Criteria for Pre-Action Disclosure and Defamation Explained
The Second Department determined that a request for pre-action disclosure of the name of an anonymous blogger (whom petitioners alleged posted defamatory remarks during an election campaign) should not have been granted. Pre-action disclosure should only be allowed when the petitioner has alleged facts indicating the existence of a cause of action. Here the facts alleged did not make out a cause of action for defamation:
Before an action is commenced, “disclosure to aid in bringing an action” may be obtained by court order (CPLR 3102[c]), including “discovery in order to obtain information relevant …to determining who should be named as a defendant” … . A petition for pre-action discovery limited to obtaining the identity of prospective defendants should be granted where the petitioner has alleged facts fairly indicating that he or she has some cause of action …
Contrary to the Supreme Court’s determination, the petitioners failed to allege facts fairly indicating that they have a cause of action to recover damages for defamation based on the two posts at issue by the blogger Q-Tip. “The elements of a cause of action for defamation are a false statement, published without privilege or authorization to a third party, constituting fault as judged by, at a minimum, a negligence standard, and it must either cause special harm or constitute defamation per se” … . “In determining whether a complaint states a cause of action to recover damages for defamation, the dispositive inquiry is whether a reasonable listener or reader could have concluded that the statements were conveying facts about the plaintiff”… . Further, “[a] false statement constitutes defamation per se when it charges another with a serious crime or tends to injure another in his or her trade, business, or profession” … .
Here, given the context in which the challenged statements were made, on an Internet blog during a sharply contested election, a reasonable reader would have believed that the generalized reference to “downright criminal actions” in a post entitled “Would You Buy A Used Car From These Men?” was merely conveying opinion, and was not a factual accusation of criminal conduct … . Further, the petitioners failed to demonstrate that the remaining portions of the challenged statements by Q-Tip constituted defamation per se… . Matter of Konig v CSC Holdings LLC, 2013 NY Slip Op 08632, 2nd Dept 12-26-13