That Troublesome First Amendment, Michigan Edition

On January 18, 2013, the Circuit Court in Wayne County preliminarily approved a settlement in a class action charging that  McDonald’s had sold non-“halal” Chicken Mcnuggets that had been advertised as “halal.”  A local activist named Majed Moughni was unhappy with the settlement terms (which required McDonalds to pay some money to two local Dearborn charities, along with a hefty fee to the plaintiffs’ lawyers, but nothing for the other class members), so he began a Facebook campaign (“Dearborn Area Community Members”) where he criticized the settlement terms and tried to  organize opposition to it.

So far, so good.  But the plaintiffs’  lawyers filed an action seeking an injunction against Moughni’s Facebook page, asking  that Moughni be required to take everything he had said about the case down, and to post on his Facebook page instead what they said (and what the Court had said).

Unbelievably enough, the court granted the motion and entered a preliminary injunction; finding that  Moughni had made “materially false, deceptive and misleading statements concerning the settlement . . . and concerning the rights of the members of the Settlement Class,” and that Moughni “thereby engaged in deliberate and abusive conduct which has created a likelihood of confusion of class members, adversely has effected the administration of justice and has undermined this Court’s responsibility and authority to protect Class members from such abuses,” the Court

(a) ordered Moughni to remove all statements about the case from his Facebook page and to replace them with the Court’s own expression, and the parties’ own expression, about the proposed settlement, in the form of the preliminary approval order and class notice;

(b)  enjoined him from making any other statements about the case in any other forum—whether in person or electronically, or to the press;

(c)  ordered him to identify to the Court and the parties those class members who had associated themselves with Moughni’s point of view by using the Facebook “like” and comment functions; and

(d) forbade him from  “dissemination, circulation or publication” or any form for opting out or objecting to the settlement.

I don’t know why episodes like this get me so riled up, but they do.  It’s the worst kind of judicial over-reaching – protecting the court’s own turf from dissension and criticixm by exploiting its power over defendants.  Fortunately, Public Citizen has stepped in to move to vacate the injunction (aided, I’m told, by the ACLU of Michigan).  Good luck to them –

[Thanks to Paul Levy for the pointer]