Welter v. Does
An Arizona woman (Welter) became the focus of unflattering local and national news stories that followed her making a false emergency call to local police about a quarrel with her then-boyfriend, but who was herself arrested because the police concluded that she was the abuser. Three years later, she filed a lawsuit against forty supposedly anonymous defendants seeking an injunction requiring that nearly a hundred online stories, which repeated the allegations against her based in part on statements by the boyfriend, be taken offline. Her lawyers persuaded the boyfriend to sign an unsworn “stipulation” in which he “admitted” that the stories reporting on the controversy contained false statements, and called for injunctive relief against himself as well as the various online publications. A local judge signed the injunction even though the various sites subject to the injunction had received no notice and there was no evidence that anything they said was false. Public Citizen represents Avvo, one of the many companies whose web pages were subject to this injunction, in seeking to have the injunction vacated on the grounds that its issuance violated state law as well as the First Amendment and section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
In response to Avvo’s motion, Welter’s counsel argued that, notwithstanding its wording, the “consent order” did not purport to direct the removal of any content from Avvo’s web site, and hence Avvo was not an implicit defendant and lacked standing to contest the order without filing a motion for leave to intervene. The trial court accepted this argument and denied relief. Avvo decided to accept this interpretation of the order as not affecting its rights.