Right to Speak Anonymously



Alkateeb v. Does 1-15

An Arizona couple brought suit in federal court in New York against numerous anonymous persons who posted negative comments about them on a bulletin board established by a wedding shopping company, and subpoenaed their identities. Several Does filed a motion to quash the subpoena, and Public Citizen filed an amicus brief supporting this motion and urging that none of the other Does be identified until plaintiffs made a stronger showing to support their right to bring this case. Public Citizen argued that, although many of the posts were mean, they were not defamatory, and there was no evidence of falsity. Moreover, there was no showing that the case was properly filed either in federal court or in New York.

back to top


Adaptive Marketing v. Yahoo!

Adaptive Marketing, a company that advertises a telephone number for obtaining “free” credit scores,” and then uses that call to sell credit monitoring services at $29.95 per month, brought a pre-litigation discovery proceeding in state court in Stamford Connecticut seeking to identify an anonymous blogger who cited published reports referring to this scheme as a “predatory bait-and-switch” and referring to the parent company as having engaged in “deceptive business practices.” Public Citizen represents the blogger asserting the First Amendment right to remain anonymous, which is not overcome in this case because the supposedly defamatory words are opinion based on disclosed facts and because there is no evidence of falsity.

back to top


Cahill v. Doe

Member of the Smyrna, Delaware town council sued four anonymous posters to a community blog sponsored by a local newspaper, who posted denigrating material. One of the four Does moved to quash a subpoena for identifying information, but the trial judge enforced the subpoena, holding that a defendant must be identified so long as the plaintiff has sued in good faith. Public Citizen filed an amicus brief in the Delaware Supreme Court arguing for the application of the Dendrite analysis, and contending that this standard was not met because, especially given the fact that the plaintiff was a public official, the comments over which plaintiff had sued were not defamatory (because they were opinion), and in any event the plaintiff had not shown falsity.

back to top


City of Memphis, Tennessee & Larry A. Godwin v. John and/or Jane Doe 1- 30

The City of Memphis and its police chief filed a motion in state court in Tennessee seeking leave to take discovery to identify a blogger who criticized the police department from the point of view of rank-and-file police officers, but did not notify the blogger and filed their motion for discovery under seal. After the judge allowed discovery to be sought, and the blogger received notice of the subpoena from AOL, she moved to unseal the filings, and she is currently preparing a motion to quash the subpoena.

back to top


In re Cokinos

After his re-election defeat, a incumbent county commissioner sued in Texas court to identify a anonymous constituent who sent several emails denouncing him and several other incumbents for allegedly wasteful public expenditures, claiming that the emails were libelous and that the failure to identify the sender violated Texas campaign finance laws. Public Citizen represented the poster in a successful motion to quash the subpoena, arguing that Texas election law did not require identification of such low-cost citizen communications, and that the emails, though they contained strong accusations, either were protected opinion or had not been shown to be false.

back to top


Dendrite International v. Does 1 through 14

Company providing and servicing software for the pharmaceutical industry sued four anonymous posters, two of them current or former employees, alleging defamation, disclosure of trade secrets, and breach of employment contract. Public Citizen filed an amicus brief in support of opposition by two posters to subpoena to Yahoo! After Court entered order protecting these two posters, the company appealed denial of subpoena regarding one of the posters.

back to top


Digital Broadband Networks, Inc. v. Does

A Malayasian company and its president sued seven Internet posters in New Jersey state court alleging that they defamed the plaintiffs and conspired to drive down the stock price. However, in granting an ex parte motion for leave to take discovery, the trial judge disregarded the applicable appellate decision in Dendrite v. Doe. One of the Doe defendants seeks the right to an immediate appeal of the order allowing discovery of his identity.

back to top


Donato v. Moldow

Brief as amicus curiae argues that even if anonymous Internet speakers do not appear in court through counsel to object to a motion by public officials seeking to identify them, the court has an independent duty to ensure that the plaintiff has a strong enough case to justify overriding their free speech rights. Brief also argues that citizen who runs web site cannot be held liable for allegedly defamatory or harassing messages posted by other persons on his web site's message board.

back to top


Equidyne Corp. v. Doe

Equidyne Corporation sued several anonymous posters alleging that, in violation of their employment agreements, they posted confidential inside information on the Raging Bull and Yahoo! message boards about Equidyne. After one of the Does, Aeschylus_2000, moved to quash arguing that he was not an employee, Equidyne changed theories and argued that, by urging viewers to give their proxies to a recently announced slate of challengers for the company's board, Aeschylus has violated the SEC's proxy rules both by not disclosing his identity, his shareholdings, and similar data, and by supporting a slate that has itself not complied with the disclosure rules. The district judge agreed to apply a standard similar to the one adopted by the New Jersey courts in Dendrite v. Doe, but found that Equidyne had shown a prima facie case under federal securities laws, and that the prima facie case did not include a showing of actual damages. Our amicus brief urges the Third Circuit to adopt New Jersey's Dendrite standard, to require trial judges to observe the Dendrite procedures more scrupulously, and to send the case back for more careful consideration of whether disclosure is proper under that rule.

back to top


Gallucci v. New Jersey On-Line, LLC

 

back to top


Garrett v. Better Publications, LLC

After a Charlottesville, Virginia blogger reported on a defamation action that a colorful local figure had brought against a newspaper for its reports on criminal charges lodged against the plaintiff, the plaintiff subpoenaed the blogger to produce all of his communications with sources for his blog post, and to identify everybody who ahd posted anonymous comments about the blog post or even read the blog post online. Public Citizen, working with the ACLU of Virginia and the Thomas Jefferson Center for Free Expression, opposed the plaintiff's motion to compel discovery, contending both that the blogger is a journalist and hence protected by the qualified privilege of journalists not to identify their sources or produce their working materials, and that the anonymous posters were protected by the qualified privilege to speak anonymously.

back to top


Greenbaum v. Google

On the eve of her campaign for re-election, a member of the school board in Lawrence, New York, filed a petition for prelitigation discovery to identify "Orthomom" and people who used the Orthomom blog to post criticisms of the board member's position in opposition to public funding for the extracurricular activities of children attending private religious schools. Some commenters had called the member a "bigot" for opposing the funding. Public Citizen represents Orthomom in arguing that a blogger cannot be held liable for comments posted on her blog by others, and that in any event the comments are not defamatory and compelled identification would violate her First Amendment right, and the right of her web site's users, to speak anonymously.

back to top


Hollis-Eden Pharmaceuticals, Inc. v. Does

Pharmaceutical company sued several anonymous message board posters who expressed opinions critical of its corporate leadership and marketing efforts. Public Citizen has moved to quash the subpoena and to dismiss the suit as one designed to suppress free speech.

back to top


Hritz v. Doe

First Amendment defense against attempt by company official to identify an anonymous Message Board critic.

back to top


IA Global, Inc. v. Does 1-1000

Publicly traded company sued anonymous internet message board posters for statements made on the Yahoo! finance message board dedicated to IA Global that were critical of the company, its performance, and its management. IA Global subpoenaed Yahoo! for identifying information for three posters. Public Citizen, representing one of the posters, moved to quash the subpoena and strike the complaint under California's Anti-SLAPP statute.

back to top


Independent Newspapers, Inc. v. Zebulon J. Brodie

Zebulon Brodie, a real estate developer, filed a lawsuit alleging that three people on an online community forum and Independent Newspapers, Inc., the forum operator, had conspired to defame him. Brodie asked a court to order Independent Newspapers to identify the names of the forum’s users. Independent Newspapers opposed that discovery, arguing that the court should require proof that the users’ comments were false and defamatory, but the court ordered the discovery. Public Citizen is representing the newspaper chain on appeal, arguing that plaintiffs should have to make a factual and legal showing that they have a realistic possibility of succeeding in litigation before courts should order that the names of anonymous critics be revealed.

back to top


Lifestyle Lift Holding, Inc. v. Leonard Fitness, Inc. and Justin Leonard

Lifestyle Lift Holding, a Michigan company that licenses the use of its name to cosmetic facial surgeons in 38 offices across the country, sued Justin Leonard, an Arizona resident whose web site www.infomercialscams.com allows Internet users to post, and read, comments on the utility of products sold through television infomercials, include the so-called "Lifestyle Lift." Lifestyle claims that by including its name in the post-domain path of the pages of its web site that contain reviews of its product, and by including its name in headlines on those pages, Leonard violates its trademark rights and is engaged in false advertising. Public Citizen moved to dismiss the complaint because Leonard cannot be sued in Michigan, and because in any event the First Amendment protects his truthful use of the Lifestyle Lift name on pages where that product is discussed, and the trademark laws do not forbid such use.

The trial court did not reach the issue of jurisdiction but rejected Lifestyle’s claims on the merits on various grounds explained briefly in its oral opinion. Lifestyle paid $17,500 in attorney fees for having filed a baseless lawsuit.

back to top


McMann v. Doe

The Superior Court of Arizona dismissed a Massachusetts real estate developer's lawsuit against the anonymous operator of an Internet gripe site. The court held that Paul McMann failed to substantiate his claims against the owner of the domain name paulmcmann.com, quashed a subpoena seeking the owner's identity, and dismissed the case. A nearly identical lawsuit by McMann had already been dismissed by another court.

McMann subsequently filed a complaint with WIPO, the World International Property Organization, in an attempt to take control of the domain name. Public Citizen again represented the gripe site owner, and McMann's complaint was denied.

back to top


Mobilisa, Inc. v. John Doe 1 and The Suggestion Box

This case involves the identity of an anonymous Internet speaker who obtained an email that the married head of Mobilisa, a software company, had sent from work to his mistress, and distributed the email to other executives with the comment that the email reflected poorly on the company. Instead of suing himself for invasion of privacy, the executive had the company sue alleging that the email must have been obtained by hacking into the company's computer system. The company obtained a subpoena to the emailer's Internet Service Provider from Arizona Superior Court, and after receiving sworn denials from the executive and his mistress that they had given the email to anyone else or authorized access to their personal email accounts, the trial judge ordered the disclosure of the anonymous emailer's identity. Both the Doe and the Internet Service Provider appealed. Public Citizen filed a brief as amicus curiae urging the Arizona Court of Appeals to consider both whether plaintiff had made a technically adequate showing of facts sufficient to make a case under the specific claims filed, and the equitable concerns underlying the plaintiff’s claim for redress and the anonymous speaker’s First Amendment right to remain anonymous if he did not commit the alleged acts.

back to top


Mordechai Tendler v. Doe

A New York rabbi who was expelled from the rabbinical association and fired by his congregation sought prelitigation discovery in Ohio to identify bloggers who commented on the controversy. When Google refused to obey an Ohio subpoena, he obtained subpoenas in California. The bloggers moved to quash and filed a special motion to strike under the California anti-SLAPP law. Although the rabbi dropped the subpoenas, the bloggers obtained an award of attorney fees under the SLAPP law, and the rabbi has now appealed.

back to top


The Mortgage Specialists, Inc., v. Implode-Explode Heavy Industries, Inc.

A mortgage company sued a blog for, among other things, allowing an anonymous speaker to accuse its president of fraud in a post on one it its message board. The blog removed the post but refused to promise to keep it off the board. The trial judge issued an injunction forbidding the reposting, and ordered the blog to provide information about the anonymous poster's identity. In an amicus brief supporting the blog's appeal, Public Citizen argues that a message board host is immune from suit for an injunction as much as a suit for damages, and that the order to identify the poster should be reversed because the plaintiff did not meet the Dendrite/Mobilisa/Cahill standard by giving the Doe notice of its subpoena and presenting evidence to support its claim of defamation.

back to top


Parkmerced Investors v. Does 1 - 18

Landlords owning two large apartment complexes in California’s Bay Area filed suit in federal court in San Francisco against anonymous tenants and former tenants who criticized their management on the ratings site apartmentratings.com, alleging defamation and Lanham Act claims, then, without obtaining leave of court, served subpoenas to identify those posters and others. Arguing that there was no basis for claiming a violation of federal law, and that there was no evidence showing that the negative statements were actionable, Public Citizen moved for a protective order against enforcement of the subpoena, and sought to have the entire complaint dismissed as a SLAPP suit.

back to top


Pilchesky v. Gatelli v. Pilchesky and additional Does

Public Citizen has filed a brief urging a trial judge in Scranton, Pennsylvania, not to accede to the request of Judy Gatelli, the president of the Scranton City Council, to order disclosure of the identities of about 90 citizens who have criticized her on an Internet message board. The requested disclosure would infringe the posters' First Amendment right to speak anonymously. Gatelli claims that the comments have both defamed her and intentionally hurt her feelings, but Public Citizen argues that she has made no showing that anything said about her is false, and most of the comments are simply expressions of hostile opinion. Our brief also notes that a politician cannot sue constituents who hurt her feelings — if she is too sensitive to stand hostile comments, she should not run for office.

back to top


Powermark Homes v. Doe

Public Citizen is defending the anonymous operator of an Internet gripe site against the claims of homebuilding company Powermark Homes. Public Citizen is arguing that the operator's First Amendment right to engage in truthful and anonymous criticism trumps the company's unsubstantiated claims of defamation.

back to top


Sinclair v. TubeSockTedD, mzmolly and OWNINGLIARS

Sinclair, a Minnesota man whose a You-Tube video and blog claiming to have done drugs and had sex with presidential candidate Barack Obama was roundly criticized by many anonymous Internet users, filed a defamation in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia against three of his critics for defamation, and obtained leave to use discovery to identify the Does. Representing one of the Does, as well as the ISP on whose web site that Doe posted, we objected to the subpoena, and have filed an opposition to the ensuing motion for to compel. We argue that there is no diversity jurisdiction to sue Doe defendants, and no personal jurisdiction in DC. We also argue that Sinclair has not pleaded a proper defamation claim and that, in any event, he has not presented any evidence in support of his claim as required to meet the well-established standard to obtain identifying information.

Swiger v. Allegheney Energy

In July 2003, an Allegheny Energy employee posted anonymous criticisms of the company in a Yahoo! message board room dedicated to discussion of the company. Three months later, the company filed suit against “John Doe” in Pennsylvania as an excuse to subpoena Yahoo! to disclose information about the poster of the critical remarks. Public Citizen's complaint alleges that Allegheny and its attorneys abused the processes of the courts by filing suit for the purpose of learning the poster's identity and then firing him after more than 16 years on the job

back to top


Tendler v. Doe

A New York rabbi who was expelled from the rabbinical association and fired by his congregation sought prelitigation discovery in Ohio to identify bloggers who commented on the controversy. When Google refused to obey an Ohio subpoena, he obtained subpoenas in California. The bloggers moved to quash and filed a special motion to strike under the California anti-SLAPP law. Although the rabbi dropped the subpoenas, the bloggers obtained an award of attorney fees under the SLAPP law, and the rabbi has now appealed.

back to top


Thomas & Betts Corporation v. Does 1 through 50

back to top


Video Professor v. John Does 1-100

Video Professor, which markets elementary computer learning products through pervasive infomercials, sued former customers who posted anonymous complaints about the "Professor"'s marketing and billing practices on consumer commentary sites. Public Citizen has objected to a broad subpoena to identify the critics who have posted on one such site, www.infomercialscams.com. Representing the site's host, objection letters explain the basis for the objections and request proof that the consumer posts are false and have caused actual damage to Video Professor.

back to top


WRNN-TV Associates v. Doe

This case was settled and the following Memorandum was never filed. The Memorandum is provided for reference purposes. The settlement agreement is posted below.

back to top