Skip to comments.Chat Room Chatter Draws Lawsuit
Posted on 01/06/2006 4:54:22 AM PST by beaversmom
Do the courts have jurisdiction over what people say in Internet chat rooms?
That question is being played out in what some lawyers claim is a first-of-its-kind lawsuit in Ohio, where a man claims he was humiliated online in an Internet chat room, and has filed a lawsuit over the incident.
The plaintiff, George Gillespie of Medina County, Ohio, is suing America Online for allegedly failing to do anything about the abuse he endured in the chat room, and the two chat room participants who allegedly caused him emotional distress by teasing him. Gillespie v. America Online, No. 05CIV1255 (Medina Co., Ohio, Ct. C.P.).
According to court documents, the chat room participants "acted in an outrageous manner, which they knew or should have known would cause serious emotional distress to the plaintiff ... The Defendants' conduct was so extreme and contemptible as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency."
AOL's lawyer, Michael S. Gordon of Columbus, Ohio, firm Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease's Cleveland office, declined comment.
Attorney Mark Tarallo, a lawyer with the Boston office of Holland & Knight who counsels companies on Internet matters, said "I haven't heard of anything like that." Tarallo believes that the lawyers in the Ohio case are venturing into uncharted territory and will face a tough battle, particularly in the fight with AOL. He noted that while there have been lawsuits where companies have sued individuals for posting derogatory comments about companies online, a third-party being sued over Internet chatter is unheard of.
"I think the plaintiff's lawyer is going to have an uphill battle. I don't know how you could say that AOL had some kind of obligation or duty to confirm [a statement] before allowing [a participant] to post it. It seems awful far-reaching to me," Tarallo said.
Gillespie's lawyer, A. Michelle Jackson of Oberholtzer, Filous & Lesiak in Medina, Ohio, did not return calls seeking comment. His other lawyer, Theodore Lesiak of the same firm, was unavailable for comment.
The individual defendants in the case, Mike Marlowe of Fayette, Ala., and Bob Charpentier of Salem, Ore., deny any wrongdoing. "I'm so flabbergasted with this because this has been blown out of proportion ... There were never any threats. We just made fun of the guy," said Marlowe, a 33-year-old welder who admits to teasing Gillespie over the Internet.
According to Marlowe, Gillespie alleged in his suit that Marlowe's harassment went beyond the Internet, and that Marlowe traveled all the way to Ohio from Alabama to file a change-of-address form for Gillespie just to disrupt his mail service.
Marlowe denied the allegation.
Charpentier, meanwhile, acting as his own attorney, filed a response and is considering a countersuit against Gillespie. A hearing is set for Jan. 10.
But whether people really believe message boards is a question posed by attorney Michael Lynn, a commercial trial lawyer at Lynn Tillotson & Pinker in Dallas who knows first-hand how tough it is to prove actual harm from comments posted on the Internet.
Two years ago, in a $700 million Internet defamation suit, Lynn successfully defended a Visa executive who was accused of posting derogatory comments about another company on Internet message boards, which allegedly lowered the company's stock price. ZixIt v. Visa, No. 99-10187-K (Dallas Co. Texas, Dist. Ct.).
In a four-week trial, Lynn convinced the jury that the statements were not enough to hurt the actual stock value given the vastness of the Internet.
"Our answer was that in the context of the entire stock market, connecting a statement in a chat room to a specific stock is largely impossible," Lynn said.
He expects similar arguments will be made in Gillespie's case.
"It would be difficult to prove that messages on a message board would really hurt someone's reputation in a community," Lynn said. "And how does anybody prove that they've actually been damaged as a result of a statement made in a chat room?"
If this guy wasn't posting under his real name, it seems the damage to his reputation wasn't done until he filed a frivolous lawsuit and his name became public.
LOL and WoW... :D
Someone needs to get a life. A real life life.
Unless he had a profile with his real name on it. But even then it would have been confined to just that room... Emotional Stress? ehh Mr. Sensitive. Hopefully they shutdown AOL chatrooms and people get rid of that horrible ISP. I know nothing will happen to AOL just wishing. :D
One, if AOL moderates its chat rooms, then it is by definition a 'publisher'. By allowing some content and not others it is setting itself up as an arbiter, 'blessing' some material.
Second, AOL has the power to unplug any of its subscribers and thus has an obligation to all of its members.
I'm not so sure that AOL's user agreement is sufficient to cover its liability
Sounds like something bad must have happened to you over there? Want to talk about it?
I fail to see how internet chat humiliation differs from real life humiliation in, say, a bar.
If I was in a bar, I could tease anyone I want. The bar is not responsible for it.
There is no law saying you have the right to not be offended or humiliated.
This case should be thrown out of court.
Good thing no teasing ever goes on around here.
doude~~~~~~~ 1 OWN J00!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1 whAt ever ahpepnedd to just hitting a7t f4???????? ololololololol....
No, I just think if they were forced to remove their chat rooms people would get rid of AOL... Since AOL seems to forward liberal propaganda I obviously want them to fail.
I have now "heard it all".
i am trying to imagine what it would be like in the chatroom i go to if no one teased anyone...*yawn* lol
Although your analysis is very well thought out, I have to humbly disagree with the point you are trying to make. My disagreement is, in no way, an attack on your intellect which you have demonstrated time and time again to be of a far reaching magnitude. Please accept my apologies if I have given any offense as no malice was meant toward you or any of the fine stock that you derived from.
It's AOL's fault I have no life, no love, no money, no self esteem. /sarcasm
But I might also add, in the interim, I've gotten a real life, and I like it much better.
Speaking of chat rooms...I love to get on the discussion boards every once in a while on the Yahoo news articles and read how many idiots troll there. The article could be about taking vitamin C and they turn it into a sexual perverted thing or a Bush bashing thread. What losers....it always makes me feel good that I'm on the right side after reading the crap those losers put out there.
Teasing in internet chat rooms is rampant and its all GWB's fault. ACLU scratching its head trying to figure out how to get in on the action.
There's enough teasing in here to keep all the ACLU lawyers busy for years to come. Some of it vicious, too...Most hysterical....
If ya can't take the heat then stay out of the kitchen
I hope this guy wins big.
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