BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CN) – A federal judge said Wednesday he wouldn’t let author Stephen Elliott dig deeper into the potential contributors to a #MeToo-era Google spreadsheet that accused him of rape and other sexual misconduct.
“If [Google] told you they don’t have anything, that’s your answer,” said U.S. Magistrate Judge Sanket Bulsara at a status conference in Brooklyn, refusing to grant more discovery rights after a subpoena of Google for the edit history of the document came up empty.
Elliott, who says he was defamed in a 2017 anonymous online spreadsheet nicknamed the “Shitty Media Men” list, subpoenaed Google this past spring for information on the women who contributed to it, as part of his lawsuit against list creator Moira Donegan.
Also a writer, Donegan circulated the list privately in October 2017 as a crowdsourced document naming men in the media industry who have been accused of sexual misconduct. She has said the spreadsheet was only online for about 12 hours.
“Rape accusations, sexual harassment [sic], coercion, unsolicited invitations to his apartment, a dude who snuck into Binders???” unknown contributors wrote next to Elliott’s name on the spreadsheet, which was eventually leaked. In the “notes” column of the list, Elliott was classified as a man against whom “multiple women allege misconduct.”
It’s unclear who actually typed the accusations against Elliott, or whether Donegan had anything to do with his file specifically beyond creating and sharing the initial list. It is these contributors Elliott seeks to find and potentially sue in addition to Donegan. He’s seeking $1.5 million in damages, as well as written retractions of each accusation.
Roberta Kaplan, an attorney for Donegan, said Wednesday she doesn’t think Elliott actually believes Donegan typed the accusations.
“He’s looking for the right person to sue,” she said, later adding: “To drag Ms. Donegan into these proceedings through discovery … just to try to figure out who these women were, or men, whoever, who wrote about plaintiff, is really not fair.”
Donegan moved to dismiss in June for failure to state a claim. The parties have fully briefed the motion and await a ruling from U.S. District Judge LaShann DeArcy Hall.
Bulsara said Wednesday it would be too much of a burden on Donegan to force her to go to backup tapes, archives or her hard drive in an effort to track down more information about the spreadsheet’s contributors.
According to a letter filed by Elliott’s lawyers last month, Google reportedly said it did not have sufficient information to identify the requested records, like a URL for the spreadsheet or email addresses for users who accessed it.
Elliott had been hopeful Bulsara would order further early discovery, and attorney Nick Lewis noted in an email Tuesday the judge had the power to direct a limited deposition, interrogatories or production of computer data.
A Google spokesperson has not returned requests for confirmation and comment, but the company’s data-storage policy says it removes the data its users delete, and that even backup storage is erased after six months.