Life Online: Court Declines to Order Discovery of Litigant’s Internet Identities and Activities in Its Entirety


Lindke v. Freed, No. 20-10872 (S.D. Mich.) November 2, 2020.


Plaintiff sued the city manager of Port Huron, Michigan, asserting that deleting unfavorable or politically disadvantageous comments from the city manager’s Facebook page violates LIndke’s First Amendment rights.

The Second Circuit has concluded that public officials’ public social media accounts may not exclude opinion because of disagreement.  Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University v. Trump, 928 F.3d 226 (2nd Cir. 2020), petition for cert. Filed August 20, 2020 (20-197). 

Freed seeks discovery, broadly stated, of all plaintiff’s social media history and activity, which plaintiff argues is beyond the scope of the lawsuit.

Defendant objects to the idea that the discovery must be cabinned to the case:  the information sought is essential to establishing that plaintiff is a “cyberbully.”

The court recognized that discovery in support of a cyberbully defense could be had but not until Freed better articulates the nature of the defense he intends to present so that discovery can be reasonably related to the case and not overly broad or unduly burdensome.  

This is particularly important, the court pointed out, where states have adopted various definitions as components of “cyberbullying.”  The court noted that whether such activities qualify for First Amendment protections may remain open for exploration, as the range of definitions of “cyberbullying” vary from unprotected “true threats” to annoyance.  Michigan criminal law tends toward “true threats” but of interest concerning discovery is which definition Freed intends to advance.

In addition the issue of whether the plaintiff posted using multiple pseudonyms may be relevant but the discovery request remains too broad.  Freed may be able to seek information about plaintiff’s behavior on Freed’s site but not throughout the internet.  Postings and accounts unrelated to Freed are not discoverable, the court has concluded.

The court declined to enter  protective order limiting discovery to matters in the complaints as discovery is already limited in that way.  Further refinement at this time is not necessary, the court concluded, but the court left open the issue of whether an order would be appropriate in light of the defendant’s refinement of his defense. 

Lindke v. Freed (E.D. Mich. 2020) Order November 2, 2020

Not Exactly the Remedy Plaintiff Had In Mind: Federal Judge Denies Injunctive Relief Against Alleged Unicorn Trademark Infringers, Observing Public Health Crisis is Real, But Unicorn Crisis is Not

Art Ask Agency v. The Individuals, Corporations, Limited Liability Companies, Partnerships, and Unincorporated Associations Identified on Schedule A Hereto, No. 20-cv-01666 (N.D. Ill.)


Plaintiff sought an emergency order to bring to a halt alleged infringement on unicorn and elf designs, which if granted would involve third parties domestically and internationally.  The federal court, strapped for resources in light of declared national and state emergencies, brooked plaintiff no mercy when, having been advised that the court would not schedule the hearing as plaintiff requested, plaintiff renewed its demand.

The court’s pointed opinion serves not only as a shot across the bow to litigants demonstrating extraordinary, yet imprudent, zeal in extraordinary times, but offers homespun 19th century legal wisdom:  “About half the practice of a decent lawyer consists in telling would-be clients that they are damned fools and should stop.” 1 Jessup, Elihu Root 133 (1938). Hill v. Norfolk and Western Ry. Co., 814 F.2d 1192 (7th Cir. 1987).

Sure to be quoted to litigants and clients alike in coming days.

Just Lawful Chortles, But Frets:  The trial court was well within reason to put counsel on notice that repeatedly pressing its cause would not work, and particularly not in times of emergencies of the court’s and the nation’s own.  Through the quote from Root the court did, in fact, offer counsel a way to soften the blow to the client, albeit sardonically.  

Yet the reliance on ‘national emergency’ may itself soon wear thin.  At the heart of this case, and the court’s order, is the issue of enforceability, not pestiness.  Courts do not like to issue orders that cannot be effectuated, and rightly so. This is particularly true of orders that would affect entities not before the court, which would occur if the relief requested by Art Ask Agency were granted. It would not have consumed a great deal of judicial resources to mention this in the order denying reconsideration of the scheduling order. 

Although counsel everywhere will no doubt make use of this opinion to illustrate to clients what approach not to take at present, no one, and we may hope the courts included, looks forward to expansion of the “national emergency” rationale to cause even further limitations on the process of the courts.

Art Ask Agency v. The Individuals, et al., No. 20-cv-1666 (N.D. Ill.).

 

Wrongful Termination Case Cannot Proceed in Federal Court Where No First Amendment Rights Attach to Private Employment Disputes and Defense Cannot Confer Jurisdiction Otherwise Lacking

Cox v. Bishop England High School, et al., No. 2:19-cv-002202 (D. S.C.) September 17 2019.


A First Amendment claim regarding wrongful termination is insufficient to confer federal jurisdiction over the case, as Congress has not extended First Amendment protections to private workplaces.  Under the well-pleaded complaint rule, the assertion of defenses grounded in federal constitutional law will not, without more,transform a state law complaint into a federal one.

Cox v. Bishop England High Sch. (D. S.C., 2019)