E. Van Cullens v. John Doe
John Doe is an anonymous poster to two Internet message boards who made two statements critical of a publicly-traded company run by Plaintiff Cullens. In an effort to prevent Doe from further posting his opinions about the company on the Internet Cullens filed a libel suit against Doe in Illinois and asked a California court to force disclosure of Doe's identity. Doe has sought to quash and strike the subpoena asking the court to grant Doe protection under California's Anti-SLAPP statute. This would force Cullens to establish a probability of success on each of his claims and if he cannot would award attorneys fees and costs to Doe.
At issue: Whether California court processes allow the mere allegation of defamation to trump First Amendment right to anonymous online speech. Whether the Illinois case can proceed at all.
EFF Role: Representing Doe in defense of California subpoena along David Greene of the First Amendment Project and Charles Lee Mudd Jr. counsel for Illinois portion of action.
Outcome: Case dismissed and anonymity protected. In response to the motion to quash and motion to strike in California Van Cullens withdrew his subpoena in California in April 2003. Cullens persisted in Illinois but ultimately the Complaint against Doe was dismissed by the Illinois court in October 2003.