Another day, another wacky legal complaint. This one, first spotted by Eric Goldman was filed by a recent law school grad, Tiffany Dehen. She's fairly upset that someone set up a parody Twitter account pretending to be her that portrayed her in an unflattering light. So she has sued. For $100 million. And she's not just suing the "John Doe" behind the account... but also Twitter. Oh, and also the University of San Diego, because she's pretty sure that someone there is responsible for this account (she just graduated from USD's law school). Oh, and according to the exhibits that Dehen put in her own lawsuit, the account is labeled as a parody account.
The lawsuit... well... it doesn't reflect well on the University of San Diego law school and its ability to prepare lawyers. I don't know if the law school didn't teach Ms. Dehen about California's anti-SLAPP law, but she's likely about to get a quick post-graduate lesson about it. I won't even get into the reasons why this is unlikely to be defamation (parody, people, parody...), but the fact that Twitter and USD are included... is pretty nutty. Twitter will get out of the case pretty damn easily under Section 230 (does the University of San Diego law school not teach Section 230?!?). And, of course, there's this, which kind of speaks for itself:
If you can't read that, it says:
Additionally, it should be noted that Tiffany Dehen's real twitter account consists of posts supporting the elected President of the United States, not Adolf Hitler, the socialist communist dictator from Germany. The fact that John Doe used Tiffany Dehen's real name and linked the fictitious Twitter account to Tiffany Dehen's real name and linked the fictitious Twitter account to Tiffany Dehen's real account by retweeting Tiffany Dehen's posts shows that John Doe acted with actual malice and negligence.
Huh? I'm still stumbling over "socialist communist" that I'm already having difficulty figuring out how parodying someone is proof of "actual malice and negligence."
As for Twitter's involvement, here's what Dehen thinks makes Twitter liable:
Plaintiff requests to enjoin Twitter, Inc, jointly and severally, the social media website which allowed this disparaging speech to stay broadcast to the world, costing plaintiff potentially millions of dollars in future earnings. Twitter was put on notice on January 30, 2017, and as of Feb 1, 2017, the false twitter account was still posted, even after Tiffany Dehen put Twitter on notice. The process Twitter adheres to is absolutely ridiculous and should be looked at as well and Plaintiff claims the process Twitter has in place to review defamation is unconstitutional.
Hooo boy. Where to start? Let's just skip over the awful run on sentences and note, again, as we did above, that Section 230 makes Twitter categorically immune from this lawsuit. I'm still at a loss as to how any lawyer today could file a lawsuit and not be aware of the basics of Section 230. Even without Section 230, Twitter would easily get out of this lawsuit. Notice that she cites no actual laws on the books or caselaw to back up this claim? She gives the company a grand total of two days of notice? And then I didn't know that "absolutely ridiculous" processes (which she doesn't actually seem to understand or describe) are illegal. I'd like to know the statute that says "absolutely ridiculous" policies for dealing with parody accounts are illegal, because, man, that would be useful. Oh, and "unconstitutional." Wha....? This is just... so, so awful. The University of San Diego law school should be ashamed.
Oh, right, about USD Law. Why is it a defendant? Beats me.
Plaintiff requests to enjon University of San Diego because of the fact that as seen in Exhibits 34 and 35, it appears as though there is a high probability John Doe is an University of San Diego student or alumni since the photo used to make the swastika headband, as shown in Exhibits 3, 4, and 5, is Plaintiff's profile photograph on LinkedIn. University of San Diego should be liable as well due to a prior matter that was not resolved appropriately by University of San Diego which led to USD acting recklessly, or at the very least negligently, to allow this matter to arise.
So... it sorta feels like perhaps Ms. Dehen thinks that "enjoin" means "make a party to the case" rather than the actual meaning, which is to have the court stop the party from doing something. Is it truly possible that someone can graduate from law school without knowing what enjoin means? Also, as for the rest of that paragraph, what is even going on? I keep reading it, and trying to understand why the fact that a LinkdedIn photo was used somehow makes it obvious that it was a USD student. Because she doesn't explain it at all, if you actually bother to go to the exhibits, it appears she's implying, without saying, that because LinkedIn tells her that some people from USD Law School visited her profile (among other people from other places) that's her proof. That's... not quite how it works.
And... even if it is a USD student, so what? That doesn't make USD liable.
And then the unexplained "prior matter"? Who graduates from law school and thinks that's how you put something into a complaint?
Oh, and then there's this:
Further, on the way to Federal Court in Downtown Sand Diego to file this complaint, Plaintiff was involved in a collision on the I-5 Freeway headed South, which resulted in neck and back pain for which Plaintiff is now seeking medical attention. Please see Exhibit 39.
So... um... it sucks that you were in a car accident. That's no fun. But what the hell does that have to do with the lawsuit? Why is that in here? And if she was on her way to file it when the accident happened, does that mean after the accident (in pain and all) she stopped to add this totally irrelelvant paragraph to the "complaint"?
Again, I'm not even going to go into why this account almost certainly isn't defamation, but among her evidence that this meets the "statutory malicious defamation claim" (?!?!) is this:
John Doe's fault in publishing the statement amounted to substantially more than just negligence. John Doe's meticulous planning of potentially creating a fake Facebook account in which he sought to befriend Plaintiff on social media (Please see Exhibit 38) and gain access to additional information, coupled with the time involved in setting up a false Twitter account, as well as downloading, altering, and reposting plaintiff's images, shows more than just the defendant's fault in publishing the statement. John Doe's deliberate actions amounted to much more than just mere negligence, but more so proves malice, an element of criminal crimes.
That's... quite a paragraph. But I just want to point out that this is (1) a civil lawsuit and (2) she says that this is an element of "criminal crimes." Criminal. Crimes.
Finally, I'm no lawyer, but I read and write a lot about court cases, and I can't recall ever seeing a legal complaint written in this manner. It doesn't seem to match with any typical legal complaint format that I've ever seen. It doesn't name any laws. And, I hate to give her any ideas, but normally when people make these kinds of questionable legal attacks on parody claims, they at least try to throw in an ill-advised publicity rights claim. Perhaps that wasn't taught at USD? Anyway, the 3-page "brief" (as she calls it) is then followed with another 20 pages of "exhibits" which are mostly screenshots that she seems to think proves a point, but as noted above, require anyone looking at them to make giant leaps and inferences to even figure out what her complaint is actually alleging.
And yet, she argues that John Doe, Twitter and USD should pay her $100 million because this parody account is "damaging to plaintiff's name, especially in this crucial juncture of her life where she is applying to California bar admittance and looking for a legal job in San Diego."
I think free speech lawyer Ari Cohn sums this one up nicely: