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Thomas Cooley Law School v John Does 1 to 4

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

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Thomas Cooley Law School sued an anonymous blogger, and three individuals who posted anonymous comments on the blog, claiming that their criticisms of the school for misleading advertising and for profiting from unwary law students both defamed the school and intentionally interfered with the law school’s business opportunities. After the main blogger moved to quash the subpoena for his identity, the ISP hosting the site disclosed his information before the motion to quash could be heard, but the trial judge required Cooley to sequester the identifying information. A hearing was scheduled to decide the motion to quash. Public Citizen filed an amicus curiae brief urging adoption of the Dendrite test for balancing the strength of the plaintiff’s tort claims and hence its need for the identifying information against the defendant’s First Amendment right to speak anonymously.

The circuit court denied Doe’s motion to quash, saying that it was applying the Dendrite test but, in fact, not requiring Cooley Law School to present any evidence that Doe has made false statements. Public Citizen represents Doe on appeal, arguing that the trial judge misapplied the Dendrite test. The Court of Appeals granted permission to appeal, and reversed on the narrow ground that Michigan law allows a protective order to be granted protecting the identity of an anonymous defendant while the defendant seeks to have the lawsuit dismissed either on the face of the complaint or for lack of evidence.