The Legal Beat
Taking A Stand: Tiffany Dehen’s $100 Million Lawsuit Against Twitter And Her Law School
Posted on Tuesday June 20, 2017
Tiffany Dehen is not your typical millennial. She put herself through law school, recently graduating from the University of San Diego School of Law. She has worked since the age of 16 and has been self-sufficient since the age of 21. And when she got out of law school, she sued her school and Twitter for $100 million.
The crux of her First Amended Complaint is as follows: While attending USD Law, she was the subject of harassment. USD offers a written promise to the students, who pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to attend, that they will actively protect students from harassment. Dehen alleges they failed to do this, but did not fail to take her money. The actual school policy is below, as stated in the First Amended Complaint:
The harassment at school led to a fellow classmate creating a twitter account @tiffanydehen that was used to defame Dehen by calling her a Nazi and a member of the KKK, making jokes about violence to animals, and referencing her chastity, among other things. She reported it to Twitter, which has a policy to protect users from harassment. Here is Twitter’s policy per the First Amended Complaint:
Twitter, which was the only party in a position to take the account down, responded by saying that the fake account was okay because it was just a parody, and that they would send a message to the account owner of @tiffanydehen “with instructions on how to comply with [Twitter’s] policy” for impersonation accounts, and that Dehen could make another complaint in 48 hours, but Twitter would do nothing else unless and until she filed another complaint.
[UPDATE (6/22/2017, 2:45 p.m.): A clarification from Dehen: “My claim against Twitter is really more that Twitter promised to review the alleged impersonating accounts upon receipt of an impersonation report, but then once I submitted the impersonation report, Twitter asked for additional information before reviewing the report. So basically Twitter fraudulently misrepresented their policy for investigating impersonation reports.”]
The bulk of the causes of action are against the John Doe owner of the Twitter handle, but she claims Twitter and USD are also liable for her damages by failing to enforce the policies they promise to their consumers.
Since filing her lawsuit, there have been a flurry of news articles across the country about her case. I recently had the opportunity to speak with Tiffany Dehen about her case and about what led up to the filing of the lawsuit.
JB: Why did you file this lawsuit?
TD: I would like to see Twitter change the way they do things and be accountable for their actions. I would like USD to protect their students. They chose to not enforce their policies and represent to their consumers that they would.
JB: What are your thoughts about parody accounts?
TD: In general, I think parody accounts are okay. I think parody needs to be protected by the First Amendment, and that’s why I feel so strongly about my case. You can say something is parody all you want. This was not a parody.
[Commentary: This brings up an interesting legal argument about what is a parody and whether something is a parody just because you label it a parody. Weird Al can parody Michael Jackson by closely imitating his style with exaggeration for comic effect. But would it be a parody of Michael Jackson if he created a Twitter account and called Michael Jackson a Nazi and a member of the KKK and made jokes about how Michael Jackson likes to harm animals? Would laws that protect parody protect that?]
JB: Were you a vocal Trump supporter at school? Would you show up to class with Trump campaign gear?
TD: I was a vocal Trump supporter ever since he announced his candidacy in 2015. I am certain I was targeted due to my political views. But, I never wore any Trump stuff to school. My classmates could see my posts on social media supporting Trump, though.
JB: How has the harassment affected you personally?
TD: When something is on the Internet, it stays there forever. My grandfather actually fought the National Socialist German Workers’ Party in World War II. He was awarded a citation from Yom H’ashowa Holocaust Remembrance for his role in the liberation of Nazi concentration camps. Additionally, I used to be a camp counselor at the Jewish Community Center in Tucson, Arizona when I was younger.
JB: What area of law do you want to practice in? I see you have a dual concentration in IP and Business/corporate law, but also worked in a tax clinic. Are you leaning towards any particular direction?
TD: I earned a dual concentration at USD Law in Intellectual Property Law and Business and Corporate Law because I really enjoyed my intellectual property classes, particularly copyright and trademark law. I have a BS in Marketing, a minor in Mass Communications, and the International Business Certificate offered by W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, so I felt concentrating in business and corporate law would complement my undergraduate degree well. Additionally, some of the classes overlapped in law school. I think my favorite class was antitrust law.
JB: What is the main message that you want people to understand from this case?
TD: I want to be able to protect free speech, but I want people to be able to see that this is not okay. I want people to not be afraid to take a stand. I know I’m not the only person who has had this happen, and I want others to not be afraid to speak up when it happens to them. There is a reason America has prospered since 1776. I want to help give people the courage to stand up.
USD has retained Paul Plevin Sullivan & Connaughton LLP (counsel that defended Thomas Jefferson in the lawsuit brought by Anna Alaburda), and the case is being handled by partner Joanne Alnajjar Buser. Twitter has retained Perkins Coie LLP, and the case is being handled by partner Julie E. Schwartz. Twitter and USD have just recently been served and have not yet filed responsive pleadings.
Jeff Bennion is a solo practitioner at the Law Office of Jeff Bennion. He serves as a member of the Board of Directors of San Diego’s plaintiffs’ trial lawyers association, Consumer Attorneys of San Diego. He is also the Education Chair and Executive Committee member of the State Bar of California’s Law Practice Management and Technology section. He is a member of the Advisory Council and instructor at UCSD’s Litigation Technology Management program. His opinions are his own. Follow him on Twitter here or on Facebook here, or contact him by email at [email protected].