Online Trade Libel Attorney Gets Facebook Defamation Ruling Reversed

Picture of blackboard featuring the word Trust to accompany blog post about online trade libel caseTo his client’s relief, online trade libel attorney Dan Warner convinced an Arizona appeals court to vacate a trial court’s ruling in a Facebook defamation case. By successfully arguing that the presiding judge failed to properly apply the appropriate legal tests established in Mobilisa, Inc. v. Doe, Warner was able to slip his client from the defamation liability noose.

About the Case: Business Criticism On Facebook Leads To Online Trade Libel Lawsuit

An online trade libel lawsuit, the Plaintiff (whom we’ll call “Acme”) sued an anonymous user (“John Doe”) for allegedly posting false and defamatory statements about Acme’s product on Facebook.

Since the user posted under an alias, Acme filed a John Doe claim to uncover the real name of the anonymous defendant. After initiating the lawsuit, Acme sent subpoenas to Facebook and Domains by Proxy, in search of information (like an IP address) that would help reveal the identity of the product-critiquing user.

Upon receiving the subpoena, Facebook notified John Doe; Doe then retained online trade libel attorney Dan Warner who filed a motion to quash the subpoenas.

Online Trade Libel Catch-22: Preserving Privacy v. Accountability

Online service providers avoid passing out user data like Gremlins avoid bright lights. Why? Because online privacy is a legal quagmire, and if they’re not careful, ISPs can unwittingly find themselves dragged into users’ legal battles. Thus, to avoid unnecessary, resource draining, litigation entanglements, most websites adopt a hands-off approach when faced with civil information requests.

In some cases, however, ISPs are legally compelled to release user data, by force of a court order.  However, in Arizona, to secure a subpoena that forces websites to hand over identifying information on anonymous Internet speakers, plaintiffs must show that:

  • The speaker has been given adequate and a reasonable opportunity to respond to the discovery request;
  • The plaintiff’s action could survive a summary judgment on elements, irrespective of the speaker’s identity; and
  • The balance of the parties competing interests favors disclosure.

Unfortunately, in Acme’s case, the trial court judge denied the motion without making any findings of fact — or conclusions of law — regarding the required three-part Mobilisa test.

Warner’s appeal included several points on which the appellate court could have hung a reversal, but it chose to focus on the trial judge’s failure to adequately apply the “balancing” test, as outlined in Mobilisa.

The appeals court, in Warner’s client’s case, expressly held:

Because of the conclusory nature of the order below, we are unable to tell if the trial court correctly used the 3-part test outlined in Mobilisa v.  Doe, 217 Ariz.  103, 170  P.3d  712 (App.  2007) (using  a  summary  judgment  standard)  or  the  lower  prima facie standard urged by Dream Steam below with their citation to Best W. Int’l Inc., v. Doe, WL 2091695 (D. Ariz. July 2007). See Chaparral DIVISION ONE FILED:  RUTH A. WILLINGHAM, CLERKBY: 6/27/2016 RB Dev. v. RMED Int’l, Inc., 170  Ariz.  309, 311, n.3,  823  P.2d  1317, 1319  (App.  1991) (citation  omitted)  (conclusory  rulings  impair effective  appellate  review).    We  are  likewise  unable  to  discern whether  the  trial  court  engaged  in Mobilisa’s third-prong  balancing test when considering whether the disclosure of Doe’s name outweighed the community’s protected interest in supporting anonymous speech on the internet.

In other words, the court of appeals ruled that it was unclear if the trial court judge considered whether the plaintiff’s business interests outweighed the defendant’s right to anonymously express opinions on the Internet.

Consult With An Experienced Online Trade Libel Lawyer

In today’s digital, viral marketplace, a pristine reputation is crucial to maintaining a competitive edge; protecting your business’ good name is arguably as important as securing seed money.

If you’re fighting a product or business disparagement headache, get in touch with our team of online defamation fixers. We can help.

To learn more about online trade libel lawyer Dan Warner, head here.

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