United States District Court, District of Columbia
ROSEMARY M. COLLYER United States District Judge
Comcast Cable Communications, LLC, brought this suit seeking
a declaratory judgment to determine its obligation to comply
with a foreign discovery order. Comcast was served by
Defendant Issam Hourani, who is a citizen of the United
Kingdom and a claimant in a U.K. defamation suit, with an
order from a U.K. court requiring disclosure of the name and
address of the Comcast customer who used a particular
Internet Protocol (IP) address on specific dates in 2015 or
later. Mr. Hourani believes that the subscriber used the IP
address to defame him through internet postings. Under the
Communications Act, 47 U.S.C. § 551(c), Comcast may only
disclose the information sought if so ordered by a U.S. court
through the procedure provided in 28 U.S.C. § 1782.
Thus, Comcast filed this suit seeking a judgment declaring
whether the U.K. discovery order is enforceable against
Comcast. The subscriber, proceeding as John Doe, objected to
enforcement of the U.K. discovery order. As explained below,
the Court will enter a declaratory judgment finding that
Comcast need not comply with the U.K. order without a §
1782 order and that a § 1782 order will not be issued.
Hourani filed suit in London against PsyberSolutions LLC, its
Chief Executive Officer Allison Blair, Alistair Thomson, and
Bryan McCarthy alleging that they operated a
“Campaign” to assassinate his character,
portraying Mr. Hourani as a criminal involved in the
abduction, false imprisonment, torture, drugging, rape, and
murder of Anastasya Novikova, in Beirut, Lebanon in 2004.
Hourani v. Thomson, Claim No. H14 D 05164, U.K.
Compl., dated Dec 10, 2014 [Dkt. 3]. In the U.K. Complaint,
Mr. Hourani alleges that (1) the defendants established
websites, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, and a YouTube
channel on which they published words and images defaming Mr.
Hourani by falsely connecting him to Ms. Novikova’s
murder; (2) the defendants organized a vigil outside Issam
Hourani’s London home on June 19, 2014, and a
demonstration in Hyde Park and outside the Lebanese Embassy
in London on November 16, 2014 (collectively, the
Demonstrations) to commemorate the tenth anniversary of Ms.
Novikova’s death; and (3) the defendants videotaped the
Demonstrations and posted the videos on the Internet. U.K.
Compl. at 2-19. The last of the alleged defamatory statements
was posted online on December 12, 2104. Id. at 8.
Mr. Hourani contends that this course of conduct, including
the publication of defamatory statements, constituted
defamation and harassment in violation of a British statute,
“section 1(1) of the Protection from Harassment Act of
1997.” Id. at 2, 26.
U.K. Complaint is substantially similar to the complaint
filed here by Issam Hourani’s brother, Devincci
Hourani. See Hourani v. PsyberSolutions, 15-cv-933
(RMC) (Compl. filed June 15, 2015). This Court recently
dismissed Devincci Hourani’s case because, among other
things, he failed to allege malice as required in a
defamation case where a limited-purpose public figure is a
plaintiff. See id., Op. (Feb. 18, 2016); Order (Feb.
On August 19, 2015, the U.K. court ordered Comcast to
disclose to Issam Hourani:
(a) the name and address of the user(s) of IP address
220.127.116.11 between 23 May 2015 and 23 July 2015
or the earliest possible time after these dates; and
(b) any other recorded information, including billing
information, that may assist in determining the IP address
user, to the extent such information is available.
U.K. Order [Dkt. 3] at 1-2 (emphasis added). The U.K. Order
further provided that Mr. Hourani may use the information
produced “for the purpose of bringing proceedings for
defamation and/or harassment and/or other civil proceedings
against any individual or other entity thereby identified
and/or assisting the Claimant to establish the extent of the
involvement of those identified in the matters complained of
in the present action.” Id. at 2. Mr. Hourani
believes that the subscriber who used the identified IP
address is a person who was “hired to stage fake
performances to defame and cause harm to defendant and [to]
film the performances to be uploaded onto websites and social
media sites for dissemination on the internet.” Def.
Mem.[Dkt. 17-5] at 2.
Hourani served Comcast with the U.K. Order. Comcast did not
comply and counsel for Mr. Hourani threatened to pursue legal
remedies against Comcast. Compl. [Dkt. 1] ¶ 2. Comcast
notified the subscriber shown by Comcast’s records to
be the user of the IP address at the relevant times, and the
subscriber indicated that it did not consent to disclosure of
any of its identifying information. Id. ¶ 3.
The subscriber threatened to file suit against Comcast under
the cable privacy provision of the Communications Act, 47
U.S.C. §551(f), if Comcast disclosed the
subscriber’s identity. Id. As a result,
Comcast filed this declaratory judgment action to determine
its obligation under the U.K. Order. Comcast seeks a
declaratory judgment indicating whether or not the U.K. Order
is enforceable against it under 28 U.S.C. § 1782 and 47
U.S.C. § 551(c).
and Mr. Hourani filed cross motions for judgment on the
pleadings. See Def. Mot. [Dkt. 17]; Pl. Opp’n
[Dkt. 18]; Pl. Cross Mot. [Dkt. 19]; Def. Opp’n [Dkt.
20]; Pl. Reply [Dkt. 21]. The parties agreed that the Court
should enter judgment on the pleadings, but they disagreed
regarding whether the subscriber should receive
pre-disclosure notice and an opportunity to be heard. Def.
Opp’n at 2; Pl. Reply at 1. On February 23, 2016, the
Court entered judgment in favor of Comcast and granted the
petition for an order under 28 U.S.C. § 1782--on the
condition that Comcast would serve the subscriber and
providing that the subscriber had 21 days to object
anonymously to the release of its identifying information.
See Op. [Dkt. 23]; Order [Dkt. 24]. The subscriber,
proceeding anonymously through counsel as “John Doe,
” timely filed an objection seeking to vacate the
Opinion and Order. See Obj. [Dkt.27]. Mr. Hourani
opposed. See Opp’n to Doe Obj. [Dkt. 28]. As
explained below, with the benefit of these recent filings,
the Court resolves this case anew.
Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) permits a party to file a
motion for judgment on the pleadings after the pleadings are
closed but early enough not to delay trial. Fed.R.Civ.P.
12(c). The standard of review on a motion for judgment on the
pleadings is virtually identical to the standard for a motion
under Rule 12(b)(6). United Parcel Service, Inc. v.
Int’l Bhd. of Teamsters, AFL-CIO, 859 F.Supp. 590,
592, n.1 (D.D.C. 1994). A complaint must be sufficient
“to give a defendant fair notice of what the . . .
claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Bell
Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)
(internal citations omitted). To survive a motion to dismiss
or a motion for judgment on the pleadings, a complaint must
contain sufficient factual matter to state a claim for relief
that is “plausible on its face.” See
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570.
must treat the complaint’s factual allegations as true,
“even if doubtful in fact.” Twombly, 550
U.S. at 555. A court need not accept as true legal
conclusions set forth in a complaint. Ashcroft v.
Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009). In deciding a motion
under Rule 12(b)(6), a court may consider the facts alleged
in the complaint, documents attached to the complaint as
exhibits or incorporated by reference, and matters about
which the court may take judicial notice. Abhe &
Svoboda, Inc. v. Chao, 508 F.3d 1052, 1059 (D.C. Cir.
2007). “Because a Rule 12(c) motion would summarily
extinguish litigation at the threshold and foreclose the
opportunity for discovery and factual presentation, the Court
must treat [such a] motion with the ...