None can be condemned publicly for sexual harassment without having an opportunity to defend
Ritesh Properties and Industries Ltd Vs YouTube LLC and Ors
About/from the judgment:
While expressing its opinion on instances of ex parte orders of injunction in cases pertaining to “character assassination” by unknown/anonymous persons on grounds of sexual harassment, the Delhi High Court has remarked that none can be condemned publicly without having an opportunity to defend him/her self.
Speaking of instances where ex parte orders have been issued to social networking sites to take down defamatory content as well as to disclose particulars of the uploader, the Court remarked,
“It was felt that the accuser, in the matter of own complaint/grievance, cannot also be the judge and pronounce the accused guilty publically…it is not possible for a person who is accused of sexual harassment/misconduct, to prove the negative, that he/she is not guilty of what he/she is accused of in public domain by unknown persons who want to hide behind the veil of an electronic identity..”
The observations form part of an order passed by a Single Judge Bench of Justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw in a suit by Ritesh Properties and Industries Limited (plaintiff) against YouTube LLC, Google LLC and unknown defendants impleaded as John Doe.
The plaintiff had sought an order of permanent injunction with respect to certain defamatory videos as well as an order of ex parte interim injunction.
The plaintiff engaged in real estate business and was developing an industrial park in the name and style of “Hampton Business Park” in Ludhiana, Punjab after acquiring land from the Government of India.
On July 10, 2019, the plaintiff discovered a video that was uploaded on YouTube through a user account “mundian khurd”. As per the plaintiff, this video alleged that Hampton Homes Ludhiana was a fraud and it was run by a gang of fraudsters including Ritesh Properties and Industries Limited. It was further alleged that Hampton Homes owned no land and the photos and videos being shown by them were fake. The video thus asserted that no money should be paid to them.
Claiming that the statements were “untrue and baseless”, the plaintiff argued that the content of the video conveyed a false and defamatory message to the general public and ought to be taken down. It was also informed that a similar video was also uploaded sometime in 2018 and notwithstanding the complaint by the plaintiff, the identity of the uploader was not disclosed.
After perusing of the documents filed by the plaintiff, the Court noticed that besides the aforesaid content, the video also made certain additional claims which were not disclosed in the plaint.
As recorded by the Court, the additional claims pertained to the cancellation of the allotment of land by the High Court in April and the subsequent dismissal of the appeal against the cancellation, the current ownership of the land with the Punjab and Haryana Government etc.
The video also stated that after losing land allotment, Ritesh Industries Limited changed its name to Ritesh Properties and Industries Limited in 2007and that Ritesh Industries Limited did not exist.
It was further alleged that the Real Estate Regulatory Authority (RERA), Punjab registration number given by the plaintiff was inappropriate and fraudulently obtained and a request had been made to the Secretary, RERA for cancellation of the registration in the name of Hampton Homes and Flinton Homes.
Calling it a case of “misrepresentation of facts”, the Court remarked that the misconduct was an attempt to obtain an ex-parte order from the Court.
“The plaintiff, in the plaint, has not disclosed the impugned video to be containing the aforesaid averments of facts, obviously in an attempt to obtain an ex-parte order from the Court, if the Court were not to go through each and every document filed by the plaintiff and were to believe the plaintiff to have made complete disclosure in the plaint. It is a clear case of misrepresentation of facts in the plaint.”
Therefore, relying on a series of earlier judgments passed by the Court, the Court iterated that while claiming ex parte relief in a case, the plaintiff owes a duty to the Court to make a complete disclosure of all facts/material relevant to the grant / non-grant of ex parte relief in the plaint. It said,
“.. lip service to such duty owed to the Court cannot be paid, by smuggling in a document amongst the documents filed with the plaint… it is not possible for the Judges to, before or at the time of the hearing, go through each and every page of the paper book, considering a large number of matters listed before this Court.”
The Court reflected on the plaintiff’s conduct and observed that it amounted to an abuse of process of Court.
“Alas, the plaintiff, notwithstanding the judgments, has chosen to conceal from the plaint, the legal proceedings and orders therein mentioned in the allegedly defamatory video in support of the claim therein against the plaintiff. The only inference is that the plaintiff, in the hope that the Court will not go into each and every page of the documents and believing the averments in the impugned video to be vague and without any basis, grant ex parte order in favour of plaintiff, wanted to steal a march over the defendants.”
The Court thus opined that the plaintiff was not entitled to any relief sought by it.
At this moment, the Court took the opportunity to distinguish the present case from cases of character assassination of a person by an anonymous person on grounds of sexual harassment.
“The case of the plaintiff cannot be equated to other cases coming up before this Court of character assassination without the complainant/accuser disclosing her own identity even. Generally, such accusations are of sexual harassment/misconduct. In such cases, suits have been entertained and ex parte orders issued to social networking sites, for taking down the impugned content and to disclose particulars of the uploader of such content.”
The reason for the grant of ex parte injunction in cases of sexual harassment allegations was that no none should be condemned publicly, without having an opportunity to defend him/her self, the Court said.
However, in cases of entities selling real estate is accused in public domain of misconduct with respect to the title over land and particulars of legal cases, it is essential to satisfy the Court of the falsity of the allegations to make out a case for defamation, the Court explained.
The Court added that the falsity of the allegations can easily be done by producing the relevant documents.
“When no effort even in this respect is made, the only inference is that the allegations are not controverted. The Court would not injunct a defendant from publishing the truth.”, it concluded.
In view of the above, the Court concluded that the plaint did not disclose the cause of action for the reliefs claimed and was liable to be rejected.
The case, however, ended with the plaintiff withdrawing the suit with liberty to file afresh.
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