Santa Claus is Coming to Court

santa claus lawsuitA man named Warren J. Hayes somehow was able to obtain an official Ohio Identification Card in the name of “Santa Claus.” He also managed to get an official motor vehicle registration, AAA membership card, and checking account in Santa’s name, all of them listing his address as 1 Noel Drive, North Pole USA.

Hayes/Claus ran into trouble when he was involved in a minor car accident and produced his Santa Claus ID to a cop. He was charged under an Ohio statute prohibiting the use of “fictitious” names.

Perhaps in the Christmas spirit (although the case was decided in the heat of summer), Ohio Judge Thomas P. Gysegem let Mr. Hayes/Claus off the hook with this reasoning:

[T]he court’s dilemma is whether Santa’s act of displaying this identification card under these circumstances and with this history (noted above) violated the law, to wit, Was this identification card “fictitious”?

Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary defines “fictitious.” Its analysis of the word includes a synonym comparison with “fabulous,” “legendary,” “mythical,” and “apocryphal”:

“Fabulous stresses the marvelous or incredible character of something without distinctly implying impossibility or actual nonexistence; Legendary suggests the elaboration of invented details and distortion of historical facts produced by popular tradition; Mythical implies a purely fanciful explanation of facts or the creation of beings and events out of the imagination; Apocryphal implies an unknown or dubious source or origin for an account circulated as true or genuine.  … Fictitious implies fabrication and suggests artificiality or contrivance more than deliberate falsification or deception.”

Had Santa been charged with being “fabulous, legendary, mythical or apocryphal,” he might well indeed be guilty facing up to 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. However, to sustain the burden of going forward, the state must make a showing that Santa knowingly displayed an identification card that was “fictitious.” This the state has not done. The fact that Santa had an ongoing relationship for 20 years with the BMV is not indicative of “artificiality or contrivance,” for, in fact, under the publicly held records of the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles, Santa has been a “real person” since as early as 1982.

Never explained in the opinion is how the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles allowed a person to obtain and renew official documents in the name of Santa Claus for twenty years.

State v. Hayes, 774 N.E.2d 807, 810 (Ohio Mun. Ct. 2002). Thanks to Mardee Sherman.

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>




Andrew Jay McClurg is a law professor whose teaching and research interests include tort law, products liability, legal education, privacy law and firearms policy. He holds the Herbert Herff Chair of Excellence in Law at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law.
Learn more...

Funny Law School Stories
For all its terror and tedium, law school can be a hilarious place. Everyone has a funny law school story. What’s your story?

Strange Judicial Opinions
Large collection of oddball and off-the-wall judicial opinions and orders.

Product Warning Labels
A variety of warning labels, some good, some silly and some just really odd. If you come encounter a funny or interesting product warning label, please send it along.

Tortman! Andrew J McClurg
Tortland collects interesting tort cases, warning labels, and photos of potential torts. Raise risk awareness. Play "Spot the Tort."

Weird Patents
Think it’s really hard to get a patent? Think again.

Legal Oddities
From the simply curious to the downright bizarre, a collection of amusing law-related artifacts.

Spot the Tort
Have fun and make the world a safer place. Send in pictures of dangerous conditions you stumble upon (figuratively only, we hope) out there in Tortland.

Legal Education
Collecting any and all amusing tidbits related to legal education.

Harmless Error
McClurg's twisted legal humor column ran for more than four years in the American Bar Association Journal.