Monday, May 24, 2010

Judge Quashes Subpoena: 'Stokklerk' Can Toil Anonymously

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U.S. District Court Judge for the Northern District of California Susan Illston last week quashed a subpoena from attorneys for a Pa. corporation that wanted Yahoo! to turn over information concerning a pseudonymous online critic.

The case,  USA Technologies, Inc. v. John Doe a/k/a "Stokklerk" et al. (Case No. C 09-80275SI) involved claims for common law defamation and violation of The Securities Exchange Act of 1934 [15 U.S.C. sec. 78a et seq.]. Judge Illson ruled that Stokklerk had a First Amendment right to express a "hyperbolic opinion" about the company and its CEO George Jensen Jr. on a Yahoo! message board.  Besides asserting the anonymous posts were harmful to USA Technologies' reputation, plaintiff's attorneys alleged Stokklerk engaged in securities fraud because the faceless critic's comments purportedly reflected a financial interest in denigrating the company.

Judge Illson ruled the plaintiff has a ways to go to satisfy its burden of proof before she would order Yahoo! to disclose information concerning the anonymous poster. Calling Jensen "a known liar," is a mere insult, the judge held, that doesn't rise to the level needed to warrant identifying the nameless critic.  The Electronic Frontier Foundation took up the cudgel for Stokklerk and succeeded in getting the subpoena quashed. 

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