Tisk Tisk Cooley Law. You run a business, therefore you are bound to run into a few unhappy customers every now and then. And those unhappy customers have the legal right to voice their opinion about your services. The appropriate response is to take the comments to heart and provide a better service. On the other hand, the inappropriate response is to sue to obtain the names of those unhappy customers so that you can presumably sue your own students!
– Colin A. Daniels
A Michigan law school is suing four anonymous bloggers and a New York law firm in two separate, but related, suits that claim the school’s reputation was defamed by a series of Web postings.
Thomas M. Cooley Law School, based in Lansing with several branches, said law firm Kurzon Strauss singled it out in a Web posting that claimed the school “grossly inflates” job-placement data and is under federal investigation.
The firm, looking for clients, said in one Web post that it was investigating claims of law schools, in general, but named only Cooley, the lawsuit said.
Attorney David Anziska, one of two people named in the suit, said Cooley is overreacting and trying to censor opinion on the Internet. He said the two suits have been met with universal derision in legal circles.
In a second suit, also filed last week in Ingham County Circuit Court, Cooley asked a judge to order two Web hosting companies to reveal the identities of four bloggers and message board posters, including Rockstar05, the anonymous creator of “The Thomas M. Cooley Law School Scam.”
The two suits — each seeks more than $25,000 in damages — could amount to more legal tests defining the limits of opinion on the Web and the responsibility of service providers to name clients in certain situations.
Cooley said it needs the posters’ names to pursue legal action against them for comments they made on several Web sites, including a post from Rockstar05 that called Cooley “criminals” that committed “fraud.”
Jim Thelen, Cooley’s general counsel, said the posts are damaging because prospective students search the Web for information about law schools. He said the suits are about the law and not about “policing the Internet.”
“We’re a law school. We teach our students about all the laws, including the First Amendment,” he said. “There are other laws, as well, including those against defamation.”
Rockstar05, in a posting after the lawsuit was filed, said the online criticism was mere opinion, the same as in an online movie review.
“I simply expressed my experience, views, opinions, and said that I would not recommend the school to anyone.”
To win the defamation suits, Cooley would have to show the defendants knowingly posted false information in an effort to intentionally injure, said Wayne State University Law School professor Jonathan Weinberg.
And getting an Ingham County judge to order Web site hosting companies to reveal the identities of anonymous bloggers/posters will be a tough hurdle to clear, he said.
In today’s Internet-dominated age, unmasking anonymous bloggers and Web posters has become a more common request of courts, Weinberg said. Judges generally resist because, in many cases, the plaintiffs are seeking the identities for retaliatory-type actions, he said, stressing his comments are general and do not specifically refer to Cooley.
“You need to make a pretty substantial showing that you would win a defamation lawsuit (for a judge to order the release of names),” Weinberg said.