1. (250+ words, 1 reputable source)
Immunomedics was alerted that there was some negative buzz about the company in a chat room. The poster used a pseudonym, and therefore the company was unable to identify the poster for lawsuit purposes. The only information the company could ascertain was the poster’s ISP. So the company decided to subpoena the ISP for identity information of the poster in order to file suit against the poster. How should the courts handle these cases, where the company’s complaints may, or may not rise to the level of an actionable legal claim? (Hint: Read the case Intel v. Hamidi – SEE BELOW)
2. (250+ words, 1 reputable source)
On Question #5 (please see page 3) answer the following questions: Should Craigslist be subject to liability for FHA violations? Why or why not? Cite appropriate legal principles when explaining your answer.
CASE INTEL v. HAMIDI
Kourosh Kenneth Hamidi, a former Intel engineer, formed an organization named FACE-Intel (Former and Current Employees of Intel). Its purpose is to disseminate information and views critical of Intel’s employment and personnel policies and practices. FACE-Intel maintained a website, and through it, Hamidi send six emails to Intel employees (as many as 35,000), criticizing Intel’s employment practices.
Intel attempted to block internal transmission of the messages, but only partly succeeded. (Hamidi evaded blocking efforts by using different sending computers.) Intel demanded that Hamidi stop sending emails; but Hamidi asserted the organization had a right to communicate with willing Intel employees. He offered to, and did remove from his mailing list any recipient who so wished. Hamidi breached no computer security barriers in order to send the emails. Hamidi’s communications to Intel employees caused neither physical damage nor functional disruption, nor did they deprive Intel use of its computers. The contents of the messages, however, caused discussion among Intel employees and managers.
Intel filed suit against Hamidi based on the theories of trespass and nuisance. Intel sought damages as well as an injunction against further email messages.
JUDICIAL OPINION: JUDGE WERDEGAR
To be actionable, the defendant’s interference must have caused some injury to the chattel [thing], or to the plaintiff’s right in it. Under California law, trespass to chattels lies where an intentional interference with the possession of personal property has proximately caused injury. The [law] makes clear that some actual injury must have occurred in order for a trespass to chattels to be actionable. [For example] dispossession alone … is actionable [which was not the case here], but other lesser forms of interference require some additional harm to the personal property, or to the possessor’s interest in it.
The dispositive issue in this case, therefore, is whether the … facts demonstrate Hamidi’s actions caused or threatened to cause damage to Intel’s computer system, or injury to its rights in that personal property, such as to entitle Intel to judgment. Intel contends that, while its computers were not damaged by receiving Hamidi’s messages, its interest in the physical condition, quality or value of the computers was harmed. We disagree. Rather, the decisions [that have found] trespass to computer systems have generally involved some actual or threatened interference with the computers’ functioning. [The Court notes that Intel does not claim the type of impact that spammers and robots have been alleged to cause.] Though Hamidi sent thousands of copies of the same message, that number is miniscule compared to the amounts of mail send by commercial operations.
[Furthermore] Intel alleges that its workers were distracted from their work … because of assertions and opinions the messages conveyed. Intel’s complaint in this respect is thus about the contents of the messages rather than the functioning of the company’s email system. This theory of “impairment by content” threatens to stretch trespass law to cover injuries far afield from the harms to possession the tort theory evolved to protect. Whatever interest Intel may have in preventing its employees from receiving disruptive communications, it is not an interest in personal property, and trespass to chattels is therefore not an action that will lie to protect it.
Intel connected its email system to the internet and permitted its employees to make use of this connection both for business and, to a reasonable extent, for their own purposes. In doing so, the company necessarily contemplated the employees’ receipt of unsolicited as well as solicited communications from other companies and individuals. That some communications would, because of their contents, be unwelcome to Intel management was virtually inevitable. Hamidi did nothing but use the email system for its intended purpose—to communicate with employees. We conclude, therefore, that Intel has not presented undisputed facts demonstrating an injury to its personal property, or to its legal interest in that property, that support, under California tort law, an action for trespass to chattels. No such injury having been shown on the undisputed facts, Intel was not entitled to summary judgment in its favor. The judgment of the Court of Appeal is reversed.
DISSENT: JUDGE BROWN
Intel Corp. has invested millions of dollars to develop and maintain a computer system. It did this not to act as a public forum, but to enhance the productivity of its employees. Intel had the right to exclude the unwanted speaker from its property. Hamidi sent as many as 200,000 email messages to Intel employees. The time required to review and delete Hamidi’s messages diverted employees from productive tasks and undermined the utility of the system. The majority misses the point that Intel’s objection is directed not toward Hamidi’s message but his use of Intel’s property to display his message. Intel has not sought to prevent Hamidi from expressing his ideas on his web site … or through paper or electronic mail to employees’ homes, or through other means like picketing or billboards. But as counsel for Intel explained … the company objects to Hamidi’s using Intel’s property to advance his message. Because I do not share the majority’s antipathy toward property rights and believe the proper balance between expressive activity and property protection can be achieved without distorting the law of trespass, I respectfully dissent.
Users of the popular Internet website Craigslist are able to post advertisements for housing that permit statements regarding the preference, limitation, or discrimination of others based on race, religion, sex, or family status. The Fair Housing Act (FHA), however, prohibits making, printing, or publishing a notice, statement, or advertisement for sale or rental of dwellings indicating preference, limitation, or discrimination based on protected classes. As such, Chicago Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Inc. brought suit against Craigslist alleging a violation of the FHA. In defense, Craigslist claimed that it was immune from liability based on Section 230(c)(1) of the CDA, which protects interactive computer services from liability for unlawful third-party content. Should Craigslist be subject to liability for FHA violations? Why or why not? Cite to appropriate legal principles when explaining your answer.
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