Doe v. Ciolli

Decision Date30 April 2009
Docket NumberNo. 3:07-cv-909 (CFD).,3:07-cv-909 (CFD).
Citation611 F.Supp.2d 216
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Connecticut
PartiesDOE I, and Doe II, Plaintiffs, v. Anthony CIOLLI et al., Defendants.

Ashok Ramani, Benjamin W. Berkowitz, Mark A. Lemley, Rose Darling, Keker & Van Nest, LLP, San Francisco, CA, David N. Rosen, David N. Rosen, Counselor at Law, P.C., New Haven, CT, for Plaintiffs.

John R. Williams, New Haven, CT, Joseph G. Fortner, Jr., Susan J. O'Donnell, Halloran & Sage LLP, Hartford, CT, for Defendants.

RULING ON MOTION TO DISMISS

CHRISTOPHER F. DRONEY, District Judge.

This action was brought by Doe I and Doe II, both female students at Yale Law School, against individuals using thirtynine different pseudonymous names to post on a law school admissions website named AutoAdmit.com ("AutoAdmit"). The plaintiffs have identified Matthew Ryan ("Ryan") as the person who posted under the pseudonymous name ":D". Ryan has filed a motion to dismiss under Fed. R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) & (2) asserting the Court lacks subject matter and personal jurisdiction.

I. Background

AutoAdmit is an internet discussion board on which participants post comments and information about colleges and graduate schools, including law schools. Individuals registering with AutoAdmit must provide a login name, password, and email address, but need not provide their real name. Registered users can post messages to the site's many discussion boards. Those messages may then be viewed by any person with access to the internet, whether or not they are registered with AutoAdmit.

The plaintiffs allege that they were the targets of defamatory, threatening, and harassing statements posted on AutoAdmit from 2005 to 2007 that caused them substantial psychological and economic injury. Ryan was registered with AutoAdmit under the username ":D" and posted some of these messages about Doe I and Doe II. The plaintiffs further allege that Ryan and others who posted messages about them on AutoAdmit were aware that they were students at Yale Law School or would soon enroll at Yale Law School.

In their Second Amended Complaint, the plaintiffs assert the following causes of action: (1) Copyright Infringement, 17 U.S.C. § 501; (2) appropriation of another's name or likeness; (3) unreasonable publicity given to another's life; (4) publicity that places another in a false light before the public; (5) intentional infliction of emotional distress; (6) negligent infliction of emotional distress; and (7) libel. The copyright claim in Count One is the only claim arising under federal law. That claim alleges that Doe II owns valid copyrights in her photographs, that she has registered these copyrights with the United States Copyright Office, and that one or more of the defendants have, without her authorization, copied or otherwise reproduced the copyrighted photographs in postings on the AutoAdmit website.

Doe I and Doe II were at all relevant times citizens of Connecticut. Ryan is a citizen of Texas. The identities and citizenship of numerous other pseudonymous defendants are unknown.

II. Discussion
A. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

Plaintiffs invoke the jurisdiction of this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1367, asserting the copyright claim as the federal question and supplemental jurisdiction over the state law claims. Plaintiffs also maintain diversity jurisdiction exists under 28 U.S.C. § 1332, as the plaintiffs are citizens of Connecticut and Ryan is a citizen of Texas.

1. Federal Question and Supplemental Jurisdiction

Ryan argues that Doe II's copyright claim is insufficient to support the Court's exercise of subject matter jurisdiction because first, it is only raised by Doe II, not Doe I, and second, it is not directed at Ryan's own alleged conduct,1 but at two other defendants, one of whom has already settled and been dismissed from the case.2

This Court has jurisdiction over Doe II's copyright claim arising under federal law. Moreover, as this Court previously found, all of the plaintiffs' claims arise from the same common nucleus of operative fact, and therefore the Court has jurisdiction over all of the claims. Doe I and Doe II v. Individuals, 561 F.Supp.2d 249, 253 (D.Conn.2008) (CFD) ("[T]his Court has original jurisdiction over `all civil actions arising under the ... laws ... of the United States;' 28 U.S.C. § 1331; and may exercise supplemental jurisdiction over state law claims `that are so related to claims in the action within such original jurisdiction that they form part of the same case or controversy under Article III of the United States Constitution.' 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a). Thus, since the Court properly has jurisdiction over the copyright claim, which arises from the same case or controversy as the various state law tort and statutory claims, the Court also has subject matter jurisdiction as these state law claims, which arise from a `common nucleus of operative fact' namely, the alleged harassment of Doe I and Doe II on AutoAdmit.com and other web sites."); see also Promisel v. First Am. Artificial Flowers, Inc., 943 F.2d 251, 254 (2d Cir.1991); Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Allapattah Services, Inc., 545 U.S. 546, 556, 125 S.Ct. 2611, 162 L.Ed.2d 502 (2005) (discussing pendant-party jurisdiction).

2. Diversity Jurisdiction

The Court also has subject matter jurisdiction over the case based on diversity of citizenship, as the plaintiffs are citizens of Connecticut and Ryan is a citizen of Texas. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Ryan argues that the pseudonymous defendants. defeat complete diversity because there is a risk that when any of those defendants is "unmasked," he or she could be a citizen of Connecticut.

Federal courts are divided on the question of whether the existence of unidentified or "Doe" defendants defeats diversity jurisdiction.3 For example, the Seventh Circuit in Howell v. Tribune Entertainment Co. held that "because the existence of diversity jurisdiction cannot be determined without knowledge of every defendant's place of citizenship, `John Doe' defendants are not permitted in federal diversity suits." 106 F.3d 215, 218 (7th Cir.1997) (Posner, J.); see also McMann v. Doe, 460 F.Supp.2d 259, 264-65 (D.Mass.2006) (holding there was not diversity jurisdiction in a case in which the residency of sole defendant, "John Doe," was unknown). On the other hand, a federal district court in Hawaii held that the existence of Doe defendants does not destroy diversity jurisdiction. See Macheras v. Ctr. Art Galleries-Haw., 776 F.Supp. 1436, 1440 (D.Haw.1991) ("The presence of fictitious defendants neither creates a presumption that diversity is destroyed, nor requires Doe defendants to be named, abandoned, or dismissed in order for a diversity-based claim to be brought in federal court under § 1332.") (internal quotation marks omitted).

Although the Second Circuit has not ruled on this question,4 district courts in the Circuit have held that "the mere inclusion of John Doe defendants does not destroy complete diversity" until "it is later found that one or more of the unknown defendants is domiciled such that there is not complete diversity." Merrill Lynch Bus. Fin. Serv. Inc. v. Heritage Packaging Corp., No. 06-CV-3951, 2007 WL 2815741, at *3 (E.D.N.Y. Sept. 25, 2007); see also W. Weber Co., Inc. v. Kosack, No. 96-CV-9581, 1997 WL 666246, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 24, 1997) (adopting Macheras, 776 F.Supp. at 1439). This Court agrees with the holdings of Macheras, Merrill Lynch, and Weber, and holds that the presence of pseudonymous defendants in this case does not destroy complete diversity. At this juncture, at least under the circumstances of this case, where the plaintiffs were allegedly harmed by anonymous defendants through no action of their own, they should not suffer from the defendants' "Doe" status. Should the Court discover at a future stage in the litigation that a pseudonymous defendant is not diverse from the plaintiffs, it may dismiss that non-diverse party to preserve diversity jurisdiction. See Grupo Dataflux v. Atlas Global Group, L.P., 541 U.S. 567, 571, 124 S.Ct. 1920, 158 L.Ed.2d 866 (2004) (holding that courts may cure a jurisdictional defect by dismissing a dispensable nondiverse party); see also Howell, 106 F.3d at 218 ("Newman-Green, Inc. v. Alfonzo-Larrain, 490 U.S. 826, 109 S.Ct. 2218, 104 L.Ed.2d 893 (1989) authorizes us, however, to restore complete diversity, even when the case is on appeal and diversity was incomplete in the district court, by dropping a party whose presence is unnecessary to the proper resolution of the controversy.").

B. Personal Jurisdiction

"When a defendant challenges personal jurisdiction in a motion to dismiss, the plaintiff bears the burden of proving that the court has jurisdiction over the defendant." Amerbelle Corp. v. Hommel, 272 F.Supp.2d 189, 192 (D.Conn.2003) (citing Metro. Life Ins. v. Robertson-Ceco Corp., 84 F.3d 560, 566-67 (2d Cir.1996)); Ensign-Bickford Co. v. ICI Explosives USA, Inc., 817 F.Supp. 1018, 1026 (D.Conn.1993). "A plaintiff facing a Fed. R.Civ.P. 12(b)(2) motion to dismiss made before any discovery need only allege facts constituting a prima facie showing of personal jurisdiction. Moreover, we construe the pleadings and affidavits in plaintiffs favor at this early stage." PDK Labs, Inc. v. Friedlander, 103 F.3d 1105, 1109 (2d Cir.1997) (internal citations omitted); see also Jarrow Formulas, Inc. v. International Nutrition Co., 175 F.Supp.2d 296, 300 (D.Conn.2001). In a diversity or federal question case, personal jurisdiction is determined by the law of the state in which the district court sits. See Bensusan Restaurant Corp. v. King, 126 F.3d 25, 27 (2d Cir.1997); Arrowsmith v. United Press Int'l, 320 F.2d 219, 231 (2d Cir.1963). A defendant's conduct is sufficient for the exercise of personal jurisdiction if (1) the conduct satisfies the requirements of the Connecticut long-arm statute, and (2) the conduct satisfies the "minimum contacts" requirement of the Due...

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