Cooley Law School loses appeal regarding discovery of identity of blogger who allegedly defamed the school
An [apparently somewhat discontented] Cooley Law School grad created a blog where hemade all kinds of claims about the quality and integrity of the law school. Among his claims, apparently, were statements to the effect that the school was "THE BIGGEST JOKE of all law schools; that it had committed "fraud;" and that it "preyed on students." Cooley sued the anonymous author for defamation and then sought the bloggers' identity through his website host in California.
The blogger filed a motion in Ingham County Circuit Court, where the action was pending, arguing that Cooley should not be able to discover his or her identity without meeting certain threshold standards of probable success on the underlying defamation claims. The blogger pointed out that the U.S. Supreme Court has held that the First Amendment protects anonymous speech and an author's right to remain anonymous. The blogger argued that the procedure followed by Cooley was not adequate to comply with the Supreme Court's constitutional mandate. Cooley argued that since the California website company had inadvertently disclosed the blogger's identity, the blogger's objections were "moot." The trial judge ruled that Michigan lacks adequate protection for the First Amendment rights of an anonymous speaker and attempted to adopt protection from prior decisions in other states.The Court of Appeals panel acknowedged that this is an important area of developing law but rejected the trial judge's attempt to lean on the law of foreign states to address the questions involved. A majority of the panel (two judges) ruled that since Cooley did learn the blogger's identity as a result of the website host's error, and since the blogger learned of the action in time to dispute the issue of anonymity, the question of Michigan's compliance with First Amendment decisions of the high court was not "ripe" in this case. It also held that Michigan's rules governing discovery and protective orders were sufficient to guard an anonymous author's constitutional rights. The dissenting judge disagreed.