Pilchesky v. Gatelli v. Pilchesky and additional Does

Internet Free Speech — Right To Speak Anonymously
Docket Number: 
Case Description: 

Public Citizen has filed a brief urging a trial judge in Scranton, Pennsylvania, not to accede to the request of Judy Gatelli, the president of the Scranton City Council, to order disclosure of the identities of about 90 citizens who have criticized her on an Internet message board. The requested disclosure would infringe the posters' First Amendment right to speak anonymously. Gatelli claims that the comments have both defamed her and intentionally hurt her feelings, but Public Citizen argues that she has made no showing that anything said about her is false, and most of the comments are simply expressions of hostile opinion. Our brief also notes that a politician cannot sue constituents who hurt her feelings — if she is too sensitive to stand hostile comments, she should not run for office.

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 Pilchesky appealed the decision granting discovery of the identities of several Does. 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 Pennsylvania Superior Court adopted a modified "Dendrite/Cahill" approach recommended by our brief, 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.