Nick Akerman of Dorsey & Whitney LLP
A recent ruling shows that plaintiffs must act fast when using a federal criminal statute for a civil suit.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in August addressed the proper application of the statute of limitations to a civil action—in the context of allegations of malicious statements made on the Internet over a broken romance and sexual misconduct—brought under the federal computer crime statute, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). The case was Sewell v. Bernardin.
The Second Circuit acknowledged that the statute of limitations “may have troubling consequences in some situations” because “the investigation necessary to uncover the hacker’s identity may be substantial.” One option the court recognized was for a plaintiff to file a John Doe lawsuit to uncover the hacker’s identity. However, the court emphasized that the hacker’s identity still must be discovered within two years because “Rule 15(c) does not allow an amended complaint adding new defendants to relate back if the newly-added defendants were not named originally because the plaintiff did not know their identities.”
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