The National Law Journal reported yesterday that a U.S. District Court is allowing Anthony Ciolli, former Chief Education Director for AutoAdmit, to move ahead with his lawsuit against Stanford Law Professor Mark Lemley and others for wrongful initiation of civil proceedings, abuse of process, libel, and a host of other claims.
Professor Lemley was a member of the legal team for Heide Iravani and Brittan Heller, two Yale Law students who sued Mr. Ciolli and others for statements made on AutoAdmit.com. …
Nobody really understood why Mr. Ciolli was named in the suit, because he didn’t actually write anything on the site and, as an administrator, he was protected from liability by statute. Regardless, Mr. Ciolli’s post-graduation offer was rescinded by his law firm due to his association with AutoAdmit and the lawsuit.
Mark Lemley got involved with this case, in my opinion, because he is a progressive, good-hearted, moral and generous person. He and Heide Iravani and Brittan Heller were brave enough to take on AutoAdmit because they are trying to change the law. Agree or disagree with their methods or even their goals as you will, but it’s obviously not a project that is likely to benefit any of them personally. Quite the contrary, as the post linked and excerpted above indicates.
I’m not involved in the litigation at all, in any way, but it seems pretty obvious to me why Anthony Ciolli was named in the original law suit. ISP immunity under Section 230 does not apply to the authors of contested material. Ciolli was clearly posting comments at the AutoAdmit discussion board under at least one pseudonym, “Great Teacher Onizuka.” The plaintiffs had every reason to suspect that he was posting under others as well, and that he could have been personally responsible (and liable) for some of the actionable material. They could not rule him out without conducting discovery in the context of litigation, and they could not do a thorough investigation of the matter unless Ciolli was a named party. Once the plaintiffs knew either that Ciolli was not a bad actor or that they would be unable to prove that he was a bad actor, they dismissed him. Any competent lawyer would have done the same thing. This is Civil Procedure 101.
For background on the AutoAdmit case, go here. Note also that the National Law Journal article referenced in the excerpted post above is quite misleading. The judge did not reject Lemley’s personal jurisdiction argument; he said he was inclined to grant the motion but gave Ciolli 30 days to conduct further discovery if he wished. And he dismissed one of the two Ciolli causes of action (abuse of process) on the merits. See for yourself here.
My theory on why Ciolli is suing Lemley and the plaintiffs? To scare away other potential plaintiffs, and to discourage other lawyers from representing them.