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October 6, 2005

Delaware High Court Protects Identity of Blogger in Defamation Case

The Delaware Supreme Court ruled October 5th that a defamation plaintiff may not use the discovery process to identify an anonymous blogger unless the complaint could have facts that would defeat a summary judgement motion.  The case involved a blogger who posted comments anonymously regarding Patrick Cahill, a councilman of Smyrna, Delaware.  The opinion recounted two specific statements in Councilman Cahill's complaint, one noting character flaws, and another describing the Councilman as "paranoid." 

Cahill then sued and the trial judge allowed discovery which disclosed that the statement had been posted by a Comcast subscriber.  Using a "good faith" approach, the trial judge allowed the discovery of the identity of the anonymous poster.  Through appeals, the case came to the Delaware Supreme Court, who noted that this is a case of first impression not just in Delaware, but in any state supreme court.

The Court stated a number of principles for First Amendment protection of political speech, and the lack of protection for defamation.  The Court noted that the good faith standard was too easy to meet, and that litigants can use these proceedings to discover identity with a motive to seek revenge outside the courts rather than pursue litigation.  After an extensive discussion, the court stated:

We conclude that the summary judgment standard is the appropriate test by which to strike the balance between a defamation plaintiff’s right to protect his reputation and a defendant’s right to exercise free speech anonymously. We accordingly hold that before a defamation plaintiff can obtain the identity of an anonymous defendant through the compulsory discovery process he must support his defamation claim with facts sufficient to defeat a summary judgment motion. (Slip Opinion at 16)

The case is John Doe v. Cahill, No. 266, 2005.  The PDF of the opinion is here.

Links to mp3 recordings of the oral arguments are here.  The case was argued September 7th, 2005.

October 6, 2005 | Permalink


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