Publication of Private Facts

Alkateeb v. Does

Date: 

05/13/2005

Threat Type: 

Lawsuit

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

The Knot, Inc.; Does 1-10

Type of Party: 

Individual

Type of Party: 

Individual
Organization

Court Type: 

Federal

Court Name: 

United States District Court for the Southern District of New York

Case Number: 

05-CV-4683

Legal Counsel: 

Peter M. Agulnick, P.C.; David M. Zensky (for The Knot)

Publication Medium: 

Email
Forum

Relevant Documents: 

Status: 

Concluded

Disposition: 

Dismissed (partial)
Withdrawn

Description: 

Naji A. Alkateeb and Deanna R. Wilson-Alkateeb filed a "John Doe" lawsuit in federal district court in New York in May 2005. According to court documents, several anonymous Internet users(using Google and Hushmail email addresses) allegedly postedinsulting comments, threats, and personal information related to theAlkateebs on the forum sections of two websites: TheKnot.com and Photobucket.com. Certain unknown defendants also allegedly sent defamatory emails to third parties, including the plaintiffs' extended family. The Alkateebs sued for defamation, invasion of privacy (through publication of private facts), and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress.

After filing suit, the Alkateebs subpoeanaed The Knot, Photobucket, Google, and Hushmail for information that would reveal the identities of the anonymous posters. Three anonymous defendants received notice of the subpoena and moved to quash, and Public Citizen filed an amicus brief, in which it argued that the First Amendment protected the defendants' right to speak anonymously. Public Citizen also argued that the plaintiffs had not shown that jurisdiction was proper either in federal court or in New York. Apparently the court allowed some of the subpoenas to issue.

The Alkateebs filed an amended complaint in September 2005, in which they named the Knot, Inc. and four individuals as defendants. On Jan 31, 2006, the Alkateebs filed a motion to voluntarily dismiss the complaint without prejudice. The court granted the motion as to all defendants except the defendants who had already moved to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction. When the plaintiffs did not respond within thirty days to the motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction, the court dismissed the lawsuit against the final three defendants with prejudice.

Jurisdiction: 

CMLP Notes: 

Aaron editing.

Content Type: 

Subject Area: 

Hilton v. Persa

Date: 

01/29/2007

Threat Type: 

Lawsuit

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

Bardia Persa, Reza Karamooz, Stephen Thomas, Kevin Green, Chazz Hoffman, Nabil Haniss, Nabila Haniss, Green Brothers Limited, John Does 1-10

Type of Party: 

Individual

Type of Party: 

Individual
Organization

Court Type: 

Federal

Court Name: 

United States District Court for the Central District of California

Case Number: 

CV 07-667-GHK

Legal Counsel: 

Paul S. Berra (for Nabila Haniss)

Publication Medium: 

Website

Relevant Documents: 

Status: 

Concluded

Disposition: 

Injunction Issued
Settled (partial)
Withdrawn

Description: 

Paris Hilton sued Bardia Persa, Nabil Haniss, Nabila Haniss, and a number of anonymous defendants in January 2007 for copyright infringement, publication of private facts, and misapproriation of her right of publicity. The case revolved around a website, Paris Exposed, which offered viewers the ability to view personal materials belonging to Hilton for a fee. According to the complaint, the website contained Hilton's medical records, bank account information, credit card information, contracts and other legal documents, diaries, home videos, and photographs, which she had stored in a storage unit in California. Hilton alleged that the storage facility foreclosed on her unit because of a billing mix-up and then sold the contents at a foreclosure auction. The complaint alleged further that Nabil and Nabila Haniss purchased the materials for $2,775 and then sold them to the operators of the Paris Exposed website for a large sum of money.

Hilton's complaint, filed in federal court in California, alleged copyright infringement based on the defendants' unauthorized distribution and display of three works (apparently poems) created by Hilton -- "Love Letter," "I Can't Take It," and "How Would You Know?". Additionally, it alleged that the defendants had violated her privacy by publishing information contained in Hilton's medical and financial records, private home videos, audio taped conversations, diaries, and photographs, among other things. Finally, it alleged that the defendants misappropriated Hilton's right of publicity by using her name in the name of the website and displaying videos and other material containing her likeness for commercial gain.

In February 2005, when only the Hanisses had appeared in the action, the federal district court granted Hilton a temporary restraining, which barred the defendants from infringing her copyrights, publishing her private materials, and using her name and likeness. In late February 2005, the court granted Hilton a temporary injunction barring Bardia Persa from infringing her copyrights, publishing her private materials, and using her name or likeness. (Prior to the ruling, Hilton had acknowledged that the Hanisses had no part in operating the website.) Persa, apparently a resident of St. Kitts, never appeared in the action.

After the prelminary injunction issued, Paris Exposed shut down operations for a time, but then resurfaced at the same domain name. In June 2007, Hilton amended her complaint to drop Nabil Haniss from the lawsuit and to include claims against Green Brothers Limited, a St. Kitts company that allegedly was running the Paris Exposed website. The complaint also named three new individual defendants -- Karamooz, Thomas, and Green, who were alleged to be connected to the company.

In September 2007, Hilton settled with Nabila Haniss and dismissed the lawsuit against her. In October 2007, Hilton voluntarily withdrew her lawsuit against the remaining defendants, none of whom ever appeared in the action. The Paris Exposed website is still up and running.

Jurisdiction: 

Content Type: 

Subject Area: 

Swartz v. Does: Tennessee Couple Sues Anonymous Author(s) of Local Blog for Defamation and Invasion of Privacy

On Monday, a prominent couple from Old Hickory, Tennessee sued three anonymous defendants for defamation and invasion of privacy over statements appearing on the Stop Swartz blog and craigslist. The plaintiffs, Donald and Terry Keller Swartz, buy and sell a lot of real estate in Old Hickory, and a bit of local political maneuvering on their part seems to have earned them some enemies.

Jurisdiction: 

Content Type: 

Subject Area: 

Swartz v. Does

Date: 

02/11/2008

Threat Type: 

Lawsuit

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

John Does 1-3

Type of Party: 

Individual

Type of Party: 

Individual

Court Type: 

State

Court Name: 

Circuit Court for Davidson County, Tennessee

Case Number: 

08C431

Legal Counsel: 

Stephen Grauberger (for Doe 1)

Publication Medium: 

Blog
Website

Relevant Documents: 

Status: 

Pending

Description: 

In February 2008, Donald and Terry Keller Swartz sued three anonymous defendants for defamation and invasion of privacy in a Tennessee state court. The Swartzes are a prominent couple in Old Hickory, Tennessee, where they buy and restore real estate, manage rental properties, and operate a halfway house for recovering substance abusers. They are also active in local politics and the Old Hickory Village Neighborhood Association.

In September 2007, an anonymous person created the Stop Swartz blog, which criticizes the Swartzes' real estate activties and other aspects of their personal and political lives. According to the Swartzes' complaint, the blog's author (Doe #1) and an anonymous accomplice (Doe #2) posted false and defamatory statements about them on the blog, including statements accusing them of committing arson, evicting renters "without a moments notice," and failing to record property sales in a local registry. Additionally, the complaint alleges that Does #1 and #2 invaded Terry Keller Swartz's privacy by re-publishing a statement posted anonymously on Craigslist.org (by Doe #3) that revealed that she was an "ex-addict."

Finally, the Swartzes claim that a posting on Stop Swartz invaded their privacy by encouraging readers to stalk them. According to the complaint, the post read:

When you see a Swartz, no matter how trivial it may seem, leave a comment. Extra points if you observe them outside the village. This serves two purposes: First, it helps us all to keep tabs on Don and Terry and to know what they are up to. Second, it sends a clear message to Don and Terry that their actions are not being ignored . . . . We will tolerate their crap no longer.

The complaint requests an unspecified amount of of compensatory and punitive damages. The Swartzes' lawyer told Tennessean.com that he intends to subpoena Google -- the owner of Blogger, which hosts Stop Swartz -- to uncover the identity of the blog's author.

Update:

09/18/08 - John Doe 1 moved to quash a subpoena the Swartzes issued to Google, Inc. seeking the identity of the anonymous blogger behind Stop Swartz.

11/3/08 - The Swartzes responded to the motion to quash.

3/13/09 - The court heard oral argument on the motion to quash and ruled that it would follow the standard set forth in Dendrite International v. Doe, 775 A.2d 756 (N.J. App. Div. 2001) and cited with approval in  Independent Newspapers, Inc. v. Brodie, 2009 WL 484956 (Md. Feb. 27, 2009). The court gave the Swartzes permission to amend their complaint and instructed John Doe 1 to file a motion to dismiss the complaint and/or to have the court perform First Amendment balancing under Dendrite. (A video of the hearing is available here.)

5/27/09 - Doe filed a motion to dismiss and to balance First Amendment rights.

08/13/09 - Swartz filed a response to the motion.

10/08/09 - The court granted in part and denied in part Doe's motion to dismiss and denied Doe's motion to quash.  The court also ruled that the issue was appropriate for interlocutory appeal.

Jurisdiction: 

CMLP Notes: 

Status checked on 6/9/2008, no new information. (AAB)

Docket information available on Westlaw

Content Type: 

Subject Area: 

Primer on Immunity -- and Liability -- for Third-Party Content Under Section 230 of Communications Decency Act

As a lead up to the launch of the Citizen Media Law Project's Legal Guide in January, we'll be putting up longer, substantive blog posts on various subjects covered in the guide. This first post in the series stems from a talk I gave at the Legal Risk Management in the Web 2.0 World conference in Washington, DC.

Jurisdiction: 

Subject Area: 

Jury Awards $10.9 Million Against "God Hates Fags" Church

On Wednesday, a federal jury in Maryland handed down a $10.9 million verdict against the Westboro Baptist Church, a fundamentalist Christian church in Kansas that publishes a website at www.godhatesfags.com, on which it disseminates its rabidly anti-homosexual views. Among other things, the church advocates the view that God kills U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan as punishment for America's tolerance of homosexuality and for the presence of gays in the U.S. military.

Jurisdiction: 

Content Type: 

Subject Area: 

Snyder v. Phelps

Date: 

06/05/2006

Threat Type: 

Lawsuit

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

Fred W. Phelps, Sr.; Westboro Baptist Church, Inc.; Rebekah Phelps-Davis; Shirley Phelps-Roper; John Does; Jane Does

Type of Party: 

Individual

Type of Party: 

Individual
Organization

Court Type: 

Federal

Court Name: 

United States District Court for the District of Maryland, United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

Case Number: 

1:06-cv-1389-RDB (trial), 08-1026 (appeals)

Legal Counsel: 

Jonathan L. Katz

Publication Medium: 

Verbal
Website

Relevant Documents: 

Status: 

Concluded

Disposition: 

Dismissed (partial)
Dismissed (total)
Verdict (plaintiff)

Description: 

The Westboro Baptist Church is a fundamentalist Christian church that contends that God kills soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan as punishment for America'stolerance of homosexuality and for the presence of gays in the U.S. military. The church operates a number of websites, including www.godhatesfags.com, on which it disseminates its rabidly anti-homosexual views. The church has gained notoriety for staging protests at the funerals of U.S. soldiers in order to draw attention to its message.

Albert Snyder's son, Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder, was a U.S. Marinewho was killed on March 3, 2006 during active service in Iraq. His bodywas returned to the United States, and his family held a funeral forhim on March 10, 2006 in Westminster, Maryland.

Westboro Baptist Church pastor and founder Fred Phelps and members of his congregation picketed Matthew's funeral, holding signs expressing anti-gay, anti-American, and anti-Catholic slogans, including "God hates you" and "You're going to hell."

Westboro Baptist Church also posted an essay on its website entitled "The Burden of Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew A. Snyder." In the essay, statements indicated that Albert and his wife “raised [Matthew] for the devil,” “RIPPED that body apart and taught Matthew to defy his Creator, to divorce, and to commit adultery,” “taught him how to support the largest pedophile machine in the history of the entire world, the Roman Catholic monstrosity,” and “taught Matthew to be an idolator.”

On June 5, 2006, Snyder filed a lawsuit in federal court in Maryland against Westboro Baptist, Fred Phelps, and anonymous members of the church congregation. The complaint included claims for defamation, two counts of invasion of privacy (intrusion on seclusion and publicity given to private life), and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

On September 18, 2006, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss the complaint on jurisdictional and substantive grounds. The Court denied the motion on October 30, 2006.

Snyder's amended complaint, filed February 23, 2007, named Phelps's two daughters, Rebekah Phelps-Davis and Shirley Phelps-Roper, as additional defendants. Two months later, Phelps-Davis and Phelps-Roper filed a motion to dismiss and for summary judgment on grounds similar to their father's September 2006 motion. The Court denied this motion in June 2007.

Although the record is not entirely clear, it appears that the defendants renewed their motions for summary judgment, and, on October 15, 2007, the Court granted summary judgment for the defendants on the defamation claim and the invasion of privacy claim based on publication of private facts. The court announced its decision in open court, commenting that “These comments — as extreme as they may be — they are taken in termsof religious expression. This is not the type of language that one is going to assume is meant as a statement of fact.” The decision was memorialized in an October 16, 2007 order.

The jury trail comenced on October 22, 2007 to hear the remaining counts of invasion of privacy (intrusion upon seclusion) and intentional infliction of emotional distress. On October 31, 2007 the jury handed down a $10.9 million verdict against the defendants. This figure is made up of $2.9 million in compensatory damages, $6 million in punitive damages for invasion of privacy, and $2 million in punitive damages for causing emotional distress. After the verdict, Fred Phelps indicated his intent to appeal to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The defendants' practice of protesting at the funerals of fallen soldiers is infamous, and Congress passed a federal statute on May 29, 2006 that prohibits protests of the sort involved in this case. The Kansas legislature approved a similar prohibition in April 2007.

Update:

2/4/2008 - Judge Bennett granted in part Defendants' motion for remittitur and cut the jury award down to $5 million, applying both federal constitutional and state common law standards. The courtleft the jury's compensatory damage award of$2.9 million intact but reduced the total punitive damages to $2.1million.

2/11/2008 - Phelps filed statement of intent to appeal.

9/24/2009 - The Fourth Circuit issued an opinion reversing the judgment of the district court and vacating the jury award.  The appellate court found the Phelps' speech (both website and picketing) protected by the First Amendment.

3/02/2011 - The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.  Chief Justice Roberts, writing for the majority, held that a suit for intentional infliction of emotional distress must fail  because Phelps' speech was on a matter of public concern.  He held that the context of a funeral did not transform the context of the speech from public to private, because the Westboro Baptist Church picketed on public land.

The Court also addressed liability under the captive audience theory. If Snyder were seen as a captive audience at his son's funeral, he could possibly recover from the harmful effects of the speech because he would be an unwilling listener. However, the Court stressed that the picketers didn't interrupt the funeral, shout profanities, or behave "unruly." Snyder couldn't see any of the signs during the funeral and in fact didn't know what they said until after the funeral was over.

The Court left open whether time, place or manner restrictions restricting picketing at funerals would violate the First Amendment.

Jurisdiction: 

Content Type: 

Subject Area: 

Cahill v. Doe (Schaeffer)

Date: 

11/02/2004

Threat Type: 

Lawsuit

Party Issuing Legal Threat: 

Patrick Cahill; Julia Cahill

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

John Doe No. 1; Mark Schaeffer; Ruby Schaeffer; Cristina Rawley

Type of Party: 

Individual

Type of Party: 

Individual

Court Type: 

State

Court Name: 

Superior Court of the State of Delaware in and for New Castle County; Supreme Court of Delaware

Case Number: 

04C-011-022 (Superior Court); 266, 2005 (Supreme Court)

Legal Counsel: 

David L. Finger (in Supreme Court); Richard A. Forsten - Klett Rooney Lieber & Schorling (for Defendants Mark & Ruby Schaeffer); James S. Green - Seitz Van Ogtrop & Green P.A. (for Defendant Rawley)

Publication Medium: 

Blog

Relevant Documents: 

Status: 

Concluded

Disposition: 

Settled (total)

Description: 

Using the alias "Proud Citizen," an anonymous commenter posted two statements on the "Smyrna/Clayton Issues Blog," a website sponsored by the Delaware State News. The statements criticized Patrick Cahill, a City Councilman of Smyrna, saying that Cahill was "paranoid" and had undergone "an obvious mental deterioration," among other things.

Cahill and his wife filed a John Doe lawsuit in state court in Delaware. Pursuant to a local rule of procedure, they sought and obtained authorization of the court to conduct a pre-service deposition of the operator of the "Smyrna/Clayton Issues Blog." From the blog operator, the Cahills obtained the IP address associated with the postings. They then obtained a court order to compel Comcast (the owner of the IP address) to identify the poster, and Comcast notified Doe of the discovery request. Doe then filed an emergency motion for a protective order.

Applying a good faith standard, the trial judge denied Doe's request for a protective order. Doe filed an interlocutory appeal in the Supreme Court of Delaware.

The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the trial court and dismissed the case with prejudice. The court ruled that unmasking an anonymous critic requires a stricter standard than "good faith." It held that a plaintiff must provide evidence sufficient to defeat a summary judgment motion before a court will order disclosure of an anonymous defendant's identity. To defeat a summary judgment motion, a plaintiff must provide evidence to support each element of his/her claim such that the case would go to trial. Applying this standard, the court held that compelled disclosure of the defendant's identity was improper because no reasonable person would understand the statements at issue to be asserting facts about Cahill.

This is a landmark case on the rights of anonymous posters (and bloggers), and it marked the first time that a state high court addressed the issue.

Despite the Delaware Supreme Court ruling, the Cahills were later able to trace the IP address back to a computer in Smyrna Mayor Mark G. Schaeffer's house.  According to the New York Times, upon remand Schaeffer announced that his step-daughter, Cristina Rawley, was responsible for the comments, and asked that he and his wife, Ruby, be dropped as defendants.

According to the Associated Press, the lawsuit was settled in June 2006.  The details of the settlement were not made public.

Jurisdiction: 

CMLP Notes: 

 

 

Content Type: 

Subject Area: 

AutoAdmit

Date: 

06/08/2007

Threat Type: 

Lawsuit

Party Issuing Legal Threat: 

John Doe I; John Doe II

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

Anthony Ciolli; Mathew C. Ryan; Ryan C. Mariner; Individuals whose true names are unknown

Type of Party: 

Individual

Type of Party: 

Individual

Court Type: 

Federal

Court Name: 

District of Connecticut

Case Number: 

3:07CV00909

Legal Counsel: 

Marc Randazza (Ciolli); Charles E. Vermette, Jr.; Daniel J. Hoppe, Jr.; Orlando P. Ojeda, Jr.; W. Anthony Collins, Jr. (A horse walks into a bar); John R. Williams (AK47); Joseph G. Fortner, Jr.; Susan J. O'Donnell (Matthew C. Ryan, aka ".D")

Publication Medium: 

Forum

Relevant Documents: 

Status: 

Concluded

Disposition: 

Settled (total)
Subpoena Enforced

Description: 

Two female Yale Law School students, captioned as Does I & II, sued Anthony Ciolli, the former chief education director of the popular law school admissions forum, AutoAdmit, and a host of pseudonymous users of the forum over vulgar, sexually explicit, and threatening comments posted about them on the forum. In addition to making numerous derogatory and sexually explicit statements about the two students, pseudonymous users of the site created another website, t14talent: The Most Appealing Women @ Top Law Schools (now defunct), and posted photographs of one of the students without her permission. (Although the complaint is not entirely clear on this point, the student claims copyright ownership in these photographs in addition to publicity rights, indicating that she may have been the creator of the photos and posted them online.)

According to the complaint, the two students complained about the forum postings to the AutoAdmit staff, but AutoAdmit did not remove the material. Ciolli disputes that he had any authority to remove the offensive postings.

In June 2007, the two students sued in federal court in Connecticut, asserting claims of defamation, copyright infringement, unauthorized appropriation of name and likeness, unreasonable publicity given to another's life, false light invasion of privacy, and other torts. Soon after filing, they moved to proceed anonymously, and the court granted that request.

In August 2007, the plaintiffs moved to modify the court's scheduling order in order to give them time to investigate the identity of the pseudonymous defendants and to amend their complaint. The court granted the initial request and two subsequent requests for thirty-day extensions, the last of which was requested on October 4. According to a tip posted on David Lat's Above the Law blog, it is unlikely that the court will grant a fourth extension, so an amended complaint may be forthcoming relatively soon.

Update:

11/8/07 - Plaintiffs filed an amended complaint dropping Ciolli from the lawsuit.

1/24/08 - Plaintiffs filed a motion for expedited discovery seeking to uncover the identities of the pseudonymous posters listed in the complaint.

1/29/08 - Court granted motion for expedited discovery.

2/22/08 - Pseudonymous defendant "AK47" moved to quash the subpoena directed at AT&T requesting information about his identity.

3/2/08 - Plaintiffs deposed former defendant Anthony Ciolli, at which Ciolli acknowledged that his AOL Instant Messenger username is "AnthonyCiolli."

3/4/08 - Former defendant Anthony Ciolli filed a lawsuit in Pennsylvania state court against the plaintiffs, their lawyers, and other defendants for wrongful initiation of civil proceedings, abuse of process, libel, slander, false light invasion of privacy, tortious interference with contract, and unauthorized use of name or likeness.

3/18/08 - Plaintiffs issued a subpoena to AOL seeking the names of "all persons who have registered or used" the username "AnthonyCiolli" and related information about the account, including "other user names and login IDs and/or Internet Protocol ("IP") addresses associated with the IM username 'AnthonyCiolli.'"

4/7/08 - Ciolli filed a motion to quash the AOL subpoena in federal district court in Virginia.

06/13/08 - The court denied AK47's motion to quash the subpoena seeking his identity from AT&T.

08/05/08 - Plaintiffs filed an amended complaint that names Mathew C. Ryan (previously known by username ":D") as a defendant. Legal Satyricon "can confirm with 100% certainty that the guy in the complaint is neither an attorney nor a law professor."

8/13/08 - Defendant "a horse walks into a bar", a.k.a Ryan Mariner filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that the plaintiff's have stated no cause of action against him and that they have failed to prosecute the action against him despite offers to accept service made through counsel. 

9/10/08 - Plaintiffs filed papers in opposition to Mariner's motion to dismiss.

9/19/08 - The United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia held that the plaintiffs' subpoena to AOL seeking the names of "all persons who have registered or used" the username "AnthonyCiolli" was facially invalid because it was issued from the wrong court.  The court determined that it should have issued from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. Because the court concluded that it lacked jurisdiction, it did not reach the merits of Anthony Ciolli's motion to quash

10/26/08 - Plaintiffs filed a notice of settlement and request for dismissal against defendant "Whamo."

3/31/09 - Pennsylvania federal court largely denied the defendants' motion to dismiss Anthony Ciolli's complaint in Ciolli v. Iravani, but gave defendants leave to renew their motion after jurisdictional discovery.  The court also struck certain allegations from the complaint relating to settlement negotiations in the Connecticut lawsuit. 

4/30/09 - Connecticut federal court denies Matthew Ryan's motion to dismiss. 

5/21/09 - Matthew Ryan files his answer to the second amended complaint in Connecticut federal court.

9/29/09 - Plaintiffs filed a Notice of Settlement and Request for Dismissal of Action Against Defendant ":D", A.K.A. Matthew C. Ryan

10/16/09 - Plaintiffs filed a Notice of Voluntary Dismissal of Action Against Remaining Defendants Without Prejudice by Doe 1, Doe 2

10/23/09 - Court dismissed case

Jurisdiction: 

CMLP Notes: 

TO DO: Monitor

Updated 6/16/09 - CMF

Updated checked on 08/05/2008. {MCS}

Content Type: 

Subject Area: 

Johnson v. Tucker Max

Date: 

05/02/2003

Threat Type: 

Lawsuit

Party Issuing Legal Threat: 

Katy Johnson

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

Tucker Max

Type of Party: 

Individual

Type of Party: 

Individual

Court Type: 

State

Court Name: 

Circuit Court of the Fifteenth Judicial Circuit in and for Palm Beach County; United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida

Case Number: 

2003 CA 004867 AF (state); 9:03-CV-80515 (federal)

Legal Counsel: 

Richard Mockler, John Carey

Publication Medium: 

Blog

Relevant Documents: 

Status: 

Concluded

Disposition: 

Injunction Issued
Withdrawn

Description: 

Tucker Max maintains a website detailing his sexual exploits with women. He had a relationship with former Miss Vermont, Katy Johnson, and put the entire story on his website under the title, the "Miss Vermont Story."

Johnson sued Max in Florida Circuit Court for misappropriation of her publicity rights, invasion of privacy based on publication of private facts, and battery. On May 6, 2003, the judge issued a temporary injunction that forbid Max from

  • using, including, or even making reference to, "the name 'Katy Johnson,' 'Katy,' 'Johnson,' or title 'Miss Vermont' in any periodicals or books, and on his website located at www.tuckermax.com";
  • "Disclosing any stories, facts or information, notwithstanding its truth, about any intimate or sexual act engaged in by" Katy Johnson; and
  • linking to Johnson's website.

Max then removed the case to the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida and filed a motion to dismiss. The temporary injunction expired on June 20, 2003. Johnson voluntarily dismissed the case in July 2003.

Jurisdiction: 

CMLP Notes: 

SB Reviewed

Content Type: 

Subject Area: 

Steinbuch v. Cutler

Date: 

05/16/2005

Threat Type: 

Lawsuit

Party Issuing Legal Threat: 

Robert Steinbuch

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

Jessica Cutler; Ana Marie Cox

Type of Party: 

Individual

Type of Party: 

Individual

Court Type: 

Federal

Court Name: 

United States District Court for the District of Columbia

Case Number: 

1:05CV00970

Legal Counsel: 

John Ates, Matthew Billips (Defendant Cutler - previous attorneys terminated); Charles R. Both, Laura Rose Handman, Amber L. Husbands, James Rosenfeld (Defendant Cox)

Publication Medium: 

Blog

Relevant Documents: 

Status: 

Pending

Disposition: 

Dismissed (partial)

Description: 

For two weeks in May 2004, Jessica Cutler, a blogger and aide to Ohio Senator Michael DeWine, posted details of her sex life on her blog, The Washingtonienne (now defunct), including her relationship with Robert Steinbuch (using his initials, "RS"), Senator DeWine's counsel on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Cutler's blog posts contained many intimate details about her relationship with RS, including mentioning that their initial date did not include intercourse, but that he "[h]as a great ass" and "likes spanking. (Both giving and receiving.)"  During the next twelve days, Cutler continued to disclose intimate details about their sexual encounters both to her friends and to readers of her blog.

On May 18, 2004, Anna Marie Cox posted a link from her popular Washington gossip blog, Wonkette, to Cutler's blog, which at the time had only a small number of readers. After that, Cutler's blog received widespread attention in the media and blogosphere.  After Cutler became aware of this, she discontinued her blogging activities and shut down the site.

Although Cutler didn't name "RS" on her blog, she posted personal information about him, such as the fact that he was Jewish, was a Senate staff lawyer, had a twin, and owned a home in Bethesda, Maryland.  This information was sufficient for others in the blogosphere to guess that RS was Steinbuch.  In fact, Cutler had blogged about her affairs with six other men as well, including a Georgetown lawyer who paid her $400 for sex, a staffer in Senator Lieberman's office, and the Chief of Staff at a government agency who had been appointed by President Bush.   All of which created a frenzy to identify the men she had blogged about.

In May 2005, Steinbuch sued Cutler in federal court for publication of private facts, false light invasion of privacy, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.  In his complaint, he wrote that "[n]o reasonable person would want the intimate physical, verbal, emotional, and psychological details of his or her sexual life . . . exposed . . . on the Internet for all the world to read. It is one thing to be manipulated and used by a lover, it is another thing to be cruelly exposed to the world." Steinbuch also contended that some of the information Cutler published was untrue and that her blog presented him in a falase and defamatory light.

In July 2005, Cutler filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that (1) Steinbuch ratified the disclosure of details about their sexual relationship in office discussions (and that her blog was simply an extension of that discussion); (2) Steinbuch had no reasonable expectation of privacy in a 12-day "sexual tryst"; (3) disclosure on a personal blog, without more, is not publicity and is little more than "writing on a bathroom wall"; (4) Steinbuch had waived any privacy expectations by joining in or allowing office gossip about the intimate details of their encounters; and (5) Cutler had a First Amendment right - and that it was newsworthy for her - to share her personal viewpoints about the pressing public issue of "the interplay between sex and power in the Nation's capital."

In his opposition to her motion, Steinbuch rejected Cutler's legal arguments and asserted that she had sought "widespread publication" of the intimate facts of their relationship and "deliberately declined to password-protect her blog, making it publicly available to anybody on the Internet."  He also alleged that Cutler sought publicity for her blog when she hyperlinked her personal blog to Wonkette.

On April 5, 2006, the Court denied Cutler's motion to dismiss without a written opinion.

In October 2006, Steinbuch added Anna Marie Cox as a defendant in his First Amended Complaint.  Cox moved to dismiss on January 26, 2007, arguing, inter alia, that she was immune under section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.  The court dismissed the claims against Cox in May 2007.

Update:

5/30/06 - Steinbuch filed a complaint in the Eastern District of Arkansas (4:06-cv-00620-WRW) against Cutler, Hyperion Books, Disney Publishing Worldwide, HBO, and Time Warner.

6/1/07 - D.C. court stayed the case following Cutler's filing of  Chapter 7 bankruptcy in the United States Bankruptcy Court in the Northern District of New York.

Jurisdiction: 

CMLP Notes: 

Status checked on 6/9/2008, no new information. (AAB)

Content Type: 

Subject Area: 

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - Publication of Private Facts