Friday, June 21, 2013

Court Orders Anonymous Blogger to Pay Executive $200K in Damages

In a recent decision, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice awarded a corporate executive general damages of $100,000, aggravated damages of $50,000, punitive damages of $50,000 and approximately $50,000 in legal fees against an anonymous  "John Doe" defendant who had persisted in posting defamatory comments about executive on a website hosted by Blogger, a Google web service.

The plaintiff was a lawyer and a director of legal affairs at Quebecor Media Inc. ("Quebecor"). The defendant was unknown.

In 2010, the plaintiff became aware that defamatory statements about him were being posted on the website hosted by Blogger. The Blogger posts stated that the plaintiff was "a lying crook, a Nazi, a pedophile and rapist, a thief and a morally repugnant imbecile". The court found that, "The plaintiff is obviously none of those things".

In May of 2010, the defendant sent emails to senior Quebecor executives with links to the Blogger posts.
In June of 2010, the plaintiff's lawyers commenced the action against "John Doe No. 1". The defendant subsequently posted further defamatory posts.

The plaintiff brought a motion to compel Google to disclose information that would identify the defendant. Although the defendant responded from the same email account that he had used to communicate with Quebecor's management, his identity was never discovered.

In July and August of 2010, Google removed the Blogger posts. However, the defendant commenced posting defamatory statements about the plaintiff on another website. In the meantime, the plaintiff continued to attempt to identify the defendant. He obtained an order extending the time for service of the statement of claim. Plaintiff's counsel sent emails to the defendant at the email account that he had been known to use.  The defendant responded by email that "We are not formally served with notice of any impending proceeding with respect to this matter. As far as we are concerned, we have no duty or obligation to meaningful [sic] respond to or appear at any proceeding."

The plaintiff then obtained an order validating service of the statement of claim and ordering that the subsequent defamatory posts be removed. The motions judge also ordered that the defendant identify himself, however he refused to do so. The plaintiff subsequently noted the plaintiff in default.

On February 16, 2012, the registrar of the court administratively dismissed the action. At the end of February 2012, plaintiff's counsel received a copy of the registrar's dismissal order. There had been no previous notice from the registrar. On a motion brought by the plaintiff, the court set aside the administrative dismissal and granted judgment for defamation.

Justice Goldstein of the court held that "there are few things more cowardly and insidious than an anonymous blogger who posts spiteful and defamatory comments about reputable members of the public and then hides behind the electronic curtain provided by the internet". The court found that the posts were defamatory and because the defendant had already been noted in default, granted judgment accordingly.

The court awarded general damages based on the principle that such damages are presumed in a defamation case on the basis that harm automatically and logically follows from the very publication of the false statements.  At the motion the plaintiff sought and the court granted general damages in the amount of $100,000. The court awarded aggravated damages on the basis that the defendant was guilty of high-handed, spiteful and vicious conduct. The court found that the circumstances of this case were particularly egregious. The defendant had never apologized, retracted or in any way sought to justify his statements. Even in the face of a statement of claim, the defendant continued to make defamatory posts. The court awarded $50,000.

The court held that this case was an obvious one for punitive damages. There is no question that the defendant acted maliciously and oppressively. The defendant's actions offended the court's sense of decency and because the court reflected community standards, it sent a strong message of denunciation and deterrence.  The court awarded $50,000.

Finally, the court held that because costs are within the discretion of the court, it awarded substantial indemnity costs because the defendant persisted on driving up the plaintiff's legal costs even in the face of a continuing refusal to comply with a court order.



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