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Author of Mean E-mails Protected by NJ Court

August 27, 2010

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A New Jersey Appellate court recently dealt with the issue of e-mail anonymity in <i>Juzwiak v. Doe</i>. Plaintiff was a Hightstown High School music teacher who received a series of nasty e-mails from a sender identified as "Josh Hartnett," that called plaintiff evil, compared him to the the devil, and generally said he was unfit to teach.
Plaintiff filed a John/Jane Doe complaint in Mercer County, claiming harassment and intentional infliction of emotional distress, and he served a subpoena on Yahoo seeking the name of the e-mail account owner. Yahoo notified the owner of the account, who moved to quash the subpoena. The trial court denied the motion to quash, but issued a stay so the matter could be taken up on appeal.
The standard in New Jersey to unmask an anonymous internet poster or e-mail sender was set in Dendrite International, Inc. v. Doe, 342 N.J. Super. 134 (App. Div. 2001), which required, among other things, that a plaintiff "produce sufficient evidence supporting each element of its cause of action, on a prima facie basis."
Here, on appeal, the Court held that plaintiff did not establish two elements of an emotional distress claim: that the defendant's conduct was so "extreme and outrageous ... as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency, and to be regarded as atrocious, and utterly intolerable in a civilized community" and that the conduct caused distress "so severe that no reasonable man could be expected to endure it."
The messages did not accuse plaintiff of committing "vile or criminal acts," nor did they contain racist insults, obscene or profane language. Plaintiff also failed to prove that the posting caused “unendurable distress.” The Court also held that plaintiff failed to show that he tried to identify the sender through other means, such as such as a telephone book or voting records, and granted the motion to quash.
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