Doe Wins Motion to Unseal, Bodes Well for Preservation of Anonymity

The Sixth District Court of Appeal in California has granted Cyberlaw Clinic client John Doe's motion to unseal records in H.B. Fuller v. Doe. In the trial court, Doe and Fuller stipulated to sealing documents Fuller claimed contained confidential information. On appeal, we moved to unseal the records in the appellate court because they do not contain confidential information. The appellate court agreed in this published opinion.

This bodes well for the appeal more generally because the dispute centers on whether Doe's posts contained confidential information. Fuller says they did, and only employees had that information, so Doe must be an employee who breached his non-disclosure contract. Therefore, they are entitled to discover his identity through enforcement of a subpoena to Yahoo!, the company that hosts the message board on which Doe posted.

We say that Doe should remain anonymous because he was not an employee charged with keeping a reorganization of Fuller confidential and he has committed no wrong since the posts contained general information generally known.

This panel agrees that Fuller did not meet its burden of proof to show the information was confidential.

Nowhere does the declaration identify specific facts imparted at the meeting that were confidential in any legally significant sense, or were not available to the public (or likely to become available) by means other than violations of the employment agreement. Nor does it indicate what facts in the offending messages met that description.

This conclusion could lead to a great outcome. Allowing companies to bring employee breach of contract claims based on conclusory allegations of confidentiality could really threaten anonymous speech. The case law clearly establishes a right to anonymous speech and a burden on plaintiffs to make some showing of wrongdoing before enforcing subpoenas for identity information, but exactly what that burden of proof is and what evidence is sufficient is still being fleshed out in the courts, including through cases like Fuller v. Doe.

For more about the case, visit the Fuller v. Doe page

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