Firm News February 27, 2018
Gerard Fox Law has secured an important victory in the California Court of Appeal, overcoming a motion to quash, that will allow its client, prominent vegan entrepreneur Jeff Nelson (“Nelson”), to pursue defamation claims against an anonymous online harasser.
Nelson was represented by Morgan Pietz, a Partner of the firm, in the matter of Nelson v. Superior Court, No. B283743 (Cal. Ct. App. Feb. 27, 2018). In the opinion by Judge Segal, the Court of Appeal granted Nelson’s petition for a peremptory writ of mandate, which vacated the trial court’s granting of a motion to quash Nelson’s subpoena seeking to discover the identity of his harasser. This critical ruling effectively revived Nelson’s case by allowing him to subpoena online service providers like Google to reveal the personal information of the person posting defamatory YouTube videos under the pseudonym “Chantelle Robin.”
The court agreed with Nelson’s argument that the vicious social media attacks, accusing Nelson and his family of outrageous acts of sexual misconduct and violence, among other statements, constituted a prima facie case of defamation. Pietz, on behalf of Nelson, convinced the court that the legal standard of Krinsky v. Doe 6, 159 Cal. App. 4th 1154 (2008) applied to the case, allowing Nelson’s evidence of the defamatory statements, and his constitutional right to a jury trial, to outweigh “Chantelle Robin’s” right to anonymous online speech. The legal issue is one of emerging importance, as online harassment captures more public attention and courts are faced with difficult questions on how to hold anonymous posters accountable for their harmful and untrue statements.
The appeal represents Pietz’s second writ victory in the California Court of Appeal relating to online defamation with anonymous defendants. He previously represented a John Doe defendant in the published decision Doe 2 v. Superior Court, 1 Cal. App. 5th 1300 (2016).