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Miller v. Junior Achievement

Topic(s): Internet Free Speech - Right To Speak Anonymously

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After a controversy erupted about the financial situation of certain projects started by Jeffrey Miller, the former CEO of Junior Achievement, Miller and his wife sued his successors over their public comments blaming him for the problems. The Millers also sued the anonymous authors of several comments posted to stories on the web sites of two newspapers that covered the controversy, and issued subpoenas to identify the anonymous commenters. The trial court granted discovery because it decided that the comments were defamatory if false, and because it disagreed with the Dendrite line of cases holding that a plaintiff has to make an evidentiary showing as well as a legal showing before a court can strip anonymous speakers of their First Amendment right to speak anonymously. One of the subpoenaed papers complied with the order, but the second, the Indianapolis Star, appealed. Miller moved to dismiss for lack of appellate jurisdiction; Public Citizen appeared as amicus curiae to argue that the appeals court should hear the case. After the motion to dismiss was denied, Public Citizen filed an amicus brief urging the Indiana Court of Appeals to adopt the Dendrite test, and explaining how that test should be applied on the facts of the Miller case.

The Court of Appeals agreed that Dendrite’s balancing approach under the First Amendment was the proper way to adjudicate claims of need to identify anonymous speakers, but it refused to give accused speakers absolute protection from identification under the state’s shield law, as the Indianapolis Star had argued.