The defendant-appellant, John Doe No.1, anonymously posted allegedly defamatory statements about the plaintiff-appellee, Cahill, on an internet blog. Cahill brought a defamation action. Seeking to serve process on Doe, Cahill sought to compel the disclosure of his identity from a third party that had the information. A Superior Court judge applied a good faith standard to test the plaintiff’s complaint and ordered the third party to disclose Doe’s identity. Doe appeals from the Superior Court’s order. Because the trial judge applied a standard insufficiently protective of Doe’s First Amendment right to speak anonymously, we reverse that judgment.
The decision in John Doe v. Cahill from the Delaware Supreme Court is here. This is the trend: Appellate courts are not permitting “John Doe” defamation actions to be their own justification. These rulings prevent plaintiffs to merely file a flimsy complaint and get quick discovery from ISP’s so plaintiffs can learn the identity of bloggers and others on the Internet who are virtually never actually committing legally actionable defamation — but who are critics the plaintiff would like identified.
Courts are not making it impossible for bona fide plaintiffs to get discovery to which they’re normally entitled. But they are requiring, in cases like these, that plaintiffs make a legal showing of their bona fides up front,which is eminently reasonable considering how meritless most defamation actions are.
It doesn’t do me, as a defendant, any good to win a motion to dismiss if the main thing you, as a plaintiff and the subject of my criticism, already have what you want — my identity — and are now free to get me fired, cut off from my suppliers, or shunned, as the case may be. It also removes some of the burden on defendants, who are usually financially worse off in these situations, from having to hire attorneys to quash subpoenas served on ISP’s, much less to make appearances on behalf of anonymous parties. This is a good trend.
UPDATE: More, similar news from California.