Archive for the 'E-mail' Category

Anonymous E-mails Go On Trial

August 28, 2008

Got a beef about your kid’s soccer program?  An anonymous e-mail might be an option.  Or maybe not, judging by a lawsuit working its way through Minnesota courts.

On Tuesday, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ordered a new trial in a case in which a soccer mom was accused of sending e-mails — some anonymous, some not — critical of the Minnesota Youth Soccer Association’s investigation into whether photographs taken of 11-year-old girls were improper.  The mom signed her name to an e-mail suggesting that the photographer was involved in “deviant actions” and that the soccer assocation was, um, dropping the ball.  But she did not admit to sending anonymous e-mails, under the name “Blah Blah,” that accused the photographer of pedophelia and also criticized the soccer association’s actions.

The association, its president, and its “Risk Management Coordinator” then sued the soccer mom for defamation, alleging that their reputations had been harmed by false e-mails.   A Hennepin County judge lumped together all the e-mails anonymous and otherwise, ruled that the e-mails were defamatory, and gave the jury the sole job of determining how much damage had been done.  Verdict:  $425,000 worth.

Problem was, the jury never got a chance to decide whether the soccer mom was in fact Blah Blah.  In addition, the judge told the jurors that they could consider all the e-mails when computing damages, even those from Blah Blah.  For those reasons, on Tuesday the appeals court ordered a new trial.

It was a logical result, but hidden in the opinion is a conclusion that gave me pause.  According to the appeals court, all e-mails at issue, even old ones that were not originally part of the case and arguably were barred by the statute of limitations, were properly made part of the evidence because they constituted an “ongoing enterprise” and a “continuing violation” of defamation.  For support, the appeals court cited cases involving nuisance, trespass, discriminatory acts, and possession of stolen property.  The court cited no case involving a “continuing violation” of defamation based on old communications, e-mails or otherwise.

That appears to be because there was no such case.  Until now.

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