money is involved $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Dec 7 '20 at 20:21
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    $\begingroup$ @chrylis-cautiouslyoptimistic- - you have forgotten all the 'elf-and-safety violations... $\endgroup$ – Duke Bouvier Dec 8 '20 at 8:32
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I may be wrong here, but I don’t think this case would ever make it to a court.

Santa is a private entity. Any expectation of gifts being given is just that: an expectation. There is no written contract to say Santa must give any gifts to anyone, and the vast resources Santa has at his disposal are his to employ however he chooses.

Sure, we can disagree with his methods for choosing who to give money to, but this is no more a matter for the legal system than Jimmy being angry Old Aunt Ethel wrote him out of the will because of what he said to Darlene.

Any good lawyer will get this case immediately dismissed.

Now, if you really want a court case: get the IRS involved. Santa gets those toys from somewhere, but he apparently neither spends nor accepts money? Yeah right. I smell a money laundering scheme, or at the very least tax avoidance. Just imagine the revenue that isn’t being collected...

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    $\begingroup$ Santa could argue that the economics of gift distribution demonstrate that the parents of the children to whom Santa gives gifts pay for the gifts, and store sales figures would corroborate that. Santa is the delivery man, and lest anyone try to charge him for avoidance of income tax, he performs that service gratis. $\endgroup$ – Monty Wild Dec 7 '20 at 10:20
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    $\begingroup$ Also, what tax authority is in charge of the North Pole? $\endgroup$ – NomadMaker Dec 7 '20 at 11:02
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    $\begingroup$ @NomadMaker: There was a question that asked this, and as I pointed out there, Santa has numerous nations claiming his residency but I made the case that he was only given citizenship by Canada because at the time the modern Santa myth was emerging, Canada possessed the territory that was Magnetic North Pole (which is constantly shifting unlike True North) thus Canadian tax laws applied and was and still is an island in Canda's artic regions. I also like to point out that his traditional colors align with the Canadian flag... just saying... $\endgroup$ – hszmv Dec 7 '20 at 14:00
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    $\begingroup$ Have all those gifts been through customs? Somehow I doubt it 🙂. $\endgroup$ – Matthew Dec 7 '20 at 16:27
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    $\begingroup$ Santa uses a corporation to license his image. The licensing fees cover all his expenses. $\endgroup$ – Mary Dec 8 '20 at 0:26
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The gift of coal includes carbon credits for burning it.

After the passing of Assembly bill 32 carbon credits are required to offset coal burning in the state of California. Santa is of course, familiar with all local laws and regulations.

Santa has gifted the carbon credits as well with the coal, allowing the children to burn it for warmth this winter without further costs or legal consequence.

This value when included in the gift calculation adds significant value to the coal, offsetting the coals value such that is now equivalent to the median gift value.


Or - in the current economy - coal is a symbol of hope and far more valuable than a trinket

Given 11% unemployment and the eviction moratorium ending on Dec 31st about to throw a million Californians out on the cold winter streets, any decent defence attorney Santa hires could argue that to a homeless or soon-to-be-homeless person a method of remaining warm over winter is a superior gift than some trinket - giving children coal could save their lives.

There's a historical precedent here - Santa, the Easter bunny, and a few US air force pilots teamed up and delivered 12,941 tonnes of coal in 24 hours to West Berlin in 1949. That coal saved the lives of thousands of people and brought hope to hundreds of thousands more. Santa delivering coal to the soon-to-be-homeless Californians would be a beacon of hope to hundreds of thousands of destitute Californians whose lives have been ruined with a year of hell - wildfires, pandemic, dust storms, depression, race riots, and whatever surprise 2020 has left for the grand finale.

Let the children keep their beacon of hope that 2021 will be slightly better.

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  • $\begingroup$ The coal question reminds me of the Duck Tales (2017) episode "How Santa Stole Christmas", Nov. 30, 2020. $\endgroup$ – M. A. Golding Dec 7 '20 at 18:36
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    $\begingroup$ Carbon credits... that's fantastic! $\endgroup$ – JBH Dec 7 '20 at 21:34
  • $\begingroup$ "Just a few US and British Airforce pilots and the inhabitants of West Berlin to stomp an airstrip from the ground" $\endgroup$ – Trish Dec 11 '20 at 9:14
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In the matter of Pickles et. al. v. Kringle, this court finds for the defense. Kris Kringle (aka Santa Claus, aka Saint Nicholas, aka Father Christmas) established a verbal contract with Ms. Pickles and similar plaintiffs that established that in order to receive desirable presents, that the plaintiffs must behave in a manner that he characterizes as "Nice" and not in a manner that is "Naughty". Mr. Claus additionally took time audit his list on two separate occasions in the calendar year, at great personal cost given the sheer scale of evaluating every single human child of the 7.5 billion members of the human race. While the terms may be overly broad [Defenses' evidence A: Document titled "Santa Claus is coming to town"], Mr. Claus further stipulates that the the criteria of determination for the nice and naughty list are his sole determination, though it is generally assumed that the plain language meaning applies. Certain "naughty" behaviors are described, as the contract explains that children must take caution to avoid behaviors such as "crying" or "pouting" and that while the child has surrendered a good amount of privacy rights to Mr. Kringle, he does have ample documentation to know if someone has been "bad or good" and implores one to be good. We can therefor find that Santa has more than sufficiently meant the burden of proof to make claim that the plaintiffs were in fact "Naughty" and not "Nice." As such, the plaintiffs violated the terms of the verbal agreement with Mr. Kringle, thus the desirable gift(s) were rightfully denied from them.

While there has been considerable scrutiny over the contract applying to children who were unable to sign such a document, the burden to be Good and Nice for a year at length is not difficult for the children to meet, and while many recipients of favorable Christmas gifts may have underperformed their quoted estimates to Santa, Santa still was quite lenient and managed to produce the desired gift. Mr. Claus' stated gain in this is that children the world over learn how to treat others with respectful and dignified behavior. Often in our lives, those who do good things are rarely celebrated or discussed. Mr. Kringle is a rare exception to this, who positively rewards behavior that while difficult is what one should aspire to do.

We next move on to equity of the gift of coal left for the plaintiffs and whether it is equitable. We must first examine whether the plaintiffs, had they received their desired gifts, would have equal value in those gifts. Of a sampling, we look at the list of Johnny, Susie, and Nelly, who want a pair of skates, a dolly, and a storybook respectively. These are reflective of different goals and pursuits and entertainment of the children. Perhaps Johnny has goals of playing for the NHL or winning a winter Olympics gold medal, while Susie wishes to be a mother and is practicing her maternal skills. Nelly, who openly states that she thinks "dollies are follies" has may have academic pursuits or desires to have a career as a writer. Obviously the gifts are all of different values on the open market if bought new but they are equal in that that they all three bring their recipient happiness, which, we cite Mastercard ex parte, is truly priceless. One can no more put a price on the thrill of a child finding the perfect gift under the Christmas Tree on Christmas Morning than one can count all the stars in the sky... in fact, the emotion is so pure and concentrated, those who are noted to be in exceptionally high spirits are often figuratively likened to children in this magical of moments.

We now look at the gift of coal, a commodity traded on the market for energy and having a high value both due to the difficulty in procuring it and the many uses coal has in both the warmth it can bring and the price it can fetch in resale to help offset economic hardship. The plaintiffs do not argue that the coal was given unequally beyond that any amount, in the slightest, is too much. Through this lack of argument, not only are they showing that they would value the happiness of a new toy of their desire over the economic value of coal, but they fail to acknowledge that even while they failed to satisfy their end of the contract, Mr. Kringle did still give them something of some value when he was not obligated to follow up with his part of the bargain at all. Even though, through their own fault, they had a less than desired outcome from the contract, Mr. Kringle still sought to leave them with a gift that could be put to good use. Rather than offering the coal to help keep their families warm or selling the coal to bring in some income to help their families fed and clothed during the harsh winter season (for those south of the equator, they could at least offer it come winter time in six months), which would in this court's opinion be true acts of goodness that Mr. Kringle ought consider in his next audit of lists, they instead chose to bring legal proceedings against a man who has given so much for a payment of so little.

Christmas is a time where we are all reminded that a little kindness is an investment that will always have a large payout. The court of law enjoins people to do what they must by the laws we have written. But this court is humbled by the knowledge that no law can be created to enjoin people to do what they need not do, but still want to. One does not need a law saying to do good to others, but we have many saying do not do bad to others. This court was not set up to tell the generous to give more than they have, but to bring justice to those wronged by the greed of others. Mr. Kringle is perhaps the most generous person in the world. For a small deposit of milk and cookies (and carrots for the reindeer) and a promise to do the good things you should already be doing, he gives so much more. For those who fail to meet their obligations, he still gives something that can be useful for those who desire to change for the better. This court finds in favor of the defense.

It is so ordered.

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There is no defense for his behaviour: Santa will not need to be taken to trial, as the only court that really matters in 2020 is the Court of Public Opinion, but he will be thoroughly excoriated:

  1. The forces of wokedom will ensure that the story gets properly spun on all the usual social networks: the twats over over on Twitter will find their knickers in a bind; the emptyheads over on Facebook will rage; flash mobs will descend on every public place where Christmas decorations are to be found, seeking only wanton destruction;
  2. The forces of cancel culture will eradicate or rewrite whatever is left: Youtube will bring down any video that mentions Christmas, Santa, Reindeer, Rudolph, Elves, etc; Twitter and Facebook will likewise label such posts as misleading or without evidence and will mark them for removal; Google will send all legitimate references to Santa to page 578 of 666 searches, in preference of less relevant search results;
  3. Left wing pressure groups will force all Santa positive media to be removed from public airwaves on the claim that Santa's unfairness is rooted in colonial exploitation, enslavement of non-human sophont beings, homophobia, racism, intolerance, and connexions with the kiddie porn industry (after all, he knows when they're asleep, and he knows when they're awake!);
  4. Low information gift shoppers will be subtly guided away from all reference to Christmas and Santa Claus and the entire season will become a santised, Santa-free shopping spree;
  5. Hollywood Important People and Social Media Influencers will combine forces to excoriate Santa for his unfair treatment of children and will socially crucify anyone who supports his agenda by seeking to impose their outmoded (traditional American) or unacceptable (Christian) or senseless (common sense) moral views on everyone else;
  6. Behind the scenes, various social pressure groups, most likely "led" by charismatic Swedish children, will work with Santa's representative Elves to hammer out some kind of deal that will result in a "refreshing of Santa's brand and image". Gone will be all but the slightest and merest of hints of good morals: sure, there's that whole "naughty & nice" motif, but movies have proven beyond all reasonable doubt that naughty children are really quite good!; Santa will be forced to reorient his whole operation to offer a wider variety of presents to ALL children, regardless of their goodness, obedience status, or relative niceness & naughtitude. The result will be a fairer, more equitable, less sectarian holiday season!
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    $\begingroup$ Don't forget the part where someone makes up a fake hate crime (a child getting the opposite toy for their specified gender), far right wing groups make claims that this is all an attempt to erode the moral foundations of a capitalist Christmas, and some politician has to make a statement that the proposal to use Mr. Santa's sleigh to transport weapons into conflict zones is part of a Russian disinformation campaign. $\endgroup$ – Umbra Dec 7 '20 at 14:27
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    $\begingroup$ What's that rule about being unable to distinguish sarcasm from reality? Because this is definitely in that category. The only thing here, unfortunately, that is genuinely fanciful is the original premise of Santa's irrefutable existence. (Also, isn't #4 already happening / has already happened?) $\endgroup$ – Matthew Dec 7 '20 at 16:25
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    $\begingroup$ I updated my question to include a footnote gently (OK, bluntly) reminding people that I'm making fun of the entire U.S. political system and that the point of the question is to have fun. Taking a Santa question and its responses in any seriously makes me wonder about the world's decreasing sense of humor. Maybe that's why we have global warming. I bet I could get the Pastafarians to do a study on it! $\endgroup$ – JBH Dec 7 '20 at 18:42
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    $\begingroup$ Except that Snopes and other fact checking sites will prove the vast majority of this to be a far-Right conspiracy theory, and the only part that's true is what the Right is doing themselves and pretending the Left is doing it instead. $\endgroup$ – computercarguy Dec 7 '20 at 19:07
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    $\begingroup$ On a point of fact, you are confusing "The Court of Public Opinion" and "A few people on Twitter who Make A Lot of Noise" who THINK they are are forementioned Courtt. $\endgroup$ – Duke Bouvier Dec 8 '20 at 8:36
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Naughty kids are not a protected class.

Santa is free to discriminate against them under freedom of association.

... unless someone can prove a disparate impact on some protected class.

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    $\begingroup$ Does protected class even matter? Santa isn't entering in any kind of contract with any of the children or their families. If I was extremely rich and regularly gave a lot of money to beggars of a certain skin color in my city, and never gave any money to any beggars of a different color, could they win a class-action lawsuit against me, forcing to give money to them as well? I guess not, even if skin color is a protected class. $\endgroup$ – vsz Dec 7 '20 at 18:47
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    $\begingroup$ Given the disparate crime rates of Black Americans compared to White Americans, I'd be willing to wager that there's probably a disparate impact on a protected class, since presumably naughty adults are more likely to have been naughty children. $\endgroup$ – nick012000 Dec 8 '20 at 7:59
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    $\begingroup$ @nick01200, You mean, given the disparate prosecution & conviction rates... $\endgroup$ – matt2000 Dec 11 '20 at 19:21
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The final plea of Santa Claus

The attorneys plead that as these are gifts and not sales, Santa effectively counts as a charity, and charities cannot be held accountable for the value or quality of their gifts to recipients. Santa makes an impassioned plea that everything he has ever given is a gift, and was only meant to make the world a better place and show children the value of being good.

The prosecution in turn argues that Santa never registered as a charity in the state, he is effectively functioning as a state-level entity, and so the gifts are considered 'welfare' under California law, ipso facto. Santa ultimately loses the case, and is ordered to pay the $40 million. Everybody's sad, newspaper headlines declare the end of Santa Claus and Christmas. The sleigh and reindeer are held for auction to repay his debt. Santa leaves, embarrassed and disgraced.

Why does this help?

One naughty child who had been the angry and self-entitled 'front face' of the prosecution's legal campaign sees the result of what they've done, and is really sad about it. They immediately launch a social media campaign to gather together all of the coal Santa has left other naughty kids and use it to buy Santa's assets at auction at the full $40 million.

When Santa arrives home to the North Pole, he finds all his possessions gift-wrapped beneath a giant Christmas Tree beside his house. The child orders their legal team to draw up a contract binding in California state law between Santa and all children, declaring that from this day forward, Santa shall have full authority and impunity in future distribution of presents to children in the state.

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The case rests on the suggestion that the value of the gift is the face value according to some or other metric (e-Bay perhaps as lots of Christmas gifts probbly end up there unless carefully chosen.)

That is rather like saying that the value of a school teachers work product is the cost of the pencil and paper on which tests and essays are written rather than the exercise of professional judgement in the supply of educatioal services.

Santa is exercising professional judgment in the field of moral improvement. The value of his services is in the evaluation in-the-round of a childs behaviour and the delivery of motivational feedback.

The nominal value of Santa's direct gift giving is usally small, though as a highly qualified gift-giving consultant Santa also offers advice to parents on appropriate gifts that reflect their social-economic circumstances to maximise the incentive effect on children)

As such the case has no merit.

(As Santa's lawyer I must insist the plaintiffs cease and desist from continuing to slander my client's pre-eminent reputation in gift-giving or further action may be taken to defend it)

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Santa's gifts are private charity and not government welfare, unless he provides welfare on the behalf of the US government which doesn't seem likely as he has been delivering gifts before the invention of the modern welfare state.

In fact, according to Internal Revenue Code section 501(c)(3), Santa's organization may qualify as a charitable organization and qualify for tax-exemption, provided his organization does not benefit private interests or get involved politically.

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I'm not legally savvy, but how can a class-action lawsuit originating in the United States be made against an entity that exists outside of the US? Even if the North Pole were a nation, and even if the North Pole were a member state of the United Nations, I don't think any international laws would be broken here, so this case couldn't even be taken to the World Court or anything.

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    $\begingroup$ Hello Jack, thanks for joining us on Worldbuilding. When you have a moment, please take our tour and visit our help center to better understand our Stack. This is the kernel of a good answer! Can you flesh it out a bit? Crack those knuckles and pull out your best Google-fu and see what you can find. $\endgroup$ – JBH Dec 8 '20 at 1:19
  • $\begingroup$ Remnds me of a perhaps apocryphall story of an attempt to sue The Devil for some or other crime. The Court did not want to rule The Devil non-existent even though they would have to tried in absentia, but did note that he was styled "Prince of Darkness" so soveign immunity could be applied. $\endgroup$ – Duke Bouvier Dec 8 '20 at 8:39
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The Naughty Kids can't sue him, but the Nice Kids Probably Could

Santa has the right to distribute gifts based on moral considerations all he wants, but this is not the only anomaly in his gift giving practices. The analytics of his gift giving actually show that the presents he is giving out are not equally valuable based on the race of the children he is giving them to:

In California, the average total value of Christmas Presents received by race are about as follows:

  • Black: \$159
  • Hispanic: \$198
  • White: \$272
  • Asian: \$335

Why is this Illigal

The Unruh Civil Rights Act, states that "all citizens are entitled to the full and equal accommodations in all business establishments"

Rotary International v. Rotary Club of Duarte deemed that an entity is a business establishment for purposes of the Unruh Civil Rights Act if it is "truly public" meaning it by policy interacts with persons who are not its members

O'Connor v. Village Green Owners Assn. deemed that Nonprofits are to be treated as "business establishments" under the Unruh Civil Rights Act.

So even if Santa is a registered non-profit in the State of California, he is still legally required to give the same access to resources based on race, gender, nationality, religion, and sexual orientation. Because Santa gives gifts to children who have not opted into membership with his gift giving organization he is liable under the Unruh Civil Rights Act which would probably result in him losing his public non-profit status and be converted to a taxable corporation where he would be liable for back taxes and have to pay whatever reparations the court decides on to the children of minorities.

Based on California's racial demographics, the average citizen received \$87.30 less worth of gifts than the average Asian citizen which could easily result in reparations of about 3.5 billion dollars from 2019 alone.

That said, I don't think his reindeer and sleigh could be put up for auction since corporate lawsuits can not punitively confiscate specific resources from an organization. Instead, Santa would have a seperate settlement hearing after the lawsuit where a method of paying back any debts would be decided. The most likely outcome here is that Santa would be given several years to come up with funds to reimburse damages.

But He'd Probably Get Away with It Even if it is Illegal...

All this said, Santa is a foreign national leader who has a trade agreement that asymmetrically benefits California and the US as a whole; so, if he were to decide to play hardball and threaten trade sanctions, he could very easily negotiate a Governor's and/or Presidential Pardon and never have to pay a dime.

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Santa rolled his eyes and phoned the children's parents...

Horrified, the parents cancelled the lawsuit and grounded the children.

Bummed out were the lawyers who thought they could've made big bucks out of that case.

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  • $\begingroup$ What about the children of those lawyers? $\endgroup$ – ManfP Dec 7 '20 at 20:58
  • $\begingroup$ @ManfP I think they were the ones who inspired the lawyers to reach out to other people's children (secretly) and start the riot. $\endgroup$ – user80961 Dec 7 '20 at 21:30
  • $\begingroup$ @ManfP - the case has to be dropped if it's only being carried by the lawyers' own children - conflict of interest. $\endgroup$ – Steve Taylor Dec 8 '20 at 9:27
  • $\begingroup$ i, this isnt an answer at all $\endgroup$ – Topcode Dec 13 '20 at 16:23

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