Ann Althouse, AutoAdmit / Xoxohth, Biglaw, Blogging, Daniel Solove, Defamation, Eugene Volokh, Free Speech, Glenn Reynolds, Law Schools, Rudeness, Technology

More on the AutoAdmit Lawsuit: An Update on Doe v. Ciolli

AutoAdmit xoxohth Anthony Ciolli Above the Law blog.JPGThe blogosphere is ablaze with discussion of the AutoAdmit lawsuit. We collect and summarize the commentary in this linkwrap.
(We read all the blogs, so you don’t have to! You can thank us later.)
1. Students File Suit Against Ex-AutoAdmit Director, Others [WSJ Law Blog]
If you haven’t done so already, read this post first. It contains the most detailed factual background about the case. You can also access the Complaint itself by clicking here (PDF).
2. Yale law students sue over “the scummiest kind of sexually offensive tripe” at AutoAdmit [Althouse]
Professor Ann Althouse has her doubts about this lawsuit:

So this is the 21st century? Where courts award punitive damages for offensive words and pictures? Isn’t “the scummiest kind of sexually offensive tripe” exactly what we always used to say people had to put up with in a free country? Man, that was so 20th century!

3. Suing Autodmit [Instapundit]
Professor Glenn Reynolds — who kindly links to our post, by the way — largely agrees with Professor Althouse. He sarcastically observes: “Stuff that offends dumb hicks in the heartland is constitutionally protected. Stuff that offends Yale Law Students must be stamped out!”
More links, after the jump.


4. Ann Althouse Says Sexual Threats and False Claims of a Venereal Disease Are “Exactly What We Always Used to Say People Had to Put Up With in a Free Country” [Patterico’s Pontifications]
Patterico disagrees vehemently with Althouse and Reynolds:

I can respect an argument that the lawsuit against the website operator lacks merit. The law seems to me fairly well established that web site operators are not responsible for the nonsense asserted by commenters. (Were it otherwise, there’s a lot of stupid crap some of you folks write that I’d be responsible for.)

What I don’t understand is Althouse’s (and Reynolds’s) mocking the concerns of the plaintiffs, as if they were just whining over nothing. To me, these comments suggest an unfamiliarity with the actual allegations of the complaint.

Never mind the several allegedly false claims that one or more of the plaintiffs had a) received low LSAT scores; 2) bribed their way into Yale Law School; 3) had a lesbian affair with the Dean of Admissions at Yale Law School; and 4) committed sexual assault. To me, these seem defamatory (if false) — and guess what? At least one of the students had a hard time getting a summer job. Imagine that!

But as if that weren’t enough, the complaint lists several sexual threats and false claims of a sexual nature.

Patterico then gets into the nitty-gritty of the allegations. If you’re so inclined, you can read his excerpts by clicking here.
5. AutoAdmit Lawsuit [Volokh Conspiracy]
Professor Eugene Volokh provides a detailed analysis of the complaint and the claims raised therein. His write-up is lengthy, thoughtful, and nuanced (and somewhat difficult to summarize).
Here’s a key quote:

[T]he real punitive remedy that plaintiffs may get is disclosure of at least some of the pseudonymous posters’ identities, given that plaintiffs have at least plausible tort claims that should suffice to justify discovery of defendants’ identities. I’m not sure whether this is primarily what plaintiffs want — but it will be much cheaper to get, since it could be gotten just using some subpoenas plus amendment of the complaint to reveal the true defendants, with no need for a trial or for anything else….

The posters’ actions are pretty disgusting and unprofessional; they violate codes of basic decency endorsed by most of society, left, center, and right. If their identities are disclosed, they are likely to lose their jobs (or job offers), lose friends, and be set back for many years and by many hundreds of thousands of dollars in their careers.

6. Perils for Libel Plaintiffs [Volokh Conspiracy]
More insightful analysis from the good professor. He makes the valid point that going forward with this suit could be tricky for the plaintiffs:

So [a possible] result [of this lawsuit] will be testimony from sixteen prominent law firms explaining why they didn’t want to hire Doe I. What’s more, the law firms aren’t being painted as the bad guys in this law suit, so it’s not a case where (for instance) someone sues an employer for discrimination and the employer’s badmouthing of the plaintiff could be put off to the employer’s racism or sexism or what have you. It’s just sixteen law firms that come across as largely disinterested bystanders (despite the possible reason to shade the truth that I mention above, a reason that is likely not to be prominent in observers’ mind) and that talk about how Doe I botched her interview, or about how her grades were really pretty weak. That’s not exactly the best publicity for an aspiring young lawyer, especially given that the case about online chatter is likely to lead to online chatter.

7. Volokh on the AutoAdmit Lawsuit [Patterico’s Pontifications]
Patterico likes Volokh’s analysis WAY better than Althouse’s:

Prof. Volokh’s analysis, in my view, is everything that Prof. Althouse’s is not. He shows a familiarity with the underlying allegations and an understanding of their outrageous nature. He shows a knowledge of the applicable legal standards and an understanding that there may well be a legal case against the posters, based on the defamatory and threatening nature of several of the statements. In short, he is not flippantly dismissive of the claims — either their outrageousness, or their legal merit.

8. AutoAdmit Fiasco Turns Into a Lawsuit–Doe v. Ciolli [Technology & Marketing Law Blog]
Some excellent observations from Eric Goldman:

1) I suspect the law students whose aliases were named in the complaint had that sickening stomach-liquefying feeling when they realized they were being sued. Being sued is an expensive and scary process.

2) The facts aren’t entirely clear, but I believe the plaintiffs aren’t trying to hold defendants liable for postings they didn’t make. Of course, 47 USC 230 would likely bar most/all of such claims (although after Roommates.com, who knows how far 230 goes?), so it appears that the plaintiffs are wisely steering away from that trap….4) I wonder if the judge will consider the message board’s wide-open and infantile nature when evaluating the postings. Some of the postings cited in the complaint were, in context, so over-the-top that I can’t imagine any reader giving them serious credibility. For an analogous circumstance where the judge recognized the contextual silliness of some remarks, see DiMeo v. Max.

5) This lawsuit could be very divisive in the legal education community. In one corner, free speech and personal/professional autonomy; in the other corner, intolerance for harassing and discriminatory behavior (especially by professional school students, like law students) that can seriously harm the professional opportunities and personal enjoyment of other students. These conflicting norms aren’t new, but they tend to divide groups into camps that have a hard time finding a middle ground.

9. The AutoAdmit Lawsuit [Concurring Opinions]
Professor Dan Solove weighs in. (He doesn’t express a strong view either way; the post summarizes the case and collects links.)
**************************************
Finally, while we’re on the subject, here are the results of our earlier ATL reader poll about Anthony Ciolli, former AutoAdmit executive, and the job he lost due to his involvement with the site:
Anthony Ciolli poll AutoAdmit Abovethelaw Above the Law blog.JPG
Doe v. Ciolli, 307CV00909 CFD (D. Conn. complaint filed June 11, 2007)
Earlier: Prior ATL coverage of AutoAdmit (scroll down)

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