Monday, March 15, 2010

D.C. v. R.R. (Cal Ct. App. - March 15, 2010)

Cases involving "X.X. vs. YY" are often interesting. This one is no exception.

I recall reading about the underlying events somewhere. This is one of the lawsuits that followed.

Essentially, a 15-year old actor-student at Harvard-Westlake posted a facebook page that some people might find pretentious. Prompting an all-out assault by his way-too-cool classmates. Including a variety of outright threats of violence and unambiguously homophobic comments based upon the student's perceived sexual orientation.

The student then sued, and while he had to arbitrate his dispute with Harvard-Westlake, no so with respect to the students themselves. One of whom, in response to the lawsuit against him, filed an anti-SLAPP motion. The trial court denied the motion, the defendant appealed, and the Court of Appeal -- in a divided opinion -- affirmed.

I won't reveal all of the sophisticated commentary (*sarcasm alert*) that the other Harvard-Westlake students wrote on the student's facebook page; for that, read the opinion. But I'll share what the defendant here wrote, which is both at issue in the appeal and which will give you the general tenor of the comments the plaintiff received:

"Hey [plaintiff], I want to rip out your fucking heart and feed it to you. I heard your song while driving my kid to school and from that moment on I've . . . wanted to kill you. If I ever see you I'm . . . going to pound your head in with an ice pick. Fuck you, you dick-riding penis lover. I hope you burn in hell."


Defendant says he was just "joking" -- though his lengthy declaration, not surprisingly, give a much more nuanced version of the message -- and asserts that his communication was protected by the First Amendment as well as a "communication in the public interest". Needless to say, I am somewhat dubious about the latter component, and the Court of Appeal didn't agree either. You're not a public figure merely because you have a facebook page. Even if you're a wanna-be actor too.

Justice Rothschild dissents, and it's a pretty strongly-worded opinion. Less strongly worded than the defendant's message, of course, but still, you get the jist. Here's a sample: "[T]he majority‘s reasoning [] alters the legal landscape to the severe detriment of First Amendment rights. In deciding that the post was unprotected, the majority holds defendants to an evidentiary standard that conflicts with controlling California Supreme Court precedent, disregards defendants‘ evidence on the basis of invalid factual inferences and unsupported legal theories, and ignores the relevant case law by failing to consider the entire factual context in which [defendant's] post occurred."

It's an interesting debate. As well as a reminder that there may well be consequences that you might want to consider before hitting the "Send" button. Especially if what precedes it entails a death threat.

P.S. - The majority opinion protects everyone's anonymity by using initials, but it's not too hard to figure out who we're talking about. Since the opinion also tells us the pseudonym the plaintiff uses in his entertainment work: Danny Alexander. From there imdb is but a click away.