A New Jersey appeals court held April 5 that a hospital could subpoena Verizon Communications for information on the identity of individuals who allegedly hacked into the hospital’s website and emailed defamatory messages to the hospital’s employees. Plaintiffs brought the defamation action against two unidentified individuals who allegedly accessed Warren Hospital’s website and unlawfully logged onto the hospital’s secure mailbox to distribute the messages. Plaintiffs served a subpoena on Internet service provider Verizon. The trial judge granted a motion to squash the subpoena, but the New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division, reversed, noting what the unidentified individuals did electronically was no different “than if they had broken into the hospital and spray painted their messages on the hospital’s walls.” The appeals court contrasted the case from the more stringent review that would apply to preserving the anonymity of individuals posting statements on public Internet message boards. Here, it was enough that the hospital demonstrated the speakers’ unlawful or impermissible mode of communication and that the allegedly defamatory statements would survive a motion to dismiss because they tended to “lower[] the defamed person in the estimation of the community or deter[] third parties from dealing with that person.”

The case is Warren Hosp. v. John Does, No. A-41110-11T4 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. Apr. 5, 2013).