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How Challenging Is A John Doe Lawsuit?

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rfd1283

New member
In recent years, I keep coming across stories about successful John Doe Lawsuits, where
a subpoena is issued in an attempt to identity of an unknown defendant to a l
awsuit, typically when the defendant is an anonymous internet posters. So then, here are my questions:

1. Why do so many people continue to post anonymously, when it’s become more and more clear that you can be unmasked? 2. The answer, I guess, is that unmasking an anonymous poster, is an uphill battle. True? 3. What are the challenges one faces in attempting a John Doe Lawsuit? 4. Is a John Doe Lawsuit expensive? 5. Is a John Doe Lawsuit time consuming? 5. Do internet service providers cooperate with such a subpoena or do they fight the subpoena?
 


quincy

Senior Member
In recent years, I keep coming across stories about successful John Doe Lawsuits, where
a subpoena is issued in an attempt to identity of an unknown defendant to a l
awsuit, typically when the defendant is an anonymous internet posters. So then, here are my questions:

1. Why do so many people continue to post anonymously, when it’s become more and more clear that you can be unmasked? 2. The answer, I guess, is that unmasking an anonymous poster, is an uphill battle. True? 3. What are the challenges one faces in attempting a John Doe Lawsuit? 4. Is a John Doe Lawsuit expensive? 5. Is a John Doe Lawsuit time consuming? 5. Do internet service providers cooperate with such a subpoena or do they fight the subpoena?
A John Doe lawsuit is generally filed so that the statute of limitations (the time within which a lawsuit must be filed) does not expire before the identity of the unknown defendant in a case is discovered. Once the real name of the defendant is discovered, the real name will be substituted in place of John Doe.

Many people continue to post anonymously because most people do not violate any laws when posting. They have little reason to fear a lawsuit.

Unmasking an anonymous poster can be both costly and time-consuming - but most lawsuits are costly and time-consuming.

The challenge of all lawsuits is providing enough support for the claims being made to win the action. With a John Doe lawsuit, the plaintiff often must provide this support to a court early with a pre-discovery motion - in order to get subpoenas issued by the court so the identity of the defendant can be unmasked and a named defendant can be served notice of the legal action.

A court will determine if there is a prima facie case, a case able to withstand summary judgment, before issuing the subpoenas necessary to proceed with the case.

With actions involving the internet, if/when the court issues subpoenas, they generally will be issued to the web host and to the internet service provider, the first to get the IP address and the second to get the account information of the person using the IP address at the date and time of the posting which is the subject of the lawsuit.

A subpoena is a court order and a web host and an ISP would be in contempt of court if they do not comply with the order.
 
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Just Blue

Senior Member
In recent years, I keep coming across stories about successful John Doe Lawsuits, where
a subpoena is issued in an attempt to identity of an unknown defendant to a l
awsuit, typically when the defendant is an anonymous internet posters. So then, here are my questions:

1. Why do so many people continue to post anonymously, when it’s become more and more clear that you can be unmasked? 2. The answer, I guess, is that unmasking an anonymous poster, is an uphill battle. True? 3. What are the challenges one faces in attempting a John Doe Lawsuit? 4. Is a John Doe Lawsuit expensive? 5. Is a John Doe Lawsuit time consuming? 5. Do internet service providers cooperate with such a subpoena or do they fight the subpoena?
1. What state?
2. Is this just curiosity or are you subject to a law suit?
 

quincy

Senior Member
Here are links to two cases to review:

Doe v. Cahill: https://h2o.law.harvard.edu/cases/4350

Dendrite International, Inc v. Doe No. 3:

And, yes, the state name is important. With lawsuits involving internet postings, however, potentially more than one state could be shown to have jurisdiction.
 

FlyingRon

Senior Member
While filing a John Doe is sometimes used for getting in before the limitations run out (more commonly used that way for criminal cases when they have some evidence like DNA for an unknown person), it's commonly used in this internet age to get a lawsuit on record so that a subpoena can be issued to an ISP or web site to get information to identify the unknown person.
 

quincy

Senior Member
While filing a John Doe is sometimes used for getting in before the limitations run out (more commonly used that way for criminal cases when they have some evidence like DNA for an unknown person), it's commonly used in this internet age to get a lawsuit on record so that a subpoena can be issued to an ISP or web site to get information to identify the unknown person.
The subpoena will be one goal certainly but some states have a short (1 year) period of time within which to file a defamation claim.
 
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rfd1283

New member
Thank you everyone for the great responses and great insights. I'm from New Jersey.

Here’s why I asked this. I was the victim of a “false tip” that was sent in to a local online publication . . . moreover it was an “anonymous false tip.” I know because the publication called me for a quote - at least an opportunity to defend myself. I declined to do so, but before I declined, I was asked for a copy of the tip/email. To my surprise, the publication sent me the email. The email was, in fact, anonymous. It was also, in fact, fake news about me. And they published it! I believe it to be slanderous and/or libelous.

Questions:

1. Who is legally liable? The publication or the person who sent in the false news tip.
2. I’ve spoken to lawyers and journalists. They say it would be practically impossible to sue the anonymous tipster because, for one thing, I would need to file a John Doe Lawsuit and that’s an uphill battle. But the other reasons, I’m told, is that there’s nothing illegal about sending in a news tip . . . even if it proves to be a false tip. Why? Because a tip is merely a suggestion or a pitch. The news organization isn’t forced to run a tip, suggestion or pitch. If the news organization is interested in publishing the tip, then it’s on the news publication to verify and vet the tip/suggestion/pitch. Is that true?
3. I could try to prove malice on the part of the anonymous tipster. But that would also be pretty difficult. Since a tip is a suggestion, the tipster could just say, “I heard a rumor and sent it to the publication to see if they wanted to investigate further.” In fact, the tipster seemed to know what they were doing, as they actually said in the email “I’m hearing . . . “ So in other words, to me, it sounds like they’re admitting right off the bat that the info was unverified. Did the tipster do anything illegal? If yes, would be difficult to prove?
4. It sounds like my issue, if I wanted to sue, would be with the publication and the publication could attempt to sue the tipster. True?
5. I’m really not interested in sueing the publication as my damages, I admit, would be minimal. I’m more interested in finding our who is spreading these lies. But if I don’t have a legal case against the tipster, I may be trying to swim upstream. True?
6. A lawyer actually said to me "internet service providers don't usually play ball - even if subpoenaed." They don't silently ignore it. But they do fight the subpoena. Especially if its an out of state subpoena. True?
 

Just Blue

Senior Member
Thank you everyone for the great responses and great insights. I'm from New Jersey.


Here’s why I asked this. I was the victim of a “false tip” that was sent in to a local online publication . . . moreover it was an “anonymous false tip.” I know because the publication called me for a quote - at least an opportunity to defend myself. I declined to do so, but before I declined, I was asked for a copy of the tip/email. To my surprise, the publication sent me the email. The email was, in fact, anonymous. It was also, in fact, fake news about me. And they published it! I believe it to be slanderous and/or libelous.



Questions:
1. Who is legally liable? The publication or the person who sent in the false news tip.
2. I’ve spoken to lawyers and journalists. They say it would be practically impossible to sue the anonymous tipster because, for one thing, I would need to file a John Doe Lawsuit and that’s an uphill battle. But the other reasons, I’m told, is that there’s nothing illegal about sending in a news tip . . . even if it proves to be a false tip. Why? Because a tip is merely a suggestion or a pitch. The news organization isn’t forced to run a tip, suggestion or pitch. If the news organization is interested in publishing the tip, then it’s on the news publication to verify and vet the tip/suggestion/pitch. Is that true?
3. I could try to prove malice on the part of the anonymous tipster. But that would also be pretty difficult. Since a tip is a suggestion, the tipster could just say, “I heard a rumor and sent it to the publication to see if they wanted to investigate further.” In fact, the tipster seemed to know what they were doing, as they actually said in the email “I’m hearing . . . “ So in other words, to me, it sounds like they’re admitting right off the bat that the info was unverified. Did the tipster do anything illegal? If yes, would be difficult to prove?
4. It sounds like my issue, if I wanted to sue, would be with the publication and the publication could attempt to sue the tipster. True?
5. I’m really not interested in sueing the publication as my damages, I admit, would be minimal. I’m more interested in finding our who is spreading these lies. But if I don’t have a legal case against the tipster, I may be trying to swim upstream. True?
6. A lawyer actually said to me "internet service providers don't usually play ball - even if subpoenaed." They don't silently ignore it. But they do fight the subpoena. Especially if its an out of state subpoena. True?



Do you think it fair that we should have to dig out our magnifying glass to read the ^ post? Could you please enlarge the font? Thx.. :)
 

quincy

Senior Member
Thank you everyone for the great responses and great insights. I'm from New Jersey.


Here’s why I asked this. I was the victim of a “false tip” that was sent in to a local online publication . . . moreover it was an “anonymous false tip.” I know because the publication called me for a quote - at least an opportunity to defend myself. I declined to do so, but before I declined, I was asked for a copy of the tip/email. To my surprise, the publication sent me the email. The email was, in fact, anonymous. It was also, in fact, fake news about me. And they published it! I believe it to be slanderous and/or libelous.



Questions:
1. Who is legally liable? The publication or the person who sent in the false news tip.
2. I’ve spoken to lawyers and journalists. They say it would be practically impossible to sue the anonymous tipster because, for one thing, I would need to file a John Doe Lawsuit and that’s an uphill battle. But the other reasons, I’m told, is that there’s nothing illegal about sending in a news tip . . . even if it proves to be a false tip. Why? Because a tip is merely a suggestion or a pitch. The news organization isn’t forced to run a tip, suggestion or pitch. If the news organization is interested in publishing the tip, then it’s on the news publication to verify and vet the tip/suggestion/pitch. Is that true?
3. I could try to prove malice on the part of the anonymous tipster. But that would also be pretty difficult. Since a tip is a suggestion, the tipster could just say, “I heard a rumor and sent it to the publication to see if they wanted to investigate further.” In fact, the tipster seemed to know what they were doing, as they actually said in the email “I’m hearing . . . “ So in other words, to me, it sounds like they’re admitting right off the bat that the info was unverified. Did the tipster do anything illegal? If yes, would be difficult to prove?
4. It sounds like my issue, if I wanted to sue, would be with the publication and the publication could attempt to sue the tipster. True?
5. I’m really not interested in sueing the publication as my damages, I admit, would be minimal. I’m more interested in finding our who is spreading these lies. But if I don’t have a legal case against the tipster, I may be trying to swim upstream. True?
6. A lawyer actually said to me "internet service providers don't usually play ball - even if subpoenaed." They don't silently ignore it. But they do fight the subpoena. Especially if its an out of state subpoena. True?
Thank you for providing your state name.

To address your 6th question first: It is not true that web hosts or internet service providers ignore court orders, which is what a subpoena is. They often will (and sometimes legally must), however, notify the account holder of the subpoena first before responding to the subpoenaed request, this so the account holder has the opportunity to move to quash the subpoena (stop the release of his identifying information).

Your first step should be to have what was written about you personally reviewed by an attorney well-versed in defamation law. It needs to be determined if what was said/written about you could be judged defamatory. What will be looked at will be the words but also the context in which these words were communicated. For what reason the words were communicated and to whom the words were communicated and what reaction the public had to the words .... all must be examined. Who you are is important (e.g., public figure, private person). Who the one is who communicated the words is important. In what type of online publication the statements appeared is important.

If what was published about you could be considered defamatory, you can file suit against the publication. I see some issues with the apparent failure by the publication to investigate the "anonymous tip" adequately - although you said the publication gave you a chance to refute what was written and you chose not to.

For online stories that have some sort of urgency, mistakes can be understandable and (generally) excusable. But there should be adequate time for most stories to be fact-checked and edited prior to publication.

The person who passed on the anonymous tip might be hard to identify and you might not have any legal action to consider against the tipster anyway. Anonymous tips that are communicated to a writer are different from anonymous online postings. Learning the identity of the one who passed on the information about you to the publication could certainly be valuable to any lawsuit you consider against the publication. If the anonymous person is in a position to know the truth of what was communicated (e.g., your mother, your boss), the tip could be considered more reliable than if it came from an anonymous no one.

I think I forgot your questions :) ... Did I hit on all of them?
 
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