Cahill v. Doe (Schaeffer)

NOTE: The information and commentary contained in this database entry are based on court filings and other informational sources that may contain unproven allegations made by the parties. The truthfulness and accuracy of such information is likely to be in dispute. Information contained in this entry is current as of the last event mentioned in the "Description" section below; additional proceedings might have taken place in this matter since this event.

Summary

Threat Type: 

Lawsuit

Date: 

11/02/2004

Status: 

Concluded

Location: 

Delaware

Disposition: 

Settled (total)

Verdict or Settlement Amount: 

N/A
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... read full description
Parties

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

Location of Party: 

  • Delaware

Location of Party: 

  • Delaware

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)
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.

Details

Content Type: 

  • Text

Publication Medium: 

Blog

Subject Area: 

  • Defamation
  • Anonymity
  • Publication of Private Facts
Court Information & Documents

Jurisdiction: 

  • Delaware

Source of Law: 

  • United States
  • Delaware

Court Name: 

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

Court Type: 

State

Case Number: 

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

Relevant Documents: 

CMLP Information (Private)

CMLP Notes: