Libel

The Hunter Biden Laptop Repairman's Federal Libel Lawsuit Against Twitter Fizzles Quickly …

though the case can be refiled in state court.

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From Judge Beth Bloom in Mac Isaac v. Twitter, Inc., decided Monday (but docketed Tuesday), dismissing a complaint filed Monday (for more on the case, see here):

This cause is before the Court upon a sua sponte review of the record. On December 28, 2020, Plaintiff filed a Complaint for Defamation asserting a single count for libel per se and seeking damages, including punitive damages equal to $500,000,000.00. According to the Complaint, Defendant made false statements that Plaintiff is a "hacker" in reference to materials obtained by the New York Post and shared on Twitter in an exposé concerning the contents of Hunter Biden's computer hard drive. For the reasons set forth below, the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction.

"Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. They possess only that power authorized by Constitution and statute, which is not to be expanded by judicial decree." … "Indeed, it is well settled that a federal court is obligated to inquire into subject matter jurisdiction sua sponte whenever it may be lacking." "The jurisdiction of a court over the subject matter of a claim involves the court's competency to consider a given type of case and cannot be waived or otherwise conferred upon the court by the parties. Otherwise, a party could work a wrongful extension of federal jurisdiction and give courts power the Congress denied them." … Accordingly, "once a federal court determines that it is without subject matter jurisdiction, the court is powerless to continue."

The Complaint alleges that Plaintiff is a resident of Delaware and that Defendant is a Delaware corporation "with an office in Dade County, Florida." The sole basis for subject matter jurisdiction is diversity of citizenship. For a court to have diversity jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a), "all plaintiffs must be diverse from all defendants."

Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332(c), "a corporation shall be deemed a citizen of every State … by which it has been incorporated and of the State or foreign state where it has its principal place of business[.]" Thus, accepting the Complaint's allegations as true, the Complaint fails to allege complete diversity. Therefore, the Court is without subject matter jurisdiction over the instant action.

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  1. This just means the case needs to be filed in Delaware state court. Or another state court.

    1. Yep. A better headline may have been plaintiff repairman’s “federal lawsuit,” and not his “libel lawsuit.”

    2. No, what this means is that the attorney is incompetent. Really, truly, incompetent.

      For an attorney to forum shop (and seriously, why S.D. Fla.?) and then allege jurisdiction on the basis of diversity, and have the non-diverse parties ALLEGED ON THE FACE OF THE COMPLAINT, is something so mind-bogglingly stupid I am having trouble imagining a practicing attorney doing it.

      This is akin to an attorney saying, in a First Amendment or Equal Protection case, that they don’t know what strict scrutiny is. Except worse. Because CivPro is always a first year class.

      1. I’m shocked how often we have these articles about either instant dismissals for filing in the wrong court or repeated motions to move court location. Is finding the correct court so difficult that experienced attorneys file them incorrectly in such high profile cases routinely, or is it just a theatrical performance for the media?

        1. I honestly don’t know. This is pure forum shopping (since the allegation is that Twitter has an “office” in the S.D. Fla- just like every other state, I guess- the Court has a somewhat snarky footnote about this), and the Plaintiff happens to be a citizen of Delaware- you know, where most corporations, including Twitter, are incorporated.

          It would be bad enough if they didn’t know that, but to write that in the Complaint makes me wonder what they were thinking.

          “There is complete diversity because I am from Delaware and you are from Delaware …”

        2. Okay. I looked at the complaint again.

          It looks like a state court complaint (“COMES NOW …” and has a statement for damages in excess of 15,000 … which is a state court issue). The Florida attorney, who I briefly looked up, advertises that he specializes in … estate planning.

          You just can’t make this stuff up.

          1. I agree Loki on his “incompetent ” statement.

            As a CPA, I deal with a lot of estate tax attorneys. Very few will work outside their area of expertise, except for limited transactional work or the formation of entities associated with the estate planning. None of the estate attorneys that I work with would even remotely consider litigation. There is just too big of a divide in those specialties to crossover and be competent in both. The other common denominator is among most all competent attorneys is they dont cross over to areas outside their expertise, which raises the question is to how competent he is in estate planning probate work etc.

          2. The judge did them a favor dismissing it sua sponte before any opposition was filed. I’ve seen sanctions imposed for this type of mistake.

        3. Qualities high-profile plaintiffs look for in selecting an attorney:

          YES: — being a loudmouth
          — having a “name”

          NO: being careful, conscientious and hardworking

          1. captcrisis — HOW is the average citizen going to know who is (or isn’t) careful, conscientious and hardworking?

            1. The same way the “average citizen” selects a mechanic, or a doctor, or any other type of person that they rely on for specialized knowledge and skills.

              My advice to people is fairly simple- always try to get word-of-mouth recommendations. Talk to people you know. And when it comes to an attorney, trust your gut. An attorney should be able to explain things to you. They should answer your questions. They should take the time to explain things to you in a way you can understand.

              If you aren’t comfortable with you attorney, trust your gut.

              1. Red flags when meeting with an attorney you’re thinking of hiring:
                — talks more than listens
                — talks about people he knows
                — boasts about his victories
                — blusters about how he’ll win your case

              2. I’m not sure how useful that “word-of-mouth” advice is when you need a lawyer to sue someone for defamation. I don’t know a single person who has ever been in that market.

                1. So, here’s my advice. Do you have any relatives or friends that are attorneys (that are … good attorneys that you trust)?

                  If you do, ask them to get you the name of an attorney that THEY trust.

                  Extra advice- that attorney will refer you to another attorney if they can’t handle your case.

            2. P.S. This was not an “average citizen”. This is the repairman whose first step upon finding the laptop was to call Giuliani. Who I’m sure handed him off to Republican-connected lawyers who are as crackerjack as Rudy himself is.

              1. captcrisis — I believe that his first call was to the FBI — which did nothing.

                Whom should he have called then? Whom would you have called?
                Was Giuliani the first person called — or the first to answer?
                And Giuliani did take on organized crime and governmental corruption in the ’80s — whatever you may think of him now, he did do that.

                But if you’re Joe Sixpack and have already called the FBI, whom would you then call?

                1. The FBI did investigate and found nothing. Don’t you remember? It wasn’t that long ago.

                  1. No, it didn’t investigate. It took the disk and sat on it.

                    1. Not true.

                      Although by denying that there was an investigation, they did not do the favor they did Trump in late in the 2016 campaign, when they (falsely) declared they had found nothing on him (and it got put on the front page of the New York Times).

                  2. The FBI did investigate and found nothing. Don’t you remember? It wasn’t that long ago.

                    And yet your claim that his first step was to “call Giuliani” was bullshit.

                    1. Still true.

                      Giuliani admitted his job was to collect Ukrainian and Russian dirt on the Bidens. That’s why this whole episode smells funny.

                2. Why is he calling anyone?

                  He’s supposedly an IT professional, professional ethics exist, you access customer information as much as necessary to fix the problem and that’s it.

                  “Abandonment clause” be damned, customer information stays private unless you see evidence of a crime. Then you tell the authorities and that’s it.

                  If the laptop actually did belong to Hunter Biden I think he’d have a better chance of successfully suing the repair guy than the repair guy of successfully suing Twitter.

                  1. I expect he started looking through the computer for contact information after Hunter didn’t come back for his computer, found the child porn, and then called the cops.

                    1. Given there was supposedly an email client installed I’m not sure how you go “looking for contact information” and somehow end up finding kiddie porn first.

                      And really, “contact information”? Is he claiming he didn’t know who’s computer he was repairing, that he didn’t know who Hunter Biden was, or that he knew who Hunter Biden was but didn’t know how to deliver the message “you forgot to pick up your computer”.

                      Because none of those explanations sound remotely convincing.

                    2. I expect he started looking through the computer for contact information

                      Sure. When I drop things off to be repaired or cleaned I never leave my name, phone number, address, anything.

                      Hey. The shop will figure it out.

                    3. There was no “child porn.” Please stop lying.

                  2. Right you are.
                    Not ethical to share private information.
                    You need to have at least 2 cut outs, 3 is better, to distribute the info. The Democrat Party SOP is to have your attourney, hire an investigator, that inturn works through another law office to send the info to lots of media outlets as “persons close to the invesitigation tell us”

                3. Whom should he have called then? Whom would you have called?

                  Called about what? When someone leaves something with me and doesn’t pick it up even after I remind him, I (a) either shove it in the garage or basement or attic on the off chance he later comes and gets it; (b) donate it; or (c) toss it out.

        4. I think it’s more common than one might think. Here’s a recent ABA article going over some of these issues and noting one federal judge’s opinion that “noted that he has personally dismissed, remanded, or issued show cause orders in 42 civil cases in the first seven months of 2017 based on a party’s failure to plead or to properly plead subject matter jurisdiction”.

          https://www.americanbar.org/groups/litigation/committees/products-liability/practice/2017/subject-matter-jurisdiction-diversity-cross-ts-dot-is/

      2. S.D. Fla is where the gawker decision was rendered, no?

        1. No.

          That was in state court. Pinellas County.

          Don’t even get me started on that.

      3. You would be amazed at the number of truly incompetent attorneys that there are — they vastly outnumber the competent ones.

      4. something so mind-bogglingly stupid I am having trouble imagining a practicing attorney doing it.

        I not only can imagine it, but I have seen it. The number of complete dunderheads that are in legal practice is truly frightening.

        One of my former partners used to say that life is a bell-shaped curve. There are always a percentage at the bottom of the curve.

        1. You’d think the bar exam would chop most of the lower end of the bell.

        2. When I was advising students and went with them to court, I never ceased to be amazed at how truly stupid the defense attorneys were. I would say that I could do a better job drunk than any of them sober but there was one who I don’t think I ever did see sober.

    3. Indeed, and the subtitle notes this — but I like WIIIDD’s suggestion (thanks, WIIIDD!), and added “federal” to the main headline.

  2. This law suite garnered a lot of headlines so it was effective PR for the wronged plaintiff.

    The lawyer may bot be admitted in Delaware and would have had to find local counsel to file in state court.

    Next step – Refile with local counsel.
    I’m sure someone will step forward.

    1. “This law suite garnered a lot of headlines so it was effective PR for the wronged plaintiff.”

      Do you even think about what you are writing?

      This, right here – this is the problem with America. And lawsuits. Every lawsuit filed exacts costs- costs on the judicial system, costs on the litigants. The justice system isn’t for PR Stunts.

      Attorneys are supposed to do an investigation of the facts and the law prior to filing lawsuits. They are supposed to file it for meritorious reasons; it doesn’t mean that the lawsuit has to be perfect, or that they know all the facts, or that they can’t argue (in good faith) for a change in controlling law. But the attitude that you have here- “Whatever, man, it’s just PR. It’s all just a game” (similar to the “Hey, maybe we can get some cool discovery, yo!”) is such an abomination to any reasonable approximation of what the court system is supposed to be used for that it’s scary that people feel comfortable voicing it.

      It goes to the entire idea of good faith and norms. We should want and expect people to do the right thing, for the right reason. But when people are cheering on misuse of the court system for “effective PR” then we can no longer even talk about those types of social norms influencing behavior.

      The bar will never sanction an attorney for this. So at a minimum, we should recognize this as a shameful act of incompetence. The same amount of “PR” would have been generated by filing the Complaint in the correct jurisdiction.

      1. “The bar will never sanction an attorney for this.”

        You have put your finger on the problem. Most judges don’t want to be bothered with sanctions, certainly not for actions that reflect mere gross incompetence. So then you get more of that.

        I once litigated a patent case before a well respected federal judge. Other side moved for attorneys fees against us. Problem is the statute in the Patent Act is clear that only parties, not attorneys, can be socked with fees. And the Federal Circuit said so explicity a couple of times. The judge, not surprisingly, denied their motion.

        When we moved for sanctions, the judge said, there is an “alternative plausible explanation.” The attorneys were just too incompetent to do basic legal research. So no sanctions.

        The acronym for “alternative plausible explanation” is APE. Since then, we have called incompetent adversary counsel APEs inside the office.

        1. ““The bar will never sanction an attorney for this.”

          Is the problem that the only sanctions they have are harsh?

          I’d like to see merit rating, like with auto insurance. Some health plans are rating hospitals on mortality & morbidity this way — a statistical rating for every procedure. Why not a statistical rating for every attorney?

      2. How is a PR lawsuit really different from “sue & settle”?

      3. That’s pretty spot-on, loki.

        As I said in the previous thread “Like so many others recently, it’s a publicity stunt, not a serious legal question.”

        Sadly, we seem to have entered an era where good faith and norms are no longer operative.

    2. Yep. Lawyer fees may be an issue, but I can see Twitter quietly throwing money at the problem to make it go away, with an NDA.

      1. I would suggest as an opening offer:
        o a chilli-dog
        o a one year subsctiption to Highlights magazine
        o a free twitter account and
        o an 8×11 glossy photo of Ricardo Montalban

        And I would suggest the plaintiff take it, as it’s probably the best offer he’ll get.

        1. Nah, I’d suggest a few hundred thousand dollars.

          The bad press alone isn’t worth it to twitter.

          1. And it hurts them how? Assuming for the sake of the argument that the press is “bad”.

            Seems to me that the precedent of “if we take down a post and specify the policy it violated we pay out $$$$$” would be enough to make them unwilling to settle. Add in the fact that the plaintiff’s attorney is lacks even basic competency and settling for anything substantial makes no sense.

            1. “And it hurts them how? Assuming for the sake of the argument that the press is “bad”.

              Libel is bad. Even if it’s in press. Especially if its in press.

              “Seems to me that the precedent of “if we take down a post and specify the policy it violated we pay out $$$$$” would be enough to make them unwilling to settle. ”

              That’s why a strong NDA would be part of it.

              1. That’s *alleged* libel.

                And for 90 percent of people, this little blip has already been forgotten. The other ten percent have already joined Parler (and keep their twitter account to periodically announce that they’ve left twitter),

                But, if as you say this is settled with an NDA we’ll never know if the settlement is “here’s a half mil” or “go away and our legal team won’t make your life any more miserable than it already is.”

                At this point, he probably has a better case against his attorney for malpractice than he has against twitter.

    3. “This law suite garnered a lot of headlines so it was effective PR for the wronged plaintiff.”

      The plaintiff was definitely wronged. We don’t know yet whether that has anything to do with defamation, but now the plaintiff has been embarrassed by incompetent counsel.

      On the defamation side, how can a plaintiff who is purported to have been wronged by a lie, benefit from “a lot of headlines” saying that their attempt at retribution was frustrated by dismissal? I cannot imagine being a defamation plaintiff and being happy to have discussions of the defamation discussed publicly at all, much less in a way that is unflattering independent of the alleged defamation.

      Now, if you’re saying this plaintiff is better off if more people know about his alleged hacking, and that the lawsuit was really just an attention-seeking exercise, sure I guess he’s better off. But that would also tend to prove that he was unhurt by the defamation in the first place.

      How much of the $500M would you have awarded him?

      1. Whether the plaintiff was wronged on not he feels he was.

        The suit garnered enough press that at least some people will hear his side of the story, but probably not many will change their minds.

        I doubt many people will delve into or understand why the suit was dismissed.

        As for the costs imposed on others – the guy here was harassed and he had to shut his business down, what about the costs imposed on him?

        1. Agree that the plaintiff was harassed and had to shut his business down. But that was due to the NY Post identifying him and his business against his wishes, not because twitter removed the NY Post’s tweet. Recall that their #1 reason for taking down the post was that it contained his identifying information.

          IOW, he’s suing the wrong people, although he probably doesn’t have a case against the NY Post either.

          1. This plaintiff went looking for trouble, found it, and is unhappy because some people learned what a jerk he is.

            I hope he is bankrupted. The world needs Walmart greeters, too.

            1. You’re a horrible person that’s convinced he’s moral. You are a dangerous person and people should avoid you like you have herpes, AIDS, and syphilis.

  3. How common is it for judges to screen cases so quickly for jurisdictional defects? Would a normal case have sat idle until the defendant filed a motion to dismiss weeks later?

    1. Federal courts have an independent duty to scrutinize subject matter jurisdiciton. So yes, they do review it, and if there is an obvious problem, require the parties to address it.

    2. When I clerked for a Federal Judge, checking the jurisdiction was a routine part of the initial review of pleadings. I don’t recall seeing a fail that was quite this blatant, but the time frame seems about right.

  4. This smacks of “calling in a favor”….

    The court does it a few days after the filing on its own motion…? Yeah right….

    1. The court being blindingly correct on the law is just proof of how deep the conspiracy goes, eh?

      1. Exactly. If the judge wasn’t part of the deep state conspiracy she would have agreed to hear a case over which her court had no jurisdiction. It’s obvious once you stop to think about it.

      2. No one ever said calling in a favor had to involve illegal subterfuge…

        1. Jimmy,
          Pro tip: When you’re in a hole, just stop digging.

          Or you could have the integrity to just write, “Oops. My bad. I was wrong about this one thing.” Not only will no one think worse of you for doing this, other people’s impression of you will only become more favorable. (I’ve never understood why so many people become emotionally invested in refusing to admit simple mistakes. This pre-dates Trump, so at least we can’t blame it on him . . . although he has raised refusal-to-admit-mistakes to an art form.)

    2. The judge’s clerk probably read the pleading and flagged it for the judge as part of routine case intake.

      This is mind-bogglingly routine stuff, not evidence of some awful shenanigans’n’conspiracies.

      1. “Mind-bogglingly routine . . .”

        Only if you have a mind to be boggled.

        Take Jimmy the Dane, for example . . .

  5. Is this guy worried about suing in Delaware court? Is Delaware Biden country? I don’t really know anything about Delaware so I don’t profess to know.

    1. I grew up in Delaware. We were all Republicans back then, except for the southern rural counties where few people lived. Joe surprised us by winning the Senate seat at the age of 29 while Nixon carried the state by 10%.

      Now it’s flipped and the south is a GOP bastion, while the urban & suburban north (Wilmington and suburbs) is heavily blue. If it gets to that, expect an educated, sophisticated jury pool which would not bode well for the plaintiff. But it won’t get that far.

      NB – I haven’t lived there for over 35 years and have no connections to the legal system there.

    2. Cal, does a bear have hair? Does a big wheel roll?

      1. Well, did the bear get shaved while hibernating? (perhaps as an illegal fraternity initiation ritual)

  6. $500 million? $500,000,000? Fooey.

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