Last week, our very own Steve Buckingham wrote an intriguing (and quite funny) review of the infamous Santa (aka Kris Kringle) trial from Miracle on 34th Street. As Steve correctly noted, the defendant in that film is not the real Santa, but rather a “good-natured elderly man with a love of Christmas who is correctly identified as having dementia.” To our knowledge, the real Santa has never seen the inside of a courtroom. Santa obviously has deep pockets, so this should come as a real shocker. How Santa has been able to avoid litigation and public scrutiny over the last 200 years is beyond my comprehension. Santa, I have news for you. Despite your present run of lawsuit-avoidance, you are a tortfeasor. Its time to lawyer-up because you have wronged me for the last time.
My history with Santa has always been very business-like. We would typically see each other once a year. At that time, we would come to an agreement in which he would deliver certain goods to my house on a certain date in consideration for my good behavior. Santa always fulfilled his end of the bargain. However, I found it odd he would never agree to make the exchange face-to-face. Apparently, Santa had seen one too many Godfather movies because he valued discretion over all other things. I preferred to make the exchange publicly during the daytime hours to make sure Santa didn’t try anything sinister. Despite our contrasting styles, our arrangement seemed to work. We had a good thing going. Santa got whatever pleasure he derived from seeing well-behaved children, and I got my toys.
It all changed in 1987. As usual, Santa and I had our annual meeting a few days after Thanksgiving. We discussed the terms of the year’s transaction. Because my behavior had been exceptional since our last encounter, I decided to up the ante. Instead of the usual He-Man action figures, I requested a Nintendo Entertainment System. Without flinching, Santa agreed. I thought all was good. However, on the morning of December 25th, I went downstairs to our normal drop spot only to discover that instead of our agreed upon product, Santa had mistakenly left a bunch of Gobots! Gobots, of all toys! If Santa wasn’t going to fulfill our deal, he could have at least had the decency to provide me with Transformers, not some generic rip-off. Upon discovery of Santa’s betrayal, I tore my clothes and announced to the world that Santa was dead to me. I vowed to one day hold Santa accountable for his actions. That was the sole reason I chose to become a lawyer.
Unfortunately, in 1987, I was unfamiliar with the legal remedy for breach of contract and the three-year statute of limitations. Knowing that my claim was barred, I waited patiently for the day when Santa would slip up again. Last weekend was that day.
My wife and I took our 3-year old daughter to the mall to do a little Christmas shopping. The day started out uneventful, but upon arriving at the center of the mall, I made a discovery that was completely unexpected. There he was. Staring me straight in the eye. Sitting on his throne. Making deals with hordes of unsuspecting children. Santa Claus. My first thought was to walk right up to Santa and demand restitution. However, getting into a verbal altercation was not the type of example I wanted to set for my daughter. Instead, I decided I would walk away, pleased with this newfound knowledge of Santa’s whereabouts. As I began to direct my family away from the scene, I felt a tug on my pants leg. I looked down to see my daughter asking to go see Santa. What do I do? Do I tell her the man is a con-artist, crushing her innocent heart? Or do I allow her to go spend time with my archenemy? Well, as every father knows, we did what she wanted to do. We went and saw Santa.
After waiting in line for 45 minutes (during which I concocted many stratagems), it was finally my daughter’s turn to meet Santa. She walked right up and sat in his lap. Santa flashed me a sinister smile, knowing that he once again had the opportunity to victimize the Farr family. Then he looked at my daughter and asked her what she wanted for Christmas. He had her. This was his chance. My daughter was about to confide in Santa her heart’s desires. It was like watching an accident about to happen. But to my surprise, she looked at Santa and said nothing. Silence. Santa was completely powerless over her. Visibly defeated, Santa handed my daughter a cookie and sent her on her way.
While I never got my revenge on Santa, my 3-year old daughter had done it for me. I was ecstatic. We could rid ourselves of this Christmas menace forever. But then I remembered the cookie. To the outside world, I am sure the cookie appeared to be an innocent token of business appreciation. But I knew the truth. The cookie was a sugar-filled contract – a renewal of sorts – which Santa used to gain entry into one’s home. I knew the the cookie must be destroyed. Without instruction, my daughter voluntarily consumed this gingerbread contract of adhesion.
If I know Santa like I think I do, he will consider my daughter’s acceptance of the cookie as an open invitation to our home. I have news for you, Santa. This isn’t 1987. Now, I am prepared to fight you with the weaponry of South Carolina tort law. A minor under the age of four lacks the capacity to contract. Ever heard of trespass? You know, the unauthorized entry into the land of another? Be warned. Stay out of my property. Stay off my land. If you choose to ignore my warning, you might also want to keep your hands off of those cookies sitting by the fireplace. Those are mine. Eat them and begin preparing your defense to the tort of conversion.
Please don’t treat my animosity towards Santa as an attack on Christmas. I have nothing against the holiday. My dispute is with Santa alone. This conflict can only be resolved by our judicial system or a court appointed mediator. Santa, just in case you were wondering, all I want for Christmas is to see you succumb to the long arm jurisdiction of the South Carolina courts, or, in the alternative, a Nintendo Entertainment System would suffice. Even after all of these years.