On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Warren County, Docket No. L-446-10.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Fisher, P.J.A.D.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Fisher, Waugh and St. John.
The opinion of the court was delivered by FISHER, P.J.A.D.
In this interlocutory appeal, we review a trial court order that quashed a subpoena, served by plaintiffs on an Internet Service Provider (ISP), seeking information about the identity of one or more individuals who hacked into plaintiff Warren Hospital's intranet and circulated defamatory messages to the hospital's employees. We conclude that the trial judge erred in protecting the anonymity of the alleged hackers by strictly applying the procedures we outlined in Dendrite Int'l, Inc. v. Doe No. 3, 342 N.J. Super. 134 (App. Div. 2001).
Plaintiffs allege that, on August 17, 2008, John Doe One, an anonymous hacker using IP address 75.126.xx.yyy,*fn1 accessed Warren Hospital's website and unlawfully and without permission logged onto the hospital's secure mailbox. John Doe One then composed and sent to all hospital employees an email with a link to a youtube video; both the emailed message and the linked video compared one of the individual plaintiffs to Adolf Hitler and other dictators. The same day, the hospital intranet was invaded by someone using a different IP address, 70.21.xxx.yy. Plaintiffs also allege that, on October 19, 2009, John Doe Two, an anonymous hacker using the IP address 72.94.xxx.yyy, accessed the hospital's website and unlawfully and without permission logged onto an employee's mailbox. John Doe Two then composed and sent an email to all hospital employees accusing more than one of the individual plaintiffs of sexual misconduct and other wrongdoing.*fn2
Plaintiffs claim these statements are defamatory or otherwise tortious. In seeking redress for the alleged injuries to their reputations, plaintiffs commenced this action on September 1, 2010, and amended their complaint two days later; the amended complaint alleges the utterance by anonymous speakers of many other defamatory or tortuous statements. To obtain information about the true identity of the fictitious defendants, plaintiffs served subpoenas on four ISPs.
Current counsel for one or more anonymous but unidentified respondents*fn3 was given notice of the subpoenas and moved to quash. By the time the motion was heard, only the subpoena served on one of the ISPs, Verizon Communications, remained active. On February 27, 2012, the trial judge granted the motion to quash for reasons ...