Michael Mann's 'damages' over FOIA emails? A piddling $250

From ‘amazing tales of the vexatious’. Climate Change Dispatch writes:

In a clear slap in the face, the Virginia Supreme Court awarded Michael E. Mann and the University of Virginia a piddling $250 in damages in the email FOIA case. Showing the triviality of the manner, the court’s order (shown here) didn’t even specify the rationale for the derisory amount.

From The Daily Reporter:

The court’s recent order only states the amount of damages that the Energy & Environmental Legal Institute must pay. It doesn’t provide details about the rationale behind the award.

The institute sued in 2011 after U.Va. refused to turn over emails requested by the nonprofit conservative group under Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act. The Supreme Court rejected the group’s attempt to obtain the emails in April, saying retired Arlington Circuit Court Judge Paul Sheridan was right when he ruled that Mann’s emails were exempt from the law because they were proprietary records dealing with scholarly research.

Of course Mann’s incredible ego won’t allow him to see this as a slap in the face, he comments in The Daily Reporter:

“The damages in my view are symbolic,” Mann told The Daily Progress (http://bit.ly/1raJi0m) “What is important is not the $250 itself but the recognition by the court of the frivolous and pernicious nature of the (institute’s) suit.”

Mann, who is now a professor and researcher at Penn State University, said he planned to donate his award to the Climate Science Defense Fund. He said the fund exists “to assist scientists being attacked this way.”

What’s Mann’s hyperinflated ego can’t seem to assimilate, are these facts:

  • FOIA is a law, it was put in place specifically so that taxpayer money couldn’t be used for government business without public disclosure. It is not the same as “don’t ask, don’t tell” which is what Mann seems to think applies to his work, IMHO.
  • Because it is a law, it is a right to pursue. Asking for work correspondence and work product funded on the taxpayer’s dime is fair game, no matter what the judge says, IMHO.
  • If Mann had no issues with the contents of those emails, we wouldn’t see him fighting so hard to protect them. This business about him doing it “for the greater good of science” is a load of bullpuckey to give him hero status, IMHO.
  • As we’ve seen in the climategate emails, and more recently in the peer review ring busted and in The PNAS ‘old boys’ club’, the process of science and peer review seems to be more political, than logical.  One wonders what sort of similar examples exist that have yet to be discovered.
  • Mann is the only climate scientist to launch personal lawsuits against others, there seems to be no examples of the reverse from climate skeptics, personally suing Michael Mann or his peers. The idea of the “Climate Science Legal Defense Fund”, purportedly setup specifically for Mann, seems to be more about offense, than defense.

If I were ATI, I’d send him that $250 in pennies, which is fully legal tender, but also speaks to the triviality of Mann’s complaint, and the fact that the “Climate Science Legal Defense Fund” isn’t about defense as much as it is offense.

UPDATE: From David Schnare, General Counsel, Energy & Environment Legal Institute

There is a lot of misunderstanding about the $250 “damages” assessed by the Court. Any appellant that loses their appeal in the Virginia Supreme Court has to make this payment to the opposing party. It is generally intended to pay for the costs of printing of briefs. It does not include attorney’s fees or any other costs. Mann won’t get a cent. It all goes to the University who may or may not have to transfer it to the Attorney General’s coffers since that is who represented the University and who had to pay for preparation of their briefs.

More importantly, this is not all over. The court only decided the meaning of the term “of a proprietary nature” and they took our (plaintiffs) definition verbatim. They just refused to admit that which was their way of denying us our costs and fees. (We used over $300,000 worth of our time on this case, and thousands of dollars in costs.) What the court did not do was to discuss the rest of the “research exemptions” and that will come up with the next case that is already in the pipeline. That FOIA is seeking all emails associated with John Daly, Steve McIntyre and the IPCC. As none of those were collected by or for the faculty in pursuit of a research project sponsored by UVA, they should not be subject to being withheld. We will see what slimy games the University next plays to prevent the release of those documents. We’ll keep you informed.

 

 

 

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Eric

Love the pennies-payment idea.
The verdict just shows you can’t beat the UVA Old Boy network.

NotAGolfer

Can they appeal?

pokerguy

Meh. A loss would have been better than a win, no matter how trivial. We all owe a great debt if gratitude to the courageous and principled Mark Steyn, the man who just might finally hold this coward’s feet to the fire.

TinyCO2

Does he also get costs?

dp

The hit to his wallet is nothing compared to the hit to his credibility. Guilty as charged: priceless

Ima

Pennies is a bad idea. It implies being spiteful. Take the high road.

Bryan A

Better yet, Pay him in Vietnamese Dong.
The Dong is valued at 171,430 Dong to the Dollar
That would be 42,857,500
Lets round it to 43 million Dong in single dong notes

norah4you

Bitcoins?

At $250, that is $249.95 too much. Mann is not worth a plugged nickle.

Bob Koss

Pay him the smallest denomination Zimbabwe currency available. Probably weigh more than pennies.

Chilean Peso’s, current exchange rate is 557/US Dollar

jorgekafkazar

Bryan A says: “Better yet, Pay him in Vietnamese Dong.”
Leaving aside the obvious “sweets to the sweet” comment, foreign currency or coin is NOT legal tender. Now, I have heard of a fine being paid in US pennies, yes. But I’ve also heard of a judge calling such a payment “contempt of court.” and giving the defendant an additional penalty involving bad food and worse company. So let’s drop the comments about being witty when paying fines that you can’t pay, anyway. If you want, you can contribute an equivalent amount to Energy & Environmental Legal Institute by check.

kenw

send it in pennies, but Postage Due.

more soylent green!

Does the award of damages leave Energy & Environmental Legal Institute (the loser) liable for the court costs of the winners (Mann and UVA)? If so, this is a loss.

eqibno

Payment in carbon credits perchance? 😉

No matter the amount, it says he won 🙁

If I were ATI, I’d send him that $250 in pennies, which is fully legal tender, but also speaks to the triviality of Mann’s complaint, and the fact that the “Climate Science Legal Defense Fund” isn’t about defense as much as it is offense.
The shipping charges could be significant.

Man Bearpig

In the UK it WAS legal to write a check (Cheque) on anything as long as that item is legally owned and transferred to the issuing bank .. There have been even been cheques written on paving slabs, a cow and host of other ‘annoying’ items.
Paving slab? Imaging someone struggling with that to the bank.

Nigel in Waterloo

Don’t hold grudges, just pay nicely. Don’t give them any reason to hate you more.

Shipping charges, 250 rolls of pennies, 1/3 lbm each, first class, single box, LAND = $54 US Postal Service.
Do they still offer COD?

johninboston

The amount is $250 to Mann and the University of Virginia. So do they have to split the difference and each get $125 or do they both get $250? The court order is very vague (likely intentionally).

johanna

A mixed result, to be sure.
The legal costs would have been at least a thousand times $250. The judge was sending a message – why are you people wasting the Court’s time with this?
Agree with those above who say the the awarding of costs is the only material financial issue – but if I understand these things correctly, in US civil cases parties usually just have to suck up their own costs.

How about sending the pennies in individual unstamped envelopes 🙂

Man Bearpig

johanna says:
July 15, 2014 at 11:04 am
….
Agree with those above who say the the awarding of costs is the only material financial issue – but if I understand these things correctly, in US civil cases parties usually just have to suck up their own costs.
—-
Do I detect another FOIA request as to the costs of this to the US taxpayer ?

MJW

I think this article is confused. ATI was the appellant, so they were the ones trying to get the judgement reversed. And how likely is it the the Virginia Supreme Court — which went out of its way to protect the University and Mann from FOI requests — would turn around and slap them in the face? I think the slap from the court is directed at ATI. I haven’t read the court documents, so I don’t know for sure what the award is all about, but it seems quite strange that an organization pursuing an FOI request in the court should have damages assessed them. Any claim that the original suit was frivolous is, in my opinion, completely ridiculous.

Evan Jones

Believe it or not, there are severe limits on how much change can constitute legal tender. IIRC, the limit on pennies is 20 cents and the limit on dimes is 10$ (or something similar).
What this means is that if you get a ton of pennies you can refuse payment and legally demand the “accptable” amount. (When pennies were actually bronze and dimes, quarters, etc. were silver, this was not so much of an issue, of course.)

ldd

Write the check out on a tree plug.

J Martin

Withhold payment and let him go to court to get it if he really wants it. NB. I have zero legal expertise.

Brian R

If you really want to have fun with the payment, have a check engraved into a large piece of stone such as granite. As long as all the required information is on the check it is also considered legal payment.

AlexS

Sad to a spin in this issue, It is imaterial if it is $250.
Someone asking for a FOIA is punished for damages by the Court.
The State secrets are protected. Now that the Left controls the State(Governement) expect the many FOIA’s getting a sudden death.

Spellbounc

Your third bullet is poor reasoning. It’s similar to the government spying on you and telling you it’s okay if you have nothing to hide, and as false. I don’t like the obfuscation of Mann, but I like that reasoning even less.

Sophie

Brian R says:
July 15, 2014 at 12:05 pm
If you really ant to have fun with the payment, have a check engraved into a large piece of stone such as granite. As long as all the required information is on the check it is also considered legal payment.
Oh gosh, I’m rather afraid that if you paid him via a granite cheque, he would sue again, and this time he’d have concrete evidence. 🙂

Foreign currency is not legal tender.

policycritic

Write the cheque out on a hockey stick.

Ima says:
July 15, 2014 at 10:25 am
> Pennies is a bad idea. It implies being spiteful. Take the high road.
And include a press conference on the courthouse steps. I assume the payment needs to go through the court system so they have proof it was made. Even if it doesn’t, have the press conference. Put on some talks, face paint some kids, have a fine old time.

Wally

go back to the original lower court decision.
http://www.dailyprogress.com/news/state-supreme-court-academic-emails-can-be-withheld/article_71349c92-c64d-11e3-a609-0017a43b2370.html
it upheld Sheridan’s ruling basically saying unpublished research is protected from foi due to its proprietary nature.
Very bad loss and it will require yet more lawsuits in the future to split the hairs between protecting proprietary research versus the interest of tax-payer investments.

Greg Goodman

“The damages in my view are symbolic,” Mann told The Daily Progress
Indeed and it is clear what the judge wanted to symbolise. Something very, very small.

F. Ross

We have a very old Monopoly set. Be happy to donate $250 from it.

rogerknights

evanmjones says:
July 15, 2014 at 11:38 am
Believe it or not, there are severe limits on how much change can constitute legal tender. IIRC, the limit on pennies is 20 cents and the limit on dimes is 10$ (or something similar).

I’ve read that too.

David, UK

Oh come on. This, I am sorry to say, is nothing less than a victory for Mann and his belief that his work is not subject to scrutiny. How can you take delight in the fact that he was only awarded $250? When Mann says that the amount is not important, he is absolutely right. Had to give this post 1 star for monumentally missing the point.

Ian M

I think there is a limit of 25 cents acceptable as payment in one-cent coins.
Ian M

JoeCivis

hmmmm
evanmjones says:
July 15, 2014 at 11:38 am
“…..When pennies were actually bronze…”
just curious when US pennies were bronze? I was under the impression that they were copper until the war in which they were switched to zinc, as copper was prioritized for other uses, then the composition was changed in “recent years” to a cheaper mix as copper was too expensive.

J Martin

policycritic said “Write the cheque out on a hockey stick.”
Brilliant !
That gets my vote.

more soylent green!

In any regard, this is a loss. Someone asking for information under FOIA is fined by a court? Loss. Possible liability for Mann’s and UVA’s court costs (legal fees)? Big loss. Expense to the taxpayers? Big loss? Accountability from government? Big loss.

Auto

Many years ago, certainly, the UK allowed cheques to be written – exactly as
Man Bearpig says:
July 15, 2014 at 10:55 am
on all sorts of portable(-ish) property.
‘Misleading cases’ – by AP Herbert, from the 1960s – exemplified this. With humour.
Maybe this still applies. maybe not.
CAVEAT.
My legal training is pretty minimal.
CAVEAT.
For the instant case, I caution about paying in small denominations. Maybe five crisp fifties, with a birthday/wedding anniversary/work anniversary card, which ever is nearest.
Auto

Copner

Damages in this context is a very specific term of art, applicable to appeals court process, not damages in the normal legal sense.
It basically means that the loser needs to pay some of the winners paperwork costs in this type of case. Afaik it doesn’t say anything more as to merits of the appeal beyond the existing judgement – I.e. Appeal denied.
Mann’s claim that this is a slap in the face of ati is exaggerated, and Mr watts you should not take it at face value.

MJW

According to Snopes.com, pennies in all amounts are legal tender. Snopes says:

Up until the late 19th century, pennies and nickels weren’t legal tender at all. The Coinage Acts of 1873 and 1879 made them legal tender for debts up to 25 cents only, while the other fractional coins (dimes, quarters, and half dollars) were legal tender for amounts up to $10. This remained the law until the Coinage Act of 1965 specified that all U.S. coins are legal tender in any amount.

The site notes that,

However, even in cases where legal tender has been agreed to as a form of payment, private businesses are still free to specify which forms of legal tender they will accept. If a shop doesn’t want to take any currency larger than $20 bills, or they don’t want to take pennies at all, or they want to be paid in nothing but dimes, they’re entitled to do so (but, as mentioned earlier, they should specify their payment policies before entering into transactions with buyers).

I doubt that’s true of court-award damages; so assuming Snopes is correct and there’s not a separate rule that applies to damages, the debt could probably be paid in pennies.

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David W. Schnare

Moderator, you may want to put this up just below the article.
There is a lot of misunderstanding about the $250 “damages” assessed by the Court. Any appellant that loses their appeal in the Virginia Supreme Court has to make this payment to the opposing party. It is generally intended to pay for the costs of printing of briefs. It does not include attorney’s fees or any other costs. Mann won’t get a cent. It all goes to the University who may or may not have to transfer it to the Attorney General’s coffers since that is who represented the University and who had to pay for preparation of their briefs.
More importantly, this is not all over. The court only decided the meaning of the term “of a proprietary nature” and they took our (plaintiffs) definition verbatim. They just refused to admit that which was their way of denying us our costs and fees. (We used over $300,000 worth of our time on this case, and thousands of dollars in costs.) What the court did not do was to discuss the rest of the “research exemptions” and that will come up with the next case that is already in the pipeline. That FOIA is seeking all emails associated with John Daly, Steve McIntyre and the IPCC. As none of those were collected by or for the faculty in pursuit of a research project sponsored by UVA, they should not be subject to being withheld. We will see what slimy games the University next plays to prevent the release of those documents. We’ll keep you informed.
David Schnare
General Counsel
Energy & Environment Legal Institute

Crispin in Waterloo

Being nickeled and dimed is a better fate. It adds up.