Internet Newspaper Sued for Anonymous Comments

In Maryland in 2006, a real estate developer brought a defamation lawsuit against an internet newspaper company, Independent Newspapers, Inc. (INI), and three John Doe defendants in state court. The lawsuit arose from statements criticizing the developer for selling his historic home to another developer and accusing him of maintaining a dirty Dunkin’ Donuts establishment.

INI removed the disputed comments after the developer complained, but the developer sued nonetheless. INI moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing that section 230 of the Communications Decency Act immunized it from liability for comments posted by third parties.  At the same time, the developer served a subpoena demanding that INI identify the Doe defendants.

On appeal, the court quashed the subpoena, and set out requirements for when a trial court is asked to order an anonymous poster’s identity revealed, including that the court must balance the anonymous poster’s First Amendment right of free speech against the strength of the defamation claim and the necessity for disclosure of the defendant’s identity, prior to ordering disclosure. 

See Brodie v. Independent Newspapers, Inc. 2009 Md. LEXIS 18 (Md. Feb. 27, 2009).

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