The Oatmeal v. FunnyJunk, Part VII: Charlie The Censor Files A Motion
[All of our coverage of the Oatmeal v. FunnyJunk debacle is collected under this tag.]
Here it was, Saturday night, and I was all set for a relaxing evening: a few beers at the Yard House and then a movie with my lovely wife, perhaps a few (or a few dozen) turns of Civ V (with the expansion), and sleep. Or maybe I was going to spend the evening conferring with my shadowy Illuminati brethren, spinning our web to control your destiny. It really depends on whom you ask.
Our pal Charlie the Censor had other plans.
Charles Carreon, fresh from amending his complaint against Matt Inman, IndieGoGo, and two charities, filed an application for a temporary restraining order, seeking court intervention to prevent IndieGoGo from distributing the astounding $220,000 Matt Inman's BearLove campaign raised to fight cancer and help bears.
Adam Steinbaugh scooped me on this, and has both the documents and some good analysis. I learned of it via a PACER email and considered starting a post immediately, then considered the likely consequences if I started typing the standard for preliminary injunctions into my iPhone in the middle of date night, and reconsidered.
I'm only going to offer only limited analysis; I'll provide the opposing briefs when they pop up on PACER. For now, consider this:
1. Charlie the Censor continues to assert that Matt Inman is a "commercial fundraiser for charitable purposes." However, as I noted in Chapter V, the statute doesn't seem to support that claim. Mr. Carreon offers no legal authority or argument for why Inman falls into the definition. To be fair to him, he does assert the proposition "plainly" and "clearly" several times, and I think once he may have said "strenuously," though I may be misremembering that.
2. Charlie the Censor correctly states that preliminary relief (including both temporary restraining orders and preliminary injunctions) are employed by courts to prevent "irreparable harm." However, he fails to note that "irreparable harm" generally excludes pure monetary harm. Such harm is not irreparable because it can be addressed by an award of damages against the alleged wrongdoer. Hence, it is generally not a basis for preliminary injunctive relief. “(P)laintiff must demonstrate potential harm which cannot be redressed by a legal or an equitable remedy following a trial. Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Comm'n v. NFL (9th Cir. 1980) 634 F2d 1197, 1202 [monetary harm alone does not constitute irreparable harm]. Here, Mr. Carreon is allegedly concerned that Mr. Inman will abscond with the money, or that donors will be deprived of the monetary value of tax write-offs. Both of those harms can be addressed by money. They're not irreparable. There are exceptions, but this will be a problem for him.
3. Charlie the Censor uses the application as a vehicle to accuse Mr. Inman and IndieGoGo of defrauding donors by falsely suggesting that their donations would be tax-deductible. Yet as Adam Steinbaugh pointed out in a comment here, IndeGoGo offers perfectly clear guidance on this subject. In other words, it's so clear that even a Popehat reader can find it.
4. As Adam explains in his post, Charlie the Censor's motion illustrates how petty he is. By filing and amending his lawsuit, he's tried to reframe the narrative to be about him vindicating the rights of donors everywhere, enforcing California charity law, and preventing abuse of charities. But the motion reveals that he was willing to let IndieGoGo off the hook — abandon his opposition to their 4% fee and capitulate on his quest to have a court order them to comply with what Mr. Carreon imagines it to be — if they just agree to breach their contract with Mr. Inman and send the money directly to the two charities. In other words, he wants to save face, to achieve some sort of pathetic victory over Mr. Inman, no matter how mean and small. I find this more pitiful than maddening, actually.
5. Charlie the Censor says, in explaining why the Court should prohibit IndieGoGo from releasing the money to Inman, "[a]lthough he induced many donors to donate,his desire to engage in showboating with the proceeds does not demonstrate the sober, responsible attitude appropriate to the trustee of a charitable fund." Sorry, Charlie, could you repeat that? I think you were saying something about a sober, responsible attitude, but I somehow got distracted.
6. Charlie the Censor seems to have turned down his outrage a few notches regarding the fact that IndieGoGo gets a 4% fee. Perhaps he realized how thoroughly that is disclosed on IndieGoGo's website. Or perhaps he realized that a 96% return to the charities is vastly better than the cut charities usually get from fundraising conducted in their name under the statutory scheme he seeks to impose upon IndieGoGo and Mr. Inman.
7. Charlie the Censor remains outraged that Mr. Inman wants to sully the good reputation of charitable fundraising through a "publicity stunt." This is truly an excellent point. If charity fundraising is characterized by anything, it's high levels of dignity. You'd never see a publicity stunt like people standing in front of a comically outsized check. You'd never see politicians and celebrities using charitable donations for attention. You'd never see something like an eating contest to promote an anti-hunger charity. No, like anything associated with money, it's really quite pure. Thank goodness we have people like Charlie the Censor who are willing to use the legal system to tell people what to think, what to say, and how and why they may donate to charity, to keep it that way. [Or maybe you don't think Charlie the Censor should be telling people what kinds of charitable campaigns shouldn't be allowed because the offend his delicate sensibilities. Maybe you think that it's none of Charlie the Censor's damn business if someone like Matt Inman wants to point to a bad actor — a bad actor like Charlie the Censor — to inspire people to donate money to a good cause in defiance. If you feel that way, it's too late to donate to BearLove — but it's not too late to donate a few bucks to Ann Bransom's campaign, premised on the notion "My intentions in donating my own money are nobody's business."]
Watch for an update Monday night.
FIRST UPDATE: Sunday July 1st, 3:00: PACER just informed me that IndieGoGo filed its opposition. I downloaded it. Here is the memorandum of points and authorities, and the relevant supporting declarations are here and here.
IndieGoGo's opposition is devastating. The main points may be summarized as follows:
1. Even though Carreon filed suit on June 15, 2012, and even though he knew exactly when IndieGoGo would transfer the funds, Carreon delayed until June 28, 2012 to file his application for a TRO — after IndieGoGo had already transferred the money, and after IndieGoGo told Carreon they had already transferred the money. As IndieGogo points out, Carreon offers no explanation for his delay.
2. IndieGoGo explains that it was only ever in possession of about half of the money anyway — the half contributed by credit card. If you contribute at IndieGoGo through PayPal, the money goes directly to the person who started the campaign (here, Mr. Inman.) If you contribute through a credit card, the money goes to IndieGoGo. IndieGoGo gives its estimate of how much was left after fees.
3. At Mr. Inman's request, IndieGoGo distributed the credit card money directly to the two charities, the National Wildlife Fund and the American Cancer Society. So Mr. Inman doesn't get to take his picture with the entire pile of money (only the part that came through PayPal) and Charlie the Censor gets a petulant amoral victory. However, because Charlie the Censor was willing to abuse litigation and frustrate the charitable purpose of Mr. Inman's campaign, Mr. Inman's approach was strategically sound. The pedagogical point that Mr. Inman could have achieved by taking the picture has been achieved by the nationwide attention to Mr. Carreon's appalling and unprofessional behavior.
4. IndieGoGo argues, as I did above, that because this involves money, there is no showing of irreparable harm, and thus preliminary injunctive relief is inappropriate.
5. IndieGoGo argues that it is immune from Charlie the Censor's cause of action against it under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which generally speaking says that online service providers are not liable for the postings of their guests and customers. (That's why if you post something defamatory on Facebook, Facebook is not liable the way a newspaper would be if it printed your op-ed making the same defamatory statement.)
6. IndieGoGo — unlike Charlie the Censor — engages in a thoughtful and persuasive discussion of pertinent authorities on California charity law, and establishes rather convincingly that he lacks standing to sue. (Charlie the Censor probably foresaw this argument, which is why his First Amended Complaint attempts to drag the California Attorney General into the case.)
This is an extremely well-drafted rebuke to Charlie the Censor and would be humiliating to any normal attorney. In the case of Charlie the Censor, he'll probably try to sue PayPal next.
SECOND UPDATE: July 1: [I made you an original version of this update, but apparently I eated it.] The Electronic Frontier Foundation has filed their opposition on behalf of Mr. Inman. It's awesome. So is their commentary.
Just a few important points from the opposition:
1. The EFF eviscerates Carreon's argument that Mr. Inman is a commercial fundraiser, using — and I know this will be shocking if you have been following the case so far — actual law.
2. The EFF invokes the First Amendment in a way that IndieGoGo does not, explaining that charitable fundraising is protected speech entitled to more deference than standard commercial speech, and thoroughly refuting Mr. Carreon's quasi-Victorian couch-fainting (and deeply hypocritical) approach to fundraising decorum.
3. The EFF ably demonstrates that Mr. Inman did not, in fact, make any false statements about the fundraiser.
4. The EFF offers an answer — a resounding "no" — to the now common question "can Charlie the Censor manufacture standing by just making a donation?" Again bringing law to Mr. Carreon's rhetoric-fight, the EFF demonstrates that Mr. Carreon has no standing to police charities under California law.
The rest is entertaining rubble-bouncing. That's going to leave a mark.
THIRD UPDATE: July 2, 2012 at 3:30 PST: Judge Chen has issued an order asking Mr. Inman to submit evidence that he has, in fact, sent checks to the two charities, suggesting this would make the motion moot. This is a very strong indication that Judge Chen will deny the motion as moot if Mr. Inman supplies the evidence.
Fourth Update: July 3, 2012 at 3:30 PST: Mr. Inman's attorney responded to the Court's order by filing a declaration indicating that he personally mailed the checks written by Mr. Inman to the two charities. That's it. Really nothing to see.
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