Judge Buchwald: Trump Can’t Block Twitter Users Under First Amendment

In an opinion yesterday, Judge Buchwald found that President Trump’s practice of blocking users on Twitter (typically after they post a comment critical of the President) violates the First Amendment. The plaintiffs (who included individual users as well as the Knight First Amendment Institute) claimed that preventing them from viewing comments, replying to tweets, and participating in comment threads denies access to an important public forum in the 21st century (see our initial coverage here).

After finding that the plaintiffs had standing, Judge Buchwald determined that the President’s Twitter account was appropriately analyzed as a public forum.  Judge Buchwald reasoned that the account is subject to government control for First Amendment purposes in part because President Trump has used the account “to take actions that can be taken only by the President as President.”  Judge Buchwald then determined that the President may not block users on Twitter based on their political views.  In doing so, she emphasized that blocking users goes further than merely “muting” them, insofar as blocking actually limits the blocked user’s “right to speak”: Continue Reading

Judge Engelmayer Rejects Claim That “Diet” Label on Soda Implies Weight Loss

In an opinion Thursday, Judge Engelmayer dismissed claims by plaintiffs who alleged that they were defrauded into buying Diet Pepsi because they thought that the word “Diet” implied it would help with weight loss.  He found that, in context, the plaintiffs’ alleged inference was not a reasonable one, since the term “Diet” refers to the beverage’s attributes as compared to regular Pepsi:

“Diet” immediately precedes “Pepsi,” and thereby connotes a relative health claim—that Diet Pepsi assists in weight management relative to regular Pepsi. While neither the [complaint] nor plaintiffs’ brief in opposition so much as mentions regular Pepsi, reading “Diet Pepsi” without reference to Pepsi deprives the term “Diet” of its essential referent.  The [complaint] does not dispute that Diet Pepsi assists in weight management relative to regular Pepsi. On this basis alone, plaintiffs cannot maintain a claim that reasonable consumers have been deceived by the term “Diet Pepsi.”

Second, even if the word “diet” may sometimes identify weight-loss products (as in “diet pills” or other products available in a pharmaceutical aisle), in the context of soft drinks, the term unambiguously signals reduced calorie content relative to the non-diet version of the drink in question.  Dictionary definitions specifically defining “diet” in the context of soft drinks confirms this.

Judge Sweet Rejects Shareholder Derivative Settlement With Hollow Governance Reforms

In an opinion Thursday, Judge Sweet rejected a proposed settlement of a shareholder derivative case because the consideration for the settlement consisted of three corporate governance reforms that were all but meaningless, such as a commitment to vague and unspecified “training” and a commitment to maintain the same ethics code that existed all along and that apparently didn’t help prevent the underlying wrongdoing: Continue Reading

Magistrate Judge Aaron: Producers of “To Kill a Mockingbird” Have Two Weeks to Put on a Show

On Monday, Magistrate Judge Aaron ordered that the producers of To Kill a Mockingbird must film a performance of their play no later than May 15 as part of expedited discovery in their dispute with the estate of novelist Harper Lee.  The producers are seeking a judicial declaration that the play (with a script written by Aaron Sorkin) is consistent with a written agreement to the rights to the play for just these purposes (see our previous coverage here).

Judge Torres has set a June 4 trial date – less than two months after the complaint was filed.

Judge Oetken: Genderqueer Plaintiff Cannot Sue Under Pseudonym

In an opinion last week, Judge Oetken denied a motion by a plaintiff, who identifies as genderqueer and who accuses the defendants of employment discrimination, to sue under a pseudonym.  The decision was largely based on the fact that the plaintiff had already been identified in a news article, but Judge Oetken also noted the “imbalance” that occurs when only one side to a lawsuit is named:

At bottom, Plaintiff wants what most employment-discrimination plaintiffs would like: to sue their former employer without future employers knowing about it. But while that desire is understandable, our system of dispute resolution does not allow it. Defendants—including two individuals—stand publicly accused of discrimination and harassment, including detailed allegations of misconduct. Defendants do not have the option of proceeding pseudonymously. Allowing Plaintiff to proceed anonymously would put Defendants at a genuine disadvantage, particularly when it comes to settlement leverage. Courts allow such an imbalance only in unique circumstances, and Plaintiff has not shown that this is one of those special cases.

The case is also notable because, as Alison Frankel points out here, Judge Oetken referred to the plaintiff via the plural pronoun “they,” as the plaintiff preferred.

Democratic National Committee Sues Russia and Trump Officials Over Hacking

The complaint, filed today, alleges a broad conspiracy to benefit Donald Trump’s candidacy:

Russian agents made clear that their government supported Trump and was prepared to use stolen emails and other information to damages his opponent and the Democratic party.

Rather than report these repeated messages that Russia intended to interfere with U.S. elections, the Trump Campaign and its agents gleefully welcomed Russia’s help.  Indeed, the Trump Campaign solicited Russia’s illegal assistance, and maintained secret communications with individual tied to the Russian government, including one of the intelligence agencies responsible for attacking the DNC.

Through these communications, the Trump campaign, Trump’s closes advisers and Russian agents formed an agreement to promote Donald Trump’s candidacy through illegal means.  Russian agents trespassed onto the DNC’s computer networks in the United States, as well as other email accounts, collected trade secrets and other private data, and then transmitted the data to Defendant WikiLeaks, whose founder, Julian Assange, shared the defendants’ common goal of damaging the Democratic party in advance of the election.

A judge has not yet been assigned.

Broadway Producers Offer to Perform “To Kill a Mockingbird” in Court to Prove Faithfulness to Novel

In a complaint filed Monday, the producers of a forthcoming Broadway version of To Kill a Mockingbird, with a script written by Aaron Sorkin, are seeking a judicial declaration that the play is consistent with a written agreement to the rights to the play for just these purposes.  An alleged representative of Harper Lee’s estate has objected to the script as unfaithful to the novel.  The complaint makes an unusual offer to prove that this is not so:

Because the “Play” is defined in the Agreement as the “live stage” adaptation of the Novel, and not merely the script therefore, resolution of [plaintiff’s] declaratory judgment action will require the Court to view the Play itself, and not simply read the script. In order to facilitate a speedy resolution, [plaintiff] is willing to arrange for an immediate performance of the Play, by its full cast, for the Court’s benefit in this Courthouse. Upon seeing the Play, it will be apparent that the Play does not impermissibly depart from the spirit of the Novel or alter its characters in any way . . . .

The case is before Judge Torres.

More from the NY Times here.

See here for prior coverage of another SDNY case involving To Kill a Mockingbird