Note: This page covers information specific to Louisiana. For general information concerning legal protections for anonymous speech see the Legal Protections for Anonymous Speech section of this guide.
One Louisiana court has addressed the situation of a plaintiff seeking to compel an ISP to disclose the identity of an anonymous Internet speaker. The court applied an ill-defined test, requiring the plaintiff to show either a "reasonable probability" or "reasonable possibility" of success on its claim, depending on the type of speech involved.In re Baxter, 2001 WL 34806203 (W.D. La. 2001)
Anonymous Internet users criticized Richard Baxter, an administrator at the University of Louisiana-Monroe, on a website called "Truth@ULM.com," which was hosted by Homestead Technologies. In preparation for a lawsuit against the anonymous posters for defamation, Baxter filed a "miscellaneous case" in federal court seeking to take discovery from Homestead Technologies about the anonymous posters' identities. In that action, Baxter moved for a court order compelling Homestead to provide this information, and one of the anonymous defendants moved to intervene in order to object.
In deciding the two motions, the district court announced its own, unique test for determining when disclosure of an anonymous defendant's identity is justified. Unfortunately, the test is confusing, and the court's description of it is muddled. The test has different requirements based on whether the speech in question relates to a matter of public or private concern, and whether the plaintiff is a public figure. When the speech relates to a matter of public concern or the plaintiff is a public figure, the plaintiff must show a "reasonable possibility" of success on the merits of the claim. When the speech relates to a matter of private concern, the plaintiff must show a "reasonable probability" of success on the merits of the claim. Apparently, a "reasonable possibility" is less demanding than a "reasonable probability," but the court never makes clear the precise distinction.
More importantly, the court never explains whether actual evidence or mere allegations are required to show either a "reasonable possibility" or "reasonable probability." In deciding to grant Baxter's motion to compel disclosure, the court relied on the offending Internet postings (i.e., actual evidence), but it seemed to assume that some statements were false and that they caused Baxter harm without requiring Baxter to bring forward evidence on these points. Overall, it is difficult to tell exactly what this test requires. Additionally, this test appears limited to defamation cases.