Ohio Supreme Court rules against Cincinnati police officer

Court ruled 6-0 against officer
Ohio Supreme Court hears appeal involving Cincinnati officer's social media lawsuit
Posted at 11:17 AM, Feb 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-18 11:17:23-05

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Ohio Supreme Court ruled that a Cincinnati police officer cannot conceal his identity under a pseudonym while he sues protesters for claiming he's a white supremacist.

The Court ruled 6-0 against the officer, who was identified as M.R. during the case and in his suit against protesters. Justice Melody Stewart, who wrote the opinion for the court majority, said M.R. failed to make a case that he was in danger if he were to pursue his suit under his real identity. Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor and justices Pat Fischer, Pat DeWine, Michael Donnelly and Jennifer Brunner joined Stewart's opinion. Justice Sharon Kennedy concurred in judgment only.

M.R. was working crowd control at a 2020 Cincinnati City Council meeting. According to the court, he alleged he was in a hallway occupied by a crowd chanting, "defund the police." He said he made an "OK" hand gesture to someone who asked him about the status of another officer who had just left the area. Some in the crowd interpreted the gesture as a white-supremacy hand signal. The next day, M.R. noted several derogatory comments about him on social media and that two people filed complaints about his conduct with the Cincinnati Citizen Complaint Authority. A month after the social media postings, M.R. filed a lawsuit against those who commented about him on social media and had submitted complaints. Hamilton County Judge Megan Shanahan granted his request to pursue the lawsuit under a pseudonym after he made the request and blocked public view of his sealed affidavit.

"M.R. asked to remain anonymous based on his concern that someone had threatened to publish his personal information," Stewart wrote. "Judge Shanahan found that this threat was real and could lead to an act of violence against M.R. or his family. But this potential threat against M.R. was insufficient to justify his use of a pseudonym. A plaintiff seeking to proceed anonymously for fear of retaliation must show that the filing of the lawsuit causes a risk of retaliation. Moreover, M.R. did not show that the threat of his name, address and phone numbers being published was the sort of threat that could justify the use of a pseudonym."

The court said the Federal Ninth Circuit had identified three factors that should be considered when a plaintiff alleges that the use of a pseudonym is necessary to protect against a threat of retaliation:
1. the severity of the threat of harm,
2. the reasonableness of the anonymous party's fears and
3. the anonymous party's vulnerability to such retaliation.

It said the threat of having their name, address, phone numbers released, "though potentially offensive and disagreeable," does not create an inherent risk of injury to that person.

The court granted the requests of the Cincinnati Enquirer and UCLA law professor Eugene Volkh to make M.R.'s information available immediately.

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