Law firms ask federal judge to remand suit over annoymous comments back to St. Clair County

By Bethany Krajelis | Apr 11, 2013

A pair of law firms has asked a federal judge to remand its recently removed lawsuit over the Internet-based conduct of anonymous individuals back to state court.

The Chicago firm of Prenda Law, Inc. in February filed a complaint in St. Clair County Circuit Court against Minnesota attorney Paul Godfread and his client, Alan Cooper, also of Minnesota, as well as 10 “John Doe” defendants.

The complaint, which was amended later that month to include the Alpha Law Firm in Minnesota as a plaintiff, seeks monetary damages, injunctive relief and other damages for the “egregious” conduct of a number of individuals whom the plaintiffs assert they only know “by the anonymous, salacious, false and libelous comments they have and continue to make” about the plaintiffs on the Internet.

The firms assert that Godfread, Cooper and the “John Doe” defendants “belong to a community of Internet ‘commentators’ fearful of being identified and have falsely accused Plaintiff of, among other things, criminal offenses; want of integrity in the discharge of employment; lack of ability in its profession; and the commission of fornication and adultery.”

Using anonymous pseudonyms, the firms claim that the defendants have libeled them with the intention of harming their business, client relationships and public reputation.

The firms contend that their representation of clients in copyright infringement and computer hacking cases has resulted in the identification of users of BitTorrent, a file sharing method used to distribute data over the Internet. That, the firms claim, “appears  to have prompted the defendants to make false and libelous statements” against them.

The anonymous comments the firms take issue with range from accusing Prenda Law of having “a history of fraud” to calling its employees “clowns” and “a cast of idiots.” Other comments, the firms contend, falsely accuse their agents of incest and promoting prostitution.

Godfread and Cooper last month removed the case to federal court, saying diversity of citizenship exists between the parties and the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000.

After Chief Judge David Herndon wrote in a March 3 order that the defendants’ notice of removal didn’t adequately demonstrate diversity of citizenship exists among the parties, Godfread and Cooper filed another removal notice, as well as a motion to dismiss for improper venue.

Saying that Prenda Law is based in Chicago and the defendants are citizens of Minnesota, Godfread and Cooper assert in the motion to dismiss that “there is no connection at all with the Southern District of Illinois.”

As such, they contend that their motion to dismiss for improper venue should be granted or in the alternative, transferred to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.

The two firms, however, countered on Wednesday by filing a motion to remand the suit back to St. Clair County, where Prenda brought the original complaint in February.

The two firms contend that both of the defendants’ removal notices “omitted the fact that Alpha Law Group, a citizen of Minnesota, is one of the plaintiffs.”

“Alpha Law’s citizenship destroys diversity jurisdiction, the basis upon which the petitioning defendants removed,” the firms assert in their motion, which claims the federal court lacks jurisdiction over the case.

The defendants “are well aware of the lack of diversity, but have and continued to act as if the Plaintiffs’ Amended Complaint, in which a citizen of Minnesota joined as a Plaintiff, does not exist,” the firms claim, adding that in doing so, the “defendants are guilty of acting in bad faith and misleading the Court.”

As of early Thursday afternoon, no orders had been issued over the plaintiffs’ motion to remand.

Chicago attorney Paul Duffy of Prenda Law represents the plaintiffs with Belleville attorney Kevin Hoerner serving as local counsel. Chicago attorney Erin Kathryn Russell represents Godfread and Cooper.

Duffy’s firm is currently representing LW Systems LLC in a St. Clair County lawsuit against Christopher Hubbard.

LW Systems claims Hubbard installed malware on its computers, allowing him unauthorized access to content. It also claims that Hubbard “belongs to a community of individuals who have agreed to assist one another in gaining unauthorized access to computers and then share with one another the information stored on those systems.”

Less than two weeks after the LW Systems case was filed, Chief Judge John Baricevic signed an agreed order which has allowed LW Systems to subpoena the names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses and Media Access Control addresses from more than 300 ISPs of their subscribers who have Internet Protocol (IP) addresses listed in the subpoena.

The order says that the “personally identifying information of defendant’s alleged co-conspirators is relevant and material to this matter and there is good cause for discovery of this information.”

A hearing over motions to quash or vacate the subpoenas in that case has been set for June.

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