Judicial Attitudes Often Do Not Match Reality

I originally reported this as a Canadian case, but one of the parties to the action called to inform me this was a U.S. case.  Turns out there is on Ottawa, Illinois.  Who knew?  In relating the story I wasn’t particularly concerned about the location because I was using the case to illustrate a judicial attitude rather than a point of law.

The action involves a dispute over a bed and breakfast.  The plaintiffs were seeking approval of the B and B from a planning commission.  Some in the community apparently did not want the approval to go through, and posted comments about the plaintiffs on the Internet. Plaintiffs considered what was said to be defamatory, and sued.

The judge found in favor of poster “birdie1” after determining that the comments were no more than opinions and therefore were not defamatory as a matter of law.

But it was the judge’s comments about the case against “FabFive from Ottawa” that caught my eye.  The plaintiffs were seeking to force the website to disclose the identity of that poster.  In denying that request and ultimately dismissing the action, the judge concluded that “no reasonable person would give credence to comments posted anonymously at a web site.”

Virtually ALL comments are posted anonymously on the Internet, but in this judge’s estimation, no one takes them seriously.  I can just picture this judge — probably a Luddite who refuses to use a computer — reading the complaint and saying to himself, “FabFive from Ottawa?   What’s a FabFive?  No one is going to listen to someone calling himself FabFive.”

Lesson to learn:  No case is ever a “slam-dunk” (as so many potential clients like to tell me) because there are always humans in the equation.  When you read the law, keep in mind that there may be “elements” that you will need to prove that are not specified in any statute or case law but which arise from the attitudes of the judge or jury.

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Aaron Morris
Morris & Stone, LLP
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