COA to hear John Doe appeal in Cooley Law School suit

The Michigan Court of Appeals agreed to hear an appeal from John Doe 1, also known as Rockstar05, who is being sued by The Thomas M. Cooley Law School.

Doe is fighting to keep his identity a secret after he posted under his Rockstar pen name a blog post that was highly critical of Cooley’s business practices. He wrote the post early in 2011 after Cooley devised and published a national ranking system of all the law schools in the country, and ranked itself second behind only Harvard Law School.

Doe called the school a “diploma mill,” and an expensive one at that. Cooley sued.

But Doe said that he has the right to protect his free and anonymous speech. The law school knows who Doe is, and has known since August 2011. But if the courts agree that he can remain anonymous, Cooley can’t name him in the lawsuit.

Doe’s attorney, Berkley-based attorney John Hermann, said he feels encouraged that the Court of Appeals has granted leave. The case is important, Hermann said, because it “represents some free speech issues that we deal with in this electronic communication era.”

The Court granted media companies Gannett Co. Inc., Scripps Media Inc., The Detroit News, The Macomb Daily and The Rail — and the Michigan Press Association to file amicus briefs.

Aside from the First Amendment implications, there’s a great wonky angle to this case. Late in 2011, Cooley General Counsel James Thelen told Michigan Lawyers Weekly that if the Court allows Doe to remain anonymous, it would be sliding down a slippery slope of rewriting Michigan Court Rules and pleading standards by forcing a defamed plaintiff to prove its case before being entitled to seek discovery, as provided in Michigan law. (Subscribers can read the story here.) It would also need to look up in the dictionary the definition of “anonymous,” since Thelen, the law school and outside counsel at Miller Canfield already know who Doe is (he’s a former student, and Doe’s blog’s web host inadvertently gave Miller Canfield his identifying information).

Doe is asking the Court to apply the Dendrite standard, from Dendrite International v. Does, which requires a plaintiff to give notice to the potential defendant and give an opportunity for Doe to defend his anonymity; specify the statements that allegedly violate the plaintiff’s rights; plead a claim that could survive a motion to dismiss; and produce evidence supporting each element of the claim.

Advertisements

Cooley sues lawyers, bloggers for defamation

From this morning’s Lansing State Journal comes word that Cooley Law School has sued two lawyers, a law firm and four anonymous bloggers for defamation.

The school is suing New York lawyers David Anziska and Jesse Strauss for more than $25,000 in damages and a retraction of all defamatory statements posted on the Internet.

The suit, filed in Ingham County Circuit Court, also names the New York law firm that Strauss founded – and where Anziska works – as a co-defendant.

Strauss said he intended to countersue Cooley for filing a frivolous lawsuit.

“This is one of the most ridiculous, absurd lawsuits filed in recent memory,” Strauss said. “This suit is nothing more than a naked attempt at intimidation.”

In a separate suit, the school seeks identical damages from four anonymous bloggers.

James Thelen, Cooley’s associate dean for legal affairs and general counsel, said the school hopes to establish the bloggers’ identities during the lawsuit’s discovery process.

Cooley’s suit charges that:

Anziska and Strauss made defamatory comments online against the school as a way to “troll” for plaintiffs for a “baseless purported class- action lawsuit” against Cooley. The false claims included stating the school inflated salary and employment information of its graduates and that four out of 10 Cooley students are defaulting on loans[.]