Psychiatrist Bitterly Drops Defamation Lawsuit Against Redditors


Dr. Douglas Berger, an American psychiatrist offering services to ex-pats in Japan, recently sued a bunch of Redditors for telling other Redditors to steer clear of his services. Berger’s lawsuit was exhaustive, covering several months of disparaging comments delivered by Redditors, but much of what Berger considered libel fell under the category of “protected opinion.”

Berger’s ultimate goal appeared to be a revamp of his Google search results. Sitting ahead of multiple URLs linked to Berger and his Japanese business (many which appear to be owned by Berger himself) were links to multiple Reddit threads with unhelpful (for Berger anyway…) titles like “Stay away from ‘psychiatrist’ Doug Berger.” In these threads, Berger was accused of everything from a lack of attentiveness during sessions to harassment to dodging income taxes.

It wasn’t pretty, but Berger’s lawsuit was even uglier. Berger wanted a court to unmask multiple anonymous Redditors, while offering up little more than his opinions about opinions. While there were a few marginally-actionable statements listed in the lawsuit, Berger targeted every Redditor who’d ever said anything less than favorable about him.

The Redditors put together a fundraising page for legal fees and secured the help of Marc Randazza. The good news is most of this is now unnecessary.

After realizing what the defendants knew from the beginning – that he had absolutely no standing to sue anonymous internet commenters in Florida – Dr. Douglas Berger, who is not currently licensed to practice medicine in any US state, has withdrawn his lawsuit.

While the group are disappointed that the court system was not given a proper chance to reject Dr. Berger’s SLAPP tactics, they are grateful to the Randazza Legal Firm for their counsel and hard work on the case.

The group’s final legal bills are not expected to exceed $5000, and the goal of this campaign has been updated to reflect that. Any amount donated above the $5000 goal will be donated to TELL JP.

Berger’s dismissal [PDF] — without prejudice, unfortunately — is short, but it’s anything but sweet. It only runs two paragraphs but each word is coated with the grit of Dr. Berger’s tooth enamel.

Pursuant to Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.420, Plaintiffs Douglas Berger and Meguro Counseling Center (collectively “Plaintiffs”) voluntarily dismisses all claims against Defendant John Doe and Nominal/Relief Defendant Reddit Inc. without prejudice, each party bearing its own costs and fees.

Plaintiffs’ dismissal is submitted after preliminary discovery has raised questions about the proper jurisdiction to litigate the acerbic, irrational, and highly defamatory statements which have been published about him on the Internet. This dismissal does not reflect in any way upon the merits of Plaintiffs’ undoubtfully legitimate claims under applicable law, his likelihood of success upon the merits, or the compensable damages for which he will seek recovery upon his re-filing.

Whew. That’s a read. So, there are questions about jurisdiction, what with Berger living in Japan and the Redditors living… wherever. Tacked to the end is a threat to refile, as if the jurisdictional questions will somehow resolve themselves without Berger finding out where these Redditors reside. It could be Berger is planning to take his complaint to the Japanese judicial system (as noted by a commenter here and apparently stated by Berger himself) where it might be easier to win, but far more difficult to find people to win against. Japanese law treats defamation differently, allowing factual statements that harm someone’s reputation to be treated as defamatory.

Good to know the truth is always a defense, right? Well, in Japanese libel and slander cases, the truth won’t necessarily help you. Instead, it all comes down to reputation. […] Even if a published statement is 100% true, it can still be considered defamatory if it irrevocably hurts the subject’s reputation and oftentimes the question of truth doesn’t really enter the equation. For example, in 2012 a Japanese man discovered that when he put his name into the Google search bar, it autocompleted results that implied he had a criminal record, and this man argued these autocomplete search results were severely damaging his reputation. Some sources strongly implied this man really did have a criminal past, others said that he was innocent. But it didn’t really matter either way—the Japanese court ordered Google to remove the autocomplete terms, which they did.

On the other hand, discovery will be a bit more difficult.

Compared to the United States, which employs one of the most extensive discovery systems in the world, Japan’s rules governing the collection of evidence seem woefully inadequate. Modeled after German civil procedure rules, most evidence production in Japan takes place at trial. Authority and control over the gathering of evidentiary facts is vested in the court, with the judge assuming the primary responsibility for taking and receiving evidence. Japanese attorneys have no real power to compel the production of evidence or to elicit testimony from either adverse parties or third parties, and must therefore rely on voluntary cooperation or seek intervention by the court. This is in stark contrast to U.S. discovery, which is conducted mostly by the parties themselves with only minimal court supervision.

If Berger can’t unmask Redditors prior to filing, it’s going to be more difficult for him to pursue them in Japan. The Japanese system aligns with Berger’s take on what is or isn’t defamation, but a lack of defendants makes pursuing this overseas a dead end. Reddit has no offices in Japan so the court would have to ignore jurisdictional limits to compel production of identifying info, possibly leaving him without a defendant to sue.

For the moment, the case is dormant. Randazza will likely jump back in if needed, but Berger may be realizing suing users of an influential social sharing site has only made more unflattering links appear in his vanity searches.

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Comments on “Psychiatrist Bitterly Drops Defamation Lawsuit Against Redditors”

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Anonymous Coward says:

His own worse enemy

I wonder how many lawyers told him to shut up and work on his own reputation. Luckily round one has brought his horrible practice to the notice of people who might otherwise see him without being aware of how aweful he actually is. When your livelyhood depends on your reputation, bolstering your critics with actual proof of how bad you are is not a good thing. He can’t win even if people did disparage him based on his reactions. He is his own worse enemy.

Anonymous Coward says:

Japan’s judicial system is so terrible, Capcom made a video game franchise about it.

Just not terrible enough to sue entities that don’t live or base themselves in Japan.

Of course, expect out_of_the_blue to start screeching about “common law” again, because he’s too oblivious to realize the measures he demands could easily have him outed if Techdirt wished (or a sufficiently harassed reader).

Chuck says:

How Japan's Legal System Works

All this talk about truth being a defense and discovery at trial…you people know nothing about how Japan’s legal system works!

All you have to do is shout “OBJECTION!” as loudly as possible then get lucky when you pick one of 3 ways to discredit the witness (who is mostly likely a furry woodland creature, because those are totally valid witnesses in Japan.)

Note: As an actual paralegal I believe I am legally required to state this is not how this actually works. Still, sometimes I feel like Phoenix Wright’s version of justice would be a serious improvement over our own…

JustMe (profile) says:

Conflicted about Marc Randazza

I understand that protecting the First Amendment is a powerful and worthy goal and it is OK to champion the cases of those with whom we disagree, but one is also allowed to select clients from the ‘not a Nazi’ segment of society (short of court appointed representation). I think we can all agree that Andrew Anglin falls closer to the ‘is probably a Nazi’ side of things and a smart guy like Mr. Randazza Esq. ought to be able to find more worthy work.

GristleMissile (profile) says:

Re: Conflicted about Marc Randazza

Free speech is for everyone, no exceptions, even people that probably don’t deserve the title of people.

If you can somehow teach a rat to talk, it deserves free speech too, because the ability to think and speak at all automagically qualifies one for the right to do so freely.


(and before some ass chimes in that this isn’t an argument; that’s right, this isn’t an argument, this is an assertion. Far wiser people than me have already made the case for free speech, and their arguments have been proven correct by the passage of history. Deal with it.)

Thad (user link) says:

Re: Conflicted about Marc Randazza

There are plenty of reasons to dislike Marc Randazza. That he defends assholes’ right to free speech is not one of them.

There’s no “unless they’re a nazi” exception to the First Amendment. If you don’t believe in nazis’ right to free speech, then you don’t believe in free speech. Supporting free speech means supporting odious, offensive, disgusting speech by odious, offensive, disgusting human beings.

We don’t need the First Amendment to protect uncontroversial speech. Uncontroversial speech doesn’t need protecting; it’s uncontroversial. The entire purpose of freedom of speech is to protect speech that makes people angry, hurt, offended, or otherwise uncomfortable.

Thad (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re: Conflicted about Marc Randazza

People are upset at Marc for defending an asshole doing illegal things, not for inherently being a Nazi.

Just to refresh your memory, here’s the post I was responding to:

I understand that protecting the First Amendment is a powerful and worthy goal and it is OK to champion the cases of those with whom we disagree, but one is also allowed to select clients from the ‘not a Nazi’ segment of society (short of court appointed representation). I think we can all agree that Andrew Anglin falls closer to the ‘is probably a Nazi’ side of things and a smart guy like Mr. Randazza Esq. ought to be able to find more worthy work.

"People" may be "upset at Marc for defending an asshole doing illegal things, not for inherently being a Nazi", but the post I was responding to was clearly upset with him for defending a nazi.

Would you be ok being harassed by the followers of a Nazi?

I wouldn’t be okay being harassed by anybody, Jordan. The word in that sentence that describes an illegal act is "harassed", not "Nazi".

Do you see the difference?

Jordan Chandler says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Conflicted about Marc Randazza

Yes thanks for the clarification. I can’t help but agree with you regarding the freedom of speech, it’s all speech, not just speech I agree with. But I honestly don’t think people like Randazza forward justice, the human race, or the first amendment defense by defending this particular individual.

Thad (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Conflicted about Marc Randazza

It’s a tough call. Nobody (including Randazza) is denying that Anglin’s a shitty person. But the legal questions here are above my pay grade.

Randazza’s expressed concern about this setting a chilling precedent. He may be right. I think it’s quite clear that Anglin was encouraging harassment, but the question of what extent he’s legally liable for that harassment is one I’m not prepared to answer. Ruling that somebody can’t use a popular social media presence to encourage harassment seems like a no-brainer, but as far as setting a precedent, it could have some serious negative consequences.

I’m sure there are people who get harassed by Techdirt readers when Techdirt reports negatively on them, and the writers at Techdirt certainly know that any kind of negative reporting on anybody will be an excuse for shittier elements of the Internet to do shitty things. That doesn’t, and shouldn’t, make Techdirt writers liable for the actions of some of their more unpleasant readers.

Obviously the key difference here is that Techdirt doesn’t explicitly encourage readers to "troll flood" or whatever the hell expression Anglin used. A narrow legal ruling that says explicitly encouraging a "troll flood" is harassment would be a good result, IMO, though it seems to me that it would only catch the dumbest of harassers up, and merely encourage the smarter ones to use more veiled language and maintain plausible deniability.

Jordan Chandler says:

Re: Re: Conflicted about Marc Randazza

Montana real estate agent Tanya Gersh sued Anglin in April, accusing him of orchestrating an anti-Semitic internet trolling campaign that terrorized her family amid her dispute with the mother of a leading white nationalist. Months passed before Anglin’s lawyers formally responded to the suit, arguing the First Amendment protects his posts calling for a “troll storm” against Gersh.

I’m missing the breach of his first amendment rights here
If he wanted justice he’d show up

Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re: Conflicted about Marc Randazza

I’ve done some research on the subject, chaps.

It’s not an easy one at all. Anglin is a jerk but Gersh doesn’t exactly come out of this smelling of roses either.

The difference: Anglin has a fire hose, Gersh has a water pistol.

James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Must make Manhunts hard...

The idea that the truth is defamatory must make manhunts hard.

Newscaster: Local Police are looking for Mr. JapaneseName, who is wanted after video evidence shows him raping and murdering and underage girl.

<Lawyer walks in on shot>

Newscaster: Whats this?

<Lawyer hands a manila envelope>

Lawyer: You are being sued for defaming Mr. JapaneseName. We demand you cease and desist assisting the police in Defaming my client by asserting thew facts of the videotaped crime and the fact that police are seeking him.

<Second Lawyer walks in>

Second Lawyer: Yeah, you are getting sued also. The very act of talking about the lawsuit defames my client.

First Lawyer: This is going to be a problem

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

Japanese law treats defamation differently, allowing factual statements that harm someone’s reputation to be treated as defamatory.

That’s simply nuts.

This is exactly equivalent to saying that a person who actually did do bad things has a legal right to a good reputation, which has to be the most insane thing to ever come out of Japan, anime included!

carlb (profile) says:

Re: Re: medieval knights and libel chill

Libel and defamation law has a very long and dubious history. In the UK system (and others which derive from it) the original law was intended to allow knights and other “noble” or privileged classes to silence legitimate criticism for things they did do. Certainly there’s been some democratisation since the days of feudalism and medieval knights with little accountability to anyone, but the laws have been slow to keep up with progress and the vestiges of historical oppression live on. It isn’t by some unfortunate modern accident of process that these laws are chilling legitimate speech and valid complaints, that’s what they were originally intended to do in an era before free democracy. Now as then, they favour the rich and privileged as only the rich can fully afford the cost of frivolous litigation to shut down free speech with libel chill. Reverse onus and the rest of the abuses have lived beyond their best-before date for far too long.

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