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Doe v. Cahill

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Citation Edit

Doe v. Cahill, 884 A.2d 451 (Del. Supr. 2005) (full-text).

Factual Background Edit

The Doe defendant was sued for defamation after criticizing a town councilman on an Internet blog.

Trial Court Proceedings Edit

The trial court applied a “good faith” standard for disclosure and denied the defendant's request for a protective order.

Delaware Supreme Court Proceedings Edit

The Delaware Supreme Court reversed. The good-faith standard, the high court held, was “too easily satisfied” to protect the First Amendment right to speak anonymously.[1] Even a motion to dismiss standard was, in the court's view, too weak, because Delaware, as a notice pleading state, required only “well-pleaded allegations” for a complaint to survive a motion to dismiss.[2] Consequently, any allegation that put the opposing party on notice of the claim was sufficient in that jurisdiction, even if it was “‘vague or lacking in detail.’“[3]

The Dendrite[4] test, on the other hand, required too much. The Cahill court instead adopted a standard applicable to a plaintiff opposing summary judgment. Thus, the plaintiff “must support his defamation claim with facts sufficient to defeat a summary judgment motion.”[5]

The second Dendrite requirement, that the plaintiff set forth the exact statements alleged to be defamatory, was unnecessary because those statements must be quoted in the plaintiff's complaint to avoid summary judgment. The fourth Dendrite step, the balancing of the defendant's First Amendment rights against the strength of the plaintiff's case, was also unnecessary because “[t]he summary judgment test is itself the balance. The fourth requirement adds no protection above and beyond that of the summary judgment test and needlessly complicates the analysis.”[6]

The court did, however, endorse the first element of the Dendrite test, that the plaintiff make reasonable efforts to notify the anonymous poster about the subpoena or request for a disclosure order and give the defendant a reasonable opportunity to respond. The Cahill court even required the plaintiff to publish that notice on the same message board where the allegedly defamatory statement appeared.

References Edit

  1. 884 A.2d at 458.
  2. Id.
  3. Id.
  4. 342 N.J. Super. 134, 775 A.2d 756 (App. Div. 2001)(full-text).
  5. Id. at 460. The court made an exception for the element of actual malice in a case involving a public figure, a showing that depends on whether the defendant had knowledge that his or her statement was false or made it with reckless disregard as to its truth. See New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254, 279-80 (1964)(full-text).
  6. 342 N.J. Super. 134, 884 A.2d at 461.

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