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Sarkar v. Does

A prominent cancer researcher filed a lawsuit alleging defamation and a variety of other torts against anonymous individuals who posted comments about the plaintiff’s published research on PubPeer, a web site that enables scientists to conduct anonymous peer review of publications after they have appeared.  Several comments pointed to apparent anomalies in images in Sarkar’s articles; others discussed whether further scrutiny was appropriate and whether Sarkar’s employer was aware of the problem.  Sarkar subpoenaed the forum host, and a Michigan trial court granted PubPeer’s motion to quash only in part, ordering the release of some identifying information.  Both sides sought and obtained permission for an interlocutory appeal and Public Citizen filed as amicus curiae, arguing for adoption of the Dendrite standards and contending that, on the record before the court, Sarkar had not shown that his claims had sufficient vitality to warrant overriding the posters’ First Amendment right to speak anonymously. The Court of Appeals denied Sarkar’s appeal, but only because, read very closely, Sarkar’s complaint was not pleaded in sufficient detail to set forth a defamation claim based Michigan’s strict pleading standards for defamation claims.