Pilchesky v. Gatelli

Judy Gatelli, the president of the Scranton City Council, filed suit against the owner of a message board and anonymous posters to the message board who had criticized her. Claiming that the comments have both defamed her and intentionally hurt her feelings, she sought a court order requiring disclosure of the identities of about 90 posters. Representing some of the Doe defendants, Public Citizen opposed the request, on the basis that the posters had a First Amendment right to speak anonymously, that Gatelli had made no showing that anything said about her was false, and that most of the comments were simply expressions of opinion. The Court ruled that most of the anonymous speakers, including all of the Does represented by Public Citizen, were entitled to remain anonymous.

Gatelli appealed the rejection of her discovery with respect to eight additional Does, and the owner of the message board appealed the decision granting discovery of the identities of several Does. On behalf of some of the Doe defendants, Public Citizen filed an appellate brief urging the adoption of a standard balancing the right to sue over genuinely tortious speech against the right to remain anonymous when speech is not wrongful. The appellate court adopted a modified approach, requiring a plaintiff to meet a summary judgment standard before finding out the names of her critics but also requiring the court to balance the equities on both sides before deciding whether to enforce the subpoena.