On April 4, 2013, a Michigan state appellate court ruled that stringent first amendment standards of protection do not typically need to apply to defamation lawsuits that seek to identifying anonymous speakers on the internet.
In the lawsuit, the plaintiff, Thomas M. Cooley Law School sued several defendants for allegedly defaming the school through postings to an online blog. The blog labeled the law school a scam and accused the school of committing illegal acts, like fraud. The school sued the authors of the blog for defamation and filed several subpoenas to identify the authors. Upon learning about the subpoenas, one of the websites that was subpoenaed filed a motion for a protective order to quash the subpoena and stop the identity of the anonymous blogger from being revealed.
When deciding whether to grant or deny the protective order, the trial court applied a First Amendment “balancing test,” which has been used by courts in New Jersey and Delaware to determine whether it is appropriate to allow the identity of an online speaker to be revealed. Under this First Amendment test, the court considered the following four factors, including:
1) Whether the Defendant is a person or entity who could be sued;
2) Whether the Plaintiff made a good-faith effort to serve the defendant with process;
3) Whether the lawsuit could withstand a motion to dismiss; and
4) Whether there is a reasonable likelihood that discovery would uncover information that would allow service of process.
On Appeal, the Michigan State Appellate Court found that the trial court’s use of the First Amendment balancing test was incorrect and that less protective standards should apply. The appellate court found that Michigan state rules of civil procedure regarding discovery would adequate.
The Michigan State Appellate Court’s ruling is seen as a major setback for advocates of anonymous online speech.
Hiring an Attorney to Identifying Anonymous Speakers on the Internet
As the above court case illustrates, it is becoming easier every day to locate and identify anonymous speakers on the internet by filing a lawsuit and serving websites and internet services providers with subpoenas. If you or your business is being defamed online by an anonymous speaker, the internet attorneys at Meyers Roman Friedberg & Lewis, LPA can help assist you in identifying the anonymous speaker, recovering monetary damages, and removing the speech from the internet. Contact attorney Aaron Minc at (216) 831-0042 or AMinc@meyersroman today to discuss your matter.