Northwest Airlines, Inc. v. Teamsters Local 2000, et al.

Internet Free Speech — Liability of Web Site Operators for Content Provided by Site Users
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Northwest sued the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, a Teamsters local, its reform leadership, and two rank-and-filers charging them with having fomented a “sickout” by flight attendance over the millenial New Year holiday, seeking to pressure the company during collective bargaining, allegedly in violation of the Railway Labor Act’s prohibition of wildcat strikes. Public Citizen represented the two rank-and-file defendants, who were sued over their web sites, where anonymous individuals had posted comments supporting the idea of not working during a period when there were fears of the impact of the Y2K glitch. The IBT consented to entry of a temporary restraining order, which was issued against the rank-and=-filers without any notice or opportunity to be heard. Public Citizen argued against the continuation of the TRO and, when the trial judge kept it in place, appealed on the ground that the TRO had been converted into a preliminary injunction that was an unconstitutional prior restraint as well as a violation of section 230 immunity. Northwest sought an order compelling expedited discovery from the Local, its officers and the rank-and-filers, and the IBT connived to have that order entered. Pursuant to the order, Northwest seized all of the individual defendants’ personal computers; Public Citizen appealed from that order, arguing that the order was a gross violation of privacy and constituted overbroad discovery. Northwest also sought an order compelling the rank-and-file defendants to identify the anonymous posters to their web site message boards, which Public Citizen opposed under the First Amendment. On the eve of the appellate ruling on the emergency appeal, the district court dissolved the TRO against the rank-and-file defendants. The airline later dismissed its suit after a new collective bargaining agreement was adopted.