'Shitty Media Men' Suit Wants Accusers Unmasked By Google

Published on:
January 24, 2019
Credit: Law360

Stephen Elliott, a writer who sued over defamation last year after being named on an internet list of “Shitty Media Men” who have been accused of sexual misconduct, asked for a subpoena in New York federal court Wednesday that would force Google to identify those who contributed to the shared document.

Elliott, who filed the defamation case in October against journalist Moira Donegan and “Jane (1-30) Does,” asked for an early-stage order that would force Google to hand over “documents, computer data and information” that can be used to unmask those unnamed defendants.

“Plaintiff, through the instant action, seeks to challenge the veracity of the accusations on the list, but is unable to challenge his anonymous accusers absent a court-ordered subpoena unmasking the Doe defendants,” Elliot wrote.

The filing asks for a broad range of data, including “email address and/or Gmail account name, IP address, IP address history, name, handle, alias, physical address, phone number, and any social media account names or handles” for anyone who altered the entries relating to Elliott.

On Thursday, an attorney for Donegan told Law360 that the subpoena request "raises grave concerns, especially in a #MeToo context where women were doing this for the sole purpose of simply trying to protect other women."

A representative for Google and an attorney for Elliott did not immediately return requests for comment.

Whether Elliott will actually get the data is far from certain.

Out of respect for the First Amendment’s protections for anonymous speech, courts have made it difficult to win such unmasking orders. The court will weigh whether Elliott has a case, whether he really needs the data, whether he can get it without the court order and the extent to which the targeted individuals have an expectation of privacy.

Elliott’s request on Wednesday said he’s met those requirements, but Donegan is certain to fight the order; the anonymous individuals targeted must also be notified and given a chance to quash the subpoena. Google, for its part, has already said it will “oppose any attempt by Mr. Elliott to obtain information about this document from us.”

Donegan has already asked the court to halt discovery until it decides on her request to dismiss the case entirely. In a filing on Jan. 11, she said Elliott is a public figure who has come “nowhere close” to satisfying the requirements to sue for defamation.

“Permitting immediate discovery will substantially burden Ms. Donegan and the Does, eviscerating their right to anonymous speech while chilling protected expression by other victims of sexual assault,” she wrote at the time. “To safeguard free speech and equal protection principles, this court should reject Mr. Elliott's efforts to use legal process against women who have disclosed wrongdoing to protect other women.”

Elliott is represented by Andrew T. Miltenberg and Nicholas Evan Lewis of Nesenoff & Milternberg LLP.

Donegan is represented by Roberta Ann Kaplan, Julie E. Fink, Martha Fitzgerald and Joshua Adam Matz of Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP.

The case is Elliott v. Donegan et al., case number 1:18-cv-05680, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.

Read this at Law360.

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