A company with a website for anonymous online postings about employment experiences has standing to assert the privacy and First Amendment rights of its posters, and to force disclosure of their identities, the plaintiff must first prove a prima facie claim against the poster. Distinguishing Matrixx Initiatives, Inc. v. Doe (2006) 138 Cal.App.4th 872 as involving an uninvolved third party, this decision holds that a company running a service for anonymous postings (here about employment experiences) has standing to assert the privacy and First Amendment rights of its anonymous posters so as to avoid being forced to reveal their identities unless the plaintiff first shows (a) that it tried to notify the anonymous poster of its effort to learn his identity, and (b) that plaintiff’s claim against the poster has prima facie merit, by identifying the specific words claimed to be actionable and showing why they are. Here, the plaintiff did not make that required showing. It claimed that the poster had violated his confidentiality agreement, but provided only vague, general statements regarding what in the posting revealed any confidential information. Here, the vagueness of plaintiff’s complaint was exacerbated by the overly broad order sealing the record which plaintiff secured, leaving the defendant unable to show that no confidential information had been revealed in the posting. Also some of the crucial information in the posting was false. Disclosure of untrue information cannot violate a confidentiality agreement.
California Court of Appeal, Sixth District (Rushing, P.J.); March 10, 2017; 2017 WL 944227