ONLINE GROUP ADMIN NOT LIABLE FOR MEMBER’S STATEMENTS
Plaintiff: Ashish Bhalla
Respondent: Suresh Chawdhary & Ors.
CS (OS) No.188/2016
High Court of Delhi at New Delhi
Rajiv Sahai Endlaw
I. Facts of the case:
The petitioner had sought damages against the administrator of a Telegram and Google group on which the allegedly defamatory statements were made. The plaintiff in this, suits for permanent injunction and damages qua defamation which states that the plaintiff has settled with the defendant, Spire Woods Buyers Association and withdraws the suit against them. The defendant Mr. Rajesh Bhagat has filed for deletion of his name from the array of defendants. The counsel for the plaintiff states that the defendant Mr. Rajesh Bhagat was also mistakenly impleaded. He drops defendant Mr. Rajesh Bhagat also from the array of defendants. After some hearing the counsel for the plaintiff gives up defendant no.6 as well. However, the counsel for the plaintiff has been asked to show the defamatory statements attributable to the defendants Mr. Suresh Chawdhary and Mr. Vishal Dubey. The counsel for the plaintiff at the outset states that defamatory statements attributed to them are contained in the documents. However, in a suit for damages for defamatory, the defamatory words uttered or written are required to be pleaded and if the plaintiff has not pleaded the same, the plaintiff cannot rely on the documents. It is also not as if the plaintiff in the plaint has not pleaded the defamatory words as large parts of the plaint are found to contain allegedly defamatory words that are attributed to the other defendants. With respect to defendant, Mr. Vishal Dubey it is stated that he is the Administrator of a Telegram and Google Group on which the allegedly defamatory statements were made. The statement attributed to the defendant Mr. Suresh Chawdhary is not found to be defamatory at all; rather the said statement is found to be complimentary to the plaintiff Mr. Ashish Bhalla in as much as the defendant, Mr. Suresh Chawdhary has described him as the “prominent person” and “one with resources who can build this project”. On enquiry, the counsel for the plaintiff states that the project referred to is a housing project.
II. Court’s Observation:
Supreme Court opined that there was no valid case because of the absence of substantive subject-matter and cause of action. Court looked at the relevant sections and held that in a suit of defamation, the defamatory words uttered or written are required to be pleaded and if the plaintiff has not pleaded the same, the plaintiff cannot rely on the documents. The document which was produced by the petitioner did not qualify to be defamatory rather than it was found to be complimentary statement which does not amount to defamation. Hence the Court relied upon the facts and evidence produced by the party and found nothing derogatory and defamatory against the defendant and ordered that the plaint does not disclose any cause of action against the defendants and therefore rejected the plea by the petitioner.
When the statement attributed to the defendant no.1 is per se not found to be defamatory, the question of keeping the suit pending against him does not arise.
Similarly, the court questioned that how can the Administrator of a Group be held liable for defamation even if any, by the statements made by a member of the Group. To make an Administrator of an online platform liable for defamation would be like making the manufacturer of the newsprint on which defamatory statements are published liable for defamation. When an online platform is created, the creator thereof cannot expect any of the members thereof to indulge in defamation and defamatory statements made by any member of the group cannot make the Administrator liable therefor. It is not as if without the Administrator’s approval of each of the statements, the statements cannot be posted by any of the members of the Group on the said platform. The counsel for the plaintiff states that the Administrator has power to add or remove people from the group/platform as well as to filter. However, that is not the pleaded case of the plaintiff. Thus, without going into the application, the plaint does not disclose any cause of action against the defendants no.1&3 and the plaint against the defendants no.1&3 is rejected.