by Mike Masnick
Fri, Feb 7th 2014 5:30pm
by Mike Masnick
Thu, May 16th 2013 9:45am
Appeal Over Former RIAA Lobbyist Judge Allowing Prenda To Get Info On Over 1,000 John Does Moves Forward
from the doesn't-that-look-silly-now dept
What you may not remember is that the key case in which Howell did this happens to be a case involving... you guessed it... AF Holdings and its "law firm" Prenda Law. Oh, and the "copyright assignment" that AF Holdings is using for this case was one of those supposedly signed by... Alan Cooper. While Judge Howell may be well served to pay attention to Judge Otis Wright in California and his actual investigation into Prenda/AF Holdings/Alan Cooper, the case is out of her hands for now, as the various ISPs who have the info in this particular case have appealed Howell's ruling and the EFF, ACLU, Public Citizen and Public Knowledge have stepped in as well with additional arguments in an amicus brief.
Both briefs are well worth reading, though you might be surprised that the amicus brief is probably the more reserved of the two. The ISPs who took part include: Bright House, Cox, Verizon, AT&T and Comcast -- with most of them (Verizon and Comcast being the exceptions) not even providing service in the jurisdiction of the district court: Washington DC. Comcast joining in is interesting, given that they own NBC, but we'll leave that aside for now. To put it mildly, the ISPs think the appeals court should put an end to these kinds of cases, noting that a majority of other courts have refused to allow joinder on so many defendants, and have blocked the discovery process. It points out, of course, that these cases are almost never taken to court, but are usually just used to reveal names and then offer settlement demands. Specifically, they feel that Howell made a pretty big legal mistake, in that a showing of "good cause" is required for discovery, and Howell ignored that.
The district court’s conclusion that rules governing personal jurisdiction and venue provide no impediment to pre-Rule 26 discovery of the ISPs is legal error. A showing of “good cause,” which is required for discovery ostensibly intended to identify defendants, requires an evaluation of whether the information sought from the ISPs would be used to name and serve defendants in the forum. See, e.g., Oppenheimer Fund, Inc. v. Sanders, 437 U.S. 340, 352-53 & n.17 (1978) (where “the purpose of a discovery request is to gather information for use in proceedings other than the pending suit, discovery properly is denied”). The Copyright Act and the District of Columbia’s long-arm statute limit the court’s reach to defendants who reside in the district. And the uncontroverted evidence before the district court showed that few, if any, of the targeted Internet subscribers reside in the District of Columbia—as publicly available geolocation software used by Plaintiff’s counsel in other cases confirms. The district court’s decision to defer any consideration of personal jurisdiction or venue until after the subscribers’ personal information had been disclosed to Plaintiff requires reversal.The ISPs also, quite reasonably, point out that if mass joinder and discovery is allowed in this case, the trolls will descend on the DC Circuit courts in a mass forum shopping situation:
The court’s decision to permit discovery of the ISPs before deciding whether the 1,000-plus “Does” are misjoined provides an additional basis for reversal. Plaintiff, by routinely declining to name and serve defendants after obtaining the subscribers’ personal information, virtually ensures that Rule 20’s requirements for joinder will go unaddressed if not evaluated at the outset. And as a growing majority of courts have concluded, deferring a ruling on joinder deprives the courts of filing fees and encourages a proliferation of improperly coercive lawsuits. Given the groundswell of published opinions that disagree with the lower court and have severed or dismissed non-resident “Does” or all Does except for “Doe No. 1,” deferring a ruling on joinder in a suit that seeks nationwide subscriber information also encourages forum shopping—as the record here shows persuasively.
The record reflects that Plaintiff’s counsel’s cases have migrated across the country, with the venues selected, not by the locus of the parties or situs of harm, but based on counsel’s perceptions of which forum is most likely to authorize the greatest discovery, at the lowest cost, with the least judicial oversight.The ISPs also go through, in detail, the accusations against Team Prenda, and the claims of Alan Cooper. As it notes:
The specter of intra-district, judge-specific shopping in Plaintiff’s counsel’s cases further underscores the problem with the lower court’s approach. The ISPs raised below Plaintiff’s counsel’s practice of filing complaints and dismissing them vel non based on the judicial assignment—only to re-file in another court. When presented with the same facts, Judge Wilkins quoted with approval Judge Huvelle’s finding: “Plaintiff’s actions a[re] akin to ‘judge shopping.’… This Court could not agree more.” ...
The ISPs respectfully submit that the district courts in this Circuit should not be the destination for 1,000-plus Doe cases that are brought primarily to compile mailing lists—not to adjudicate actual cases or controversies.
AF Holdings and its counsel owe a duty of candor to the Court, and a duty of fairness to appellants.... The serious issues concerning attorney misconduct and potentially forged documents were not identified for the court below; they necessarily affect the “good cause” analysis and provide an alternative basis for reversal to address the evidence now being considered in the pending disciplinary proceedings in the Central District of California.The EFF/ACLU/PK/PC filing is more focused on the specific errors in Howell's ruling, concerning the "good faith" standard for discovery and the mass joinder of over 1,000 people. They also point out the jurisdiction problems of the defendants who are clearly outside the jurisdiction of a DC court -- and the fact that these cases rarely end up in actual lawsuits means that the question of proper venue will not be "cured" later. Finally, the brief argues that Howell ignored key First Amendment issues concerning revealing anonymous internet users, and the higher standard for them to be revealed. This argument wasn't made by the ISPs, so we'll focus on that one here. It points to the key Dendrite standard we've discussed many times before concerning the revealing of anonymous users. This does not mean that you cannot identify those accused of copyright infringement, but rather that you can't go on a random fishing expedition to get names, as many copyright trolls have done.
Specifically, in a series of cases beginning with Dendrite Int’l, Inc. v. Doe No. 3, 775 A.2d 756, 760-61, 342 N.J. Super. 134 (App. Div. 2001), courts have adopted a balancing standard to assess requests for early discovery to identify anonymous online speakers that protects the right to speak anonymously while at the same time ensuring that plaintiffs who have valid claims are able to pursue them. Without such a standard, abusive plaintiffs could too easily use extrajudicial means against defendants from whom they could not, in the end, obtain judicial redress. See Levy, Litigating Civil Subpoenas to Identify Anonymous Internet Speakers, 37 Litigation No. 3 (Spring 2011).It will be interesting not only to see how the appeals court deals with it... but also Prenda's argument, since they seem to be getting more and more wacky lately.
The use of BitTorrent to select and share movies is expressive and, therefore, protected by the First Amendment. Call of the Wild Movie, 770 F. Supp. 2d at 350 (“[F]ile-sharers are engaged in expressive activity, on some level, when they share files on BitTorrent, and their First Amendment rights must be considered before the Court allows the plaintiffs to override the putative defendants’ anonymity.”).
Although the expressive aspect of the conduct alleged here – the posting of copyrighted movies to BitTorrent – is somewhat minimal, that does not mean that discovery to identify the anonymous user without adequate initial evidence that individual Doe Defendants committed the alleged infringement. The weakness of AF Holdings’ assertions of personal jurisdiction and proper joinder means that First Amendment concerns weigh more strongly here in favor of quashing the subpoenas. Certainly it was not appropriate for the district court to ignore the question altogether.
by Mike Masnick
Tue, Nov 27th 2012 1:53pm
Porn Copyright Trolls Argue That Verizon Should Be Held In Contempt Of Court For Trying To Protect Its Users
from the privacy-schmivacy,-we're-trolling dept
These three trolls have teamed up to argue that Verizon should shut up and hand over the names, claiming that it has no standing to object, given that it's not a party in the case. They also claim that even if Verizon can argue misjoinder, the argument is not valid (which is laughable considering how many courts have agreed that it's perfectly valid). Then they try to chop down every other argument from Verizon -- who actually has a really strong history of protecting subscribers against copyright threats. In fact, the trolls use this history against Verizon -- claiming that their victory nearly a decade ago, against the RIAA's attempt to use subpoenas to identify users without filing a lawsuit, shows that as long as they've filed lawsuits, they should have a free pass to identify the account holders named.
The really amusing part is the trolls' response to Verizon's point that the trolls have failed to show that the discovery would be used for the "proper purpose" of litigation. That's because it won't be. Everyone knows that the information will be used to try to force people into settling, and not to file lawsuits. But the trolls claim this is just dandy:
To the contrary, and as argued above, the “purpose” of the discovery is entirely proper: to obtain information identifying unknown Doe Defendants infringing Plaintiffs’ copyrights “in order to consider whether to name and serve them as defendants.”Note the careful choice of words. They don't say that they're asking for discovery in order to actually sue, but to "consider" whether or not to sue. Meaning, of course, that they're extremely unlikely to file an actual lawsuit and are more likely to threaten account holders to demand a settlement. Hopefully the court sees through these attempts by these trolls to force discovery where it's clearly not appropriate.
by Mike Masnick
Mon, Sep 24th 2012 9:30am
from the swarms dept
Judge Baer clearly understands what's going on here. He notes early on the very serious potential problem of IP addresses not being particularly good identifiers of who has done the actual infringement:
Particularly troubling for courts is the high probability of misidentified Doe defendants (who may be the bill-payer for the IP address but not the actual infringer) settling a case for fear of the disclosure of the allegations against them or of the high costs of litigation.He notes that he's not ready to "wade into" the question of whether or not joinder is appropriate, especially in cases where all of the IP addresses are part of the same BitTorrent swarm, but he is clearly worried about a different kind of "swarm":
Ironically, there are swarms on both sides, for copyright locusts have descended on the federal courts, exacting low-cost settlements from embarrassed John Does and then moving on to the next DistrictYes, Judge Baer seems familiar with the M.O. of these trolls, and how they've effectively been "run out of" other districts after judges realized what they were up to. In fact, he quotes a ruling in the Central District of California approvingly:
... the federal courts are not flexible enough to be shaped into "cogs in a plaintiffs copyright-enforcement business model. The Court will not idly watch what is essentially an extortion scheme, for a case that [Plaintiffs have] no intention of bringing to trial."He also worries that the plaintiffs have already pressured defendants into settling, noting "that some Doe defendants have already been voluntarily dismissed at this early stage in the litigation." For that reason, he's decided that joining all the cases together at this stage is inappropriate, and has (like many other courts) severed and dismissed all but one Doe.
He then goes back to talk about his overall concerns with how copyright trolling is a troubling development, and quotes a bunch of other cases from other district courts around the country:
The Plaintiffs' tactic, if left unchecked, could turn copyright protection on its head. Congress intended to incentivize the creation of useful arts by providing a statutory right and a means of enforcement that would reward authors for their labors, hardly the Plaintiffs' strategy here.... In the BitTorrent pornography cases, settlements are for notoriously low amounts relative to the possible statutory damages, but high relative to the low value of the work and minimal costs of mass litigation. Cases are almost never prosecuted beyond sending demand letters and threatening phone calls. Severing the Doe defendants does not destroy the incentive to prosecute infringers who use peer-to-peer protocols; it merely restores the balance that Congress intended, not to mention that it ensures that courts receive the filing fees that Plaintiffs otherwise avoid.And one final point, since he already allowed for discovery, he wants the plaintiffs to destroy the info, and if he finds out that they pursue those people anyway, it sounds like there may be trouble:
Plaintiffs shall not contact any Doe defendant who does not remain in this or a subsequently-filed case, and any pending settlement not with John Doe 1 in each named case shall immediately cease. If after 14 days Plaintiffs have not reinstituted cases against the remaining Doe defendants, Plaintiffs shall destroy whatever personal information they presently have for those defendants and shall not use the information for any purpose. Ifany Doe defendant no longer named in a case is contacted following entry ofthis Order, I encourage them to contact the Court.Elsewhere, he orders the plaintiffs to pass along this order to all the ISPs they've subpoenaed, and to have them distribute it to all the people in question, so (hopefully) they understand to contact the court if the plaintiffs violate the order and continue to go after them.
One really good thing here: Judge Baer clearly spent time looking into these cases, and seeing just how common they are and what's happening in them. Above, we've already noted that he cited a few such cases -- but in a footnote that takes up about half the page, he goes on to name a whole bunch of them, noting that "this is but a sample" and pointing out:
It is difficult to even imagine the extraordinary amount of time federal judges have spent on these cases.Hopefully other judges are beginning to recognize the same thing. It seems clear that more and more judges are putting these cases into the proper context, understanding what's really happening and how the copyright trolls are abusing the court system as a part of a business model, rather than for any legitimate legal reason.
by Mike Masnick
Fri, Aug 24th 2012 10:19am
from the activist-judges? dept
The ISPs asked her to reconsider back in April, noting how pretty much every other court has ruled otherwise. The specific case involves well known trolling firm, Prenda Law, which is connected to one of the larger jokes in the copyright trolling business: John Steele. Steele's lawsuits have been laughed out of court and he's even been told to stop filing these bogus lawsuits, where the clear purpose is to use the judicial system as a weapon to force people (innocent or guilty) to pay up.
But apparently copyright trolls have found a friend in Judge Howell, who not only is welcoming them with open arms, but seems to be using these trolling cases to further the goals of her former employer. She's released her decision on the motion to quash the subpoenas, and it's basically a 42-page screed on the evils of infringement and how ISPs should be responsible for stopping piracy (much of which has absolutely nothing to do with the case at all). The only nod towards the other side seems to be a weak acknowledgement that "the Court recognizes that other Judges on this Court have reached different conclusions with respect to the legal questions posed by the ISPs" and thus she's agreed to stay her decision until the appeals court weighs in.
But she makes sure to get her arguments in for the appeals court to read, and it certainly feels like she reverted back to "lobbyist" mode, rather than "impartial judge."
She kicks off the polemic with a grand history of the DMCA, and how the task force that was created to write the DMCA originally wanted to pin liability on ISPs for actions done by their users. And while she admits that eventually the DMCA did include such liability protection, it seems clear she would have preferred it the other way. She then highlights the important court decisions from a decade ago, against the RIAA and in favor of Verizon and Charter, that ruled that the RIAA could not demand ISPs identify users without actually filing a lawsuit against them first. This, of course, was a basic recognition of basic privacy rights, and the fact that if you are going to expose someone's private info, you ought to at least file a lawsuit against them first. But, in the world of Judge Howell, apparently this was a bad decision. She approvingly cites the dissent in one of the key cases, claiming this somehow "unraveled" the balance struck in the DMCA. Nothing, of course, is further from the truth. That's a total rewrite of reality.
She also seems to suggest -- contrary to the very law she was just citing -- that ISPs have some sort of responsibility to "deter infringing activity."
Other than barebones references from two of the four movant ISPs that these subpoenas impose “a substantial administrative burden,” the ISPs fail to present any witness or other evidentiary detail to demonstrate a burden to the Court, let alone what steps the ISPs are or could be taking to deter infringing activity on their networks to reduce any burden subpoena compliance engenders.This is a fascinating interpretation of the law. Basically, she says that if they're going to claim that copyright trolls are showing up with tens of thousands of IP addresses, demanding they all be identified, then that means they also have to show that they've taken "steps" to "deter infringing activity on their networks." In other words, if it's burdensome to the ISPs to identify users to copyright trolls, it's their own damn fault for failing to stop infringement. Seriously.
Oh, and then she flat out misrepresents the GAO's findings from a few years ago that found that all of the entertainment industry's claims about the impact of "piracy" were complete bunk. Yet, in the world of former RIAA lobbyist Judge Howell, the GAO actually came to the opposite conclusion:
The plaintiff’s estimates regarding the amount of online infringing activity and the economic harm resulting from such activity is corroborated by a recent government report. See U.S. GOV’T ACCOUNTABILITY OFFICE, GAO-10- 423, INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY: OBSERVATIONS ON EFFORTS TO QUANTIFY THE ECONOMIC EFFECTS OF COUNTERFEIT AND PIRATED GOODS 23-24 (2010) (estimating that U.S. economy annually loses $58 billion, over 370,000 jobs, and $2.6 billion in tax revenue as a result of copyright infringement over the Internet) (citing Stephen E. Siwek, THE TRUE COST OF COPYRIGHT INDUSTRY PIRACY TO THE U.S. ECONOMY, Institute for Policy Innovation (IPI), IPI Center for Technology Freedom, Policy Report 189 (Oct. 2007)).Uh, no. Go read what the GAO actually said. While the report does cite Siwek's widely discredited report of $58 billion in losses -- it does so only to say that Siwek did these studies and they claimed to show "ripple effects" beyond the immediate industry. However, most of the rest of the report highlights how those numbers, and others like them, cannot be substantiated and that most experts they spoke to found the methodology questionable. Furthermore, the report specifically calls out the reports that only try to calculate the negative impact, without even considering any possible positive impact, as being clearly misleading. That describe's Siwek's research exactly. Specifically, the GAO report noted:
Since there is an absence of data concerning these potential effects, the net effect cannot be determined with any certaintyIn other words, sorry, but the Siwek claim of $58 billion is hogwash. And yet Judge Howell pretends that the GAO has blessed this number.
The ruling goes on to defend its position, but basically says that there is no burden on the ISPs and if there is one, it's their fault. It also says that there is no issue of improper joinder to consider until after everyone's identified (at which point it won't matter, since that's all the copyright trolls want, so they can then shift to demanding cash from them). The whole thing, once again, raises significant questions about why a judge who had such a vested stake in pushing for an extreme maximalist view of copyright now gets to judge cases where key decisions are made about the interpretation of copyright law.
by Mike Masnick
Mon, Apr 2nd 2012 1:01pm
from the good-ruling dept
Moreover, it appears that the claims of civil conspiracy themselves are unfounded, because the plaintiffs have not pleaded the existence of an agreement among the alleged conspirators... Additionally, based on what has been pleaded, it does not appear plausible that plaintiffs could plead the existence of a conspiracy. Consequently, the court finds that the complaints’ allegations of civil conspiracy are only unjustified attempts to bolster the obtaining of irrelevant discovery about non-parties.The court also notes (as many more are doing) that it's quite clear that this lawsuit was filed not to litigate the actual issues, but to uncover the identities of those they identified to try to threaten them into "negotiating a settlement."
It's good to see both of these things. Courts recognizing that these arguments are huge stretches of legal theory just to justify a bogus joinder argument is a huge step forward. On top of that, the fact that more and more judges seem well aware of the true intention of copyright trolls in using the court system as a part of their business model, rather than for a legitimate judicial reason, means that fewer and fewer courts will be willing to accept such an abuse of the court system.
by Mike Masnick
Fri, Nov 4th 2011 8:41am
from the disagree dept
Marc Randazza, Liberty Media's lawyer on these cases, and I disagree over whether lumping together a bunch of unrelated individuals is proper "joinder." Randazza has argued that many other mass infringement lawyers do this wrong, but his decision to focus on those in a single swarm makes it a more effective argument. In this case, the court certainly bought Marc's argument, and became one of a small number of courts not to throw out most of the Does sued. Though I find it a little disingenuous in that the judge notes a few other cases that have allowed the joinder to stand... but leaves out the many, many cases where all but one of the Does was dismissed from the suit.
One of my issues with this kind of joinder is that the defendants are all unique and may have very different arguments and defenses. It seems inappropriate to lump them all together. The court rejects that, saying that defendants can raise their separate defense later in the case, but that the basic questions of law are identical across the cases.
The bigger issue to me is a different point raised by the defendants in this and many other cases involving gay pornography. For better or worse, one of the fears of many (including myself) is that such cases work even better as a "shakedown" game, because defendants who either are in the closet or are not gay and fear being sued for downloading gay porn are more likely to just pay up to avoid the embarrassment. I raised this issue with Randazza directly, who argues that my argument is actually homophobic, suggesting that there is something wrong with being gay. To be clear: I don't think there's anything at all wrong with being gay, and, in fact, think that those who are gay should be proud and comfortable with that fact. But, I also think one's sexual orientation and preferences are a personal and private matter -- and that bringing them out through a legal process, as part of an effort to put pressure on someone to pay up, is highly questionable (and morally dubious). If someone has made the decision not to "out" themselves, that's their decision.
Unfortunately, the court doesn't buy this argument, and says that the names of defendants should be made public, rather than allowing them to remain anonymous. In fact, the court suggests there's no evidence that Liberty Media intends to use this info to pressure people into paying up:
Unnumbered Doe suggests that Liberty Media sought the public identities of Does 1-38 to coerce pretrial settlements. Unnumbered Doe’s Mot. 7 (“While we cannot know for certain how the Plaintiff intends to proceed . . . the likely course of action is to contact each of the individuals and demand a monetary payment for settlement of the claims in question.”). This allegation is not supported in the motion papers or by Liberty Media’s actions to date. It is purely speculative and not grounds for allowing the moving defendants to proceed anonymously.I find this part to be the most questionable, seeing as Liberty Media, in the past, has actually been quite active in trying to get people to "settle" to avoid lawsuits -- including its infamous pay us before we even accuse you plan.
Still, the most troubling idea is that the court seems to think that outing someone who does not want to be outed is "mere embarrassment."
Unnumbered Doe further argues that the anonymity of Does 1-38 should be protected because the disclosure of their identities in conjunction with this lawsuit, which involves homosexual pornography, may cause reputational harm and intrusion upon their privacy. Id. Unnumbered Doe asserts that being named as a party to this action amounts to “a public accusation” that the defendants downloaded and viewed homosexual pornography. Id. Doe 15 similarly argues that their public identification in the lawsuit will expose the defendants to “intrusive public scorn.” Doe 15’s Mot. 3.Now, personally, I don't think such a revelation should even be considered "embarrassing," at all. But, I'm not in a position to talk. And, from what we've seen of folks -- especially younger people -- who have had such info exposed against their will to family and friends who might not be accepting, the idea that this is a "mere embarrassment" doesn't seem accurate at all. Such revelations have resulted in suicides. That's not mere embarrassment. Even if we all agree that no one should be embarrassed about their sexual orientation, or even their interest in pornography, to make that decision on those individuals' behalf just seems questionable to me, and fraught with potential trouble.
The potential embarrassment to Does 1-38 of being associated with allegations of infringing hardcore pornography does not constitute an exceptional circumstance that would warrant allowing the defendants to proceed anonymously. As the Superior Court of Massachusetts stated, “mere embarrassment [is] not sufficient to override the strong public interest in disclosure.” Roe, 2011 WL 2342737, at *1. Thus, the potential embarrassment or social stigma that Does 1-38 may face once their identities are released in connection with this lawsuit is not grounds for allowing them to proceed anonymously.
by Mike Masnick
Tue, Oct 18th 2011 5:09am
from the costing-money dept
But other parts of the same filing may be even more interesting. Xbiz picked up on the part where White whines about all the defendants he sued filing identical "kit" motions in response to getting sued... because it's too expensive for White to respond to each one. Most of these are motions to sever, noting that it was improper to join so many totally and completely unrelated defendants into a single case. So far, most of the courts presented with such cases have agreed to dump most of the defendants as unrelated, but White makes it out like this is some crazy concept because the defendants dare to file boilerplate/copy-and-paste documents:
Most of these motions, however, are filed by pro se litigants and cut and pasted from BitTorrent defense kits or otherwise copied...It kind of makes you wonder how anyone doing what White is doing could file such a thing with a straight face. His entire legal campaign depends on making his legal efforts "expensive to defend against," to try to pressure people into settling up rather than fighting. In fact, White seems to try to twist this abuse of the court system to force settlement in his own favor, claiming that the court should want more settlements, and thus it should encourage random joinder, because it makes White's costs lower, meaning he can allow lower settlement deals:
[....] These motions are expensive to defend against. Indeed, many such motions intentionally raise issues that have absolutely nothing to do with the subject matter before the court or matter which no court has ever held justify the motion. Consequently, Plaintiff has to spend substantial resources arguing against irrelevancies and abstractions.
Increasing the costs associated with this litigation by forcing Plaintiffs to file individual suits would only increase the settlement demands and make settlements less probable.If I understand this logic properly, it suggests that the courts should prefer more mass shakedown lawsuits, because it'll mean more settlements rather than court. But, of course, that leaves out the idea that many of the defendants might just be innocent.
by Mike Masnick
Fri, Oct 7th 2011 2:11pm
from the trololololo dept
The Court currently has three similar cases before it, all brought by the same attorney. The suits are virtually identical in their terms, but filed on behalf of different film production companies. In all three, the plaintiffs sought, and the Court granted, expedited discovery allowing the plaintiffs to subpoena information from ISPs to identify the Doe defendants. According to some of the defendants, the plaintiffs then contacted the John Does, alerting them to this lawsuit and their potential liability. Some defendants have indicated that the plaintiff has contacted them directly with harassing telephone calls, demanding $2,900 in compensation to end the litigation. When any of the defendants have filed a motion to dismiss or sever themselves from the litigation, however, the plaintiffs have immediately voluntarily dismissed them as parties to prevent the defendants from bringing their motions before the Court for resolution.Unfortunately, not all judges have recognized this abuse of the system yet. In a new ruling in the Northern District of California, a judge ruled that its not just okay to join totally separate defendants together in such a lawsuit, but it's fine to make them "jointly and severally liable" for the damages. The full ruling is embedded below. It's a "default judgment," meaning that the two defendants didn't bother to respond to the lawsuit or show up. Thus, no one presented the other side of the story. Such things happen and not responding to a lawsuit is almost always going to lead to a default judgment and trouble. But, there's simply no reason that the court should have then taken the further step of assuming that the two parties were linked and that they should be jointly and severally liable for the damages. Unfortunately, even as a default judgment, this ruling can and will be used by lawyers to suggest that joinder is proper.
This course of conduct indicates that the plaintiffs have used the offices of the Court as an inexpensive means to gain the Doe defendants' personal information and coerce payment from them. The plaintiffs seemingly have no interest in actually litigating the cases, but rather simply have used the Court and its subpoena powers to obtain sufficient information to shake down the John Does. Whenever the suggestion of a ruling on the merits of the claims appears on the horizon, the plaintiffs drop the John Doe threatening to litigate the matter in order to avoid the actual cost of litigation and an actual decision on the merits.
The plaintiffs' conduct in these cases indicates an improper purpose for the suits. In addition, the joinder of unrelated defendants does not seem to be warranted by existing law or a non-frivolous extension of existing law.
Of course, the one oddity with finding the defendants to be jointly and severally liable is that it actually could act as disincentive in a small way for these lawsuits with tons of defendants. That's because only a single damages award is being put forth. So, for example, in this case, it's $20,000. But that $20,000 is due combined from the defendants. Now, imagine a suit with... say.... 5,000 defendants, and a similar $20,000 award. Then if each paid $4 they'd satisfy the judgment. Of course, that's a really minor point, because as the first judge's ruling above notes, the folks filing these lawsuits never really want to go to court with them. They just want to pressure people into paying up.
by Mike Masnick
Mon, Apr 4th 2011 9:00pm
from the how's-that-working-out-for-you-beryl? dept