The Law and the Multiverse Holiday Special

You might not know it, but Santa Claus has been a character in both the DC and Marvel universes, which makes him fair game for our blog.  In this post we take a look at Santa and the law.

I. Trespass and Consent

At first glance it might seem that Santa Claus is liable in tort and criminal law for trespass, but the homeowner’s consent negates both charges.  Sending letters to Santa, hanging stockings with care, setting out milk and cookies, and the like are all clear manifestations of consent for Santa Claus to enter one’s home and deposit presents (or coal, as the case may be).  Indeed I suspect it would be quite difficult to find someone who received a present from Santa Claus yet could honestly claim that he or she did not consent to its delivery.

II. Airspace Restrictions

Another potential problem with Santa, as with many superheroes, is the issue of air travel regulations.  In Santa’s case however, the fact that he is tracked by NORAD suggests that he has clearance from the US and Canadian militaries to travel through US and Canadian airspace essentially unrestricted.

III. Customs and Immigration

Santa may be cleared to travel through US and Canadian airspace, but what about entering the countries in the first place?  As it turns out, Canada has extended Canadian citizenship to Santa Claus, so the answer is trivial for Santa’s travels through Canada.  Furthermore, as a Canadian citizen his entry into the US is fairly straightforward because he’ll only be in the country for a few hours; there is no need for a special visa.  One brief stop at a border crossing when he enters the US is all he needs.  If he can visit millions of homes around the world in one night, that small delay is unlikely to present a problem.

Customs is a bit trickier as Santa Claus ordinarily would have quite a lot to declare.  It seems clear, though, that Santa does not actually physically possess all of the presents to be delivered in his sleigh (obviously that would be impossible!).  Instead his sack of toys functions as a kind of teleportation device, allowing him to pull out presents as needed, as depicted in this well-known documentary.  That would seem to neatly skirt the problem of filling out the world’s longest customs form.

IV. Conclusion

It appears that Santa Claus is well within the bounds of the law, and so may safely stay on his own nice list.  Happy Holidays, Everyone!

20 responses to “The Law and the Multiverse Holiday Special

  1. I don’t understand how a teleportation device allows him to skirt customs regulations. He’s clearly importing items into the country – wouldn’t he need to pass customs each time he reaches into his sack?

    • Partly I think the law simply isn’t well equipped to handle this particular possibility, since real-world teleportation technology hasn’t gotten past the individual photon level. In any case I think there’s a good argument that each individual item is its own transaction, and thus likely falls into the exempt amount ($100 for non-US-residents). That would certainly account for the great majority of his gifts.

      Santa has a blanket exemption from certain regulations. For example, “Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture Tommy Irvin has granted a special 24-hour permit, waiving routine identification and other health requirements, for nine flying reindeer to land in the state on the evening of Friday, December 24, and during the early morning hours of Saturday, December 25.” It could be that he is also exempt from customs.

  2. What about the tax implications? Santa’s gifts might be subject to import duty, and milk & cookies are arguably income (although excludable as provided for the convenience of the employer).

    • Most of Santa’s gifts fall below the $100 import duty exemption for non-US-residents. The milk and cookies could be addressed several ways, I think (tax isn’t really my area of expertise):

      1. The total value may be below the minimum income tax threshold (presumably Santa is exempt from FICA). Remember that he traditionally only takes a bite of cookie and a sip of milk.
      2. Santa may be considered a tax-exempt charity, though there are special rules for foreign charitable organizations.
      3. It’s possible it could be considered “gross income derived by an individual resident of a foreign country from the international operation of aircraft,” which is excluded from the taxable income of nonresident aliens per 26 USC 872(b)(2).
      4. In any event his charitable giving may obliterate any tax liability.

  3. Scott W. Somerville

    Good points re: Santa, but aren’t you forgetting something? It would seem that flying reindeer are probably an endangered species. And what about quarantine? Can YOU take your pets across a border any time you want?

    • “Can YOU take your pets across a border any time you want?”

      That depends on the pet… At least for US/Canada travel, almost none require quarantine and outside of the exotics, few require any sort of paperwork.

    • The U.K. probably has the most restrictions on animals, and they’re proud of the fact that they haven’t had any rabies cases in 30 years. Since there aren’t any small mammals that harbor rabies in the north pole, it seems reasonable to give the reindeer a pass.

  4. Yayyyy, Santa! Good post, James, hope you have a merry Christmas! (Or whatever.)

  5. Maybe Santa is the head of state of a sovereign nation.
    Or the fact that all but Canada officially deny recognition to him allows them all to plausibly refuse to affirm or deny any and all charges of misdeeds, criminal or misdemeanor. I noticed on the NORAD coverage yesterday that he was flying over Saudi Arabia and neighbors at that moment.

    On an unrelated note: In the recently issued collection, “Batman International”, which collected “Batman in Barcelona: Dragon’s Knight”, Bruce Wayne and Alfred have this exchange:
    “Shall I pack a bag for the Batman as well, Master Bruce?
    “Don’t bother, Alfred. A utility belt is exceedingly difficult to sneak through customs these days. Besides, if you check the construction files, you’ll see some quite generous checks cut over the years, in a number of strategic international locations, for just this sort of eventuality, in order to ensure that my supply stores [remote Batcaves] are discreetly maintained.”

    This exchange seems to bear on some recent conversations here.

  6. Well, couldn’t Santa be considered the head of state of North Pole? Wouldn’t that exempt him of some problems?

  7. One issue that hasn’t been raised here is that of trademark infringement. Santa’s gifts are manufactured at the north pole, not purchased from other companies. The companies that actually own the trademarks wouldn’t hesitate to sue someone slapping those trademarks on third party goods.

    • I’m gonna say that no company is goin to risk the trmendous PR backlash from suing Santa Claus. The negative press they would get would far outweight any financial gains. Besides, I figure most corporatins have an arrangement whereby they allow Santa to use their likenesses ad properties as a sort of advertisement or promotion.

    • simple: The companies LICENSE Santa to produce the presents. The North pole has significant financial resources (Oil, for one) which could be used to pay licensing fees. Also, ARE Santa’s goods manufactured at the north pole? I’ve only ever seen depictions of the elves WRAPPING the presents. It’s (Just) conceivable that Santa purchases the presents, then the elves wrap them. no trademark infringement required.

  8. Few if any would disagree that Santa Land is a location without problems. While Santa deals with others’ unfulfilled desires, the inhabitants and environment of Santa Land appear to be trouble free. In a trouble free environment, such as Santa Land and Kansas, livestock has been disease free for years and therefore would not be subject to the quarantine restrictions of other less fortunate areas. Furthermore there is no indication that Santa’s reindeer ever though their dainty hooves on the ground or are exposed to other animals. It is also well settled that Rudolf’s red nose is not the result of an infection.

  9. What kind of labor laws and OSHA violations would Santa be in trouble with if his workshop was in US territory? Not to mention the permits and zoning necessary for such an operation.

    • actually, probably none. Elves are likely animals, albeit sentient ones, so animal rights laws apply; since there is no evidence the elves are unhappy, it’s likely the elves aren’t mistreated. As for the reindeer, same applies: there’s never any indication they are unhappy pulling the sleigh, so they are probably not mistreated. AS for OSHA, again, not enough evidence. there is no actual video of the process of manufacture of the presents, so in the absence of evidence to the contrary, we must assume all relevant laws are obeyed. As for permits and zoning,the people in charge of such generally have kids. Would YOU want to be the guy who has to tell your kid you blocked Santa from coming?

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  11. Could an individual get a restraining order against Santa for stalking them? He does, after all, watch people all the time (both when awake and asleep), and keeps notes on them in the form of a list determining if they are good or bad in his estimation. And what would happen if one parent in the house got the peace order, but the other was helping the kids write their letters to Santa? Or people who live in apartment buildings? And could enough of them cause him to be considered a danger so that he would be prevented from crossing the border into the US (because presumably one peace order wouldn’t cause a person trouble with immigration, but thousands could show a pattern of bad behavior that immigration would want to keep a lid on)?

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  13. With respect to airspace restrictions, entering the US from Canada is certainly the most straightforward way. There’s no Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) between the two countries and that kind of thing can really put a crimp on your day if you don’t plan for it.

    The FAA, however, is a notoriously finicky organization to deal with and there are several aeronautical details that Santa shouldn’t overlook. For example:

    – There’s a Special Flight Rules area around Washington DC which requires specific training and procedures.
    – Santa may need additional waivers if his sleigh is not suitably equipped with a transponder and two-way radio equipment.
    – He needs to watch out for the 250 knot speed limit below 10,000 feet (200 knots close to some airports) and, frankly, should probably just go ahead and apply for authorization to exceed Mach 1 while he’s at it. I assume he needs that.
    – He should ensure that his airworthiness certification is in order, or apply for a Special Flight Authorization.

    The fact that NORAD track him and he hasn’t been shot down yet implies that he’s taken care of all of this, or possibly just secured himself some kind of diplomatic clearance. I imagine even Federal bureaucrats like to see something under the tree on Christmas morning.

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