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Rajive Chadha, and Puja v. Paramjit Chopra

December 5, 2012

RAJIVE CHADHA, AND PUJA CHADHA, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
PARAMJIT CHOPRA, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge John J. Tharp, Jr.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiffs Rajive and Puja Chadha (the "Chadhas") bring a three-count cause of action against defendant Paramjit Chopra alleging that Chopra violated the Stored Communications Act, 18 U.S.C. § 2701 et seq. (the "SCA"), and committed defamation per se in two separate instances. Chopra moves to dismiss only the SCA claim, which is Count I of the Chadhas' complaint. For the reasons stated below, Count I states a plausible claim for violation of the SCA, and Chopra's motion to dismiss is denied.

FACTS*fn1

The Chadhas allege that Chopra, covertly and without authorization, obtained the username and password to Puja Chadha's email account at hotmail.com ("Puja's Hotmail Account"). He used the username and password to log in to Puja's Hotmail Account, and after logging in he accessed emails stored within the account to obtain the identity and email addresses of several of the Chadhas' close friends, family members, social acquaintances, and professional contacts. The Chadhas further allege that Chopra opened an email account at yahoo.com using the fake name "Anjali Gupta" (the "Anjali Account"). On June 1, 2011, Chopra sent from the Anjali Account an email to two of the Chadhas' friends making false statements accusing Rajive Chadha of, among other things, fornication, adultery, and illicit and immoral sexual practices. On June 9, 2011, Chopra "blind-copied" the previously-sent email to at least twenty more of the Chadhas' close friends, family members, social acquaintances, and professional contacts. The Chadhas allege that Chopra obtained the email address of each individual to whom he sent the emails by his unauthorized access to Puja's Hotmail Account email inbox.

Chopra attempted to mask his identity as the sender of the allegedly defamatory emails by creating a web of anonymous email accounts on several different computers registered to Midwest Institute for Minimally Invasive Therapies, P.C. ("Midwest"), a company that Chopra owns. The Chadhas were only able to determine that Chopra was the individual sending the allegedly defamatory emails by filing a series of petitions for pretrial discovery in Illinois state court, and they incurred substantial cost in conducting their investigation.

DISCUSSION

The SCA states that "whoever-(1) intentionally accesses without authorization a facility through which an electronic communication service is provided; . . . and thereby obtains, alters, or prevents authorized access to a wire or electronic communication while it is in electronic storage in such system shall be punished as provided in subsection (b) of this section." 18 U.S.C. § 2701(a).

Chopra raises four arguments for why the Chopras' SCA claim should be dismissed. First, Chopra argues that the Chadhas failed to adequately allege that he acted intentionally. Second, he argues that the complaint does not adequately allege that Chopra personally accessed Puja's Hotmail Account. Third, he argues that the Chadhas have not alleged that he obtained, altered, or prevented access to electronically stored communications. Fourth and finally, he argues that the Chadhas failed to allege actual damages. The Court rejects each of Chopra's arguments and finds that the complaint "contain[s] sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)).

I. The Chadhas Adequately Allege that Chopra Acted Intentionally.

Chopra argues that the Chadhas failed to adequately allege that Chopra acted intentionally in obtaining emails from Puja's Hotmail Account. This argument is patently frivolous.*fn2 As an initial matter, the Chadhas directly allege that Chopra acted intentionally, Cmplt. ¶ 33 ("Chopra intentionally obtained access [to Puja's Hotmail Account] and opened and read emails stored in its inbox"), and also allege specific facts which, if true, clearly show that Chopra's actions were intentional, Cmplt. ¶¶ 13-15. Further, Chopra does not suggest, and the Court cannot conceive of, any possible way that Chopra might have unintentionally (1) obtained the username and password for Puja's Hotmail Account; (2) used that information to log into the account; and (3) accessed emails in the account's inbox to obtain email addresses. The complaint describes conduct that is almost certainly the product of intentional conduct, so Chopra's claim that the Chadhas' allegation of intent is not an "unsupported factual conclusion" lacks any merit whatsoever.

II. The Chadhas Adequately Allege that Chopra Personally Accessed Puja's Hotmail Account.

Chopra next argues that "there are no factual allegations that would show that Dr. Chopra, himself, accessed Puja's email account." MTD at 5. Again, not so. The Chadhas allege that "Chopra obtained the username and password for Puja's Hotmail Account," "Chopra then used the username and password to log in to Puja's Hotmail Account," and "Chopra accessed emails in the inbox." Cmplt. ¶¶13-15 (emphasis added); see also id. at ¶¶ 32-34. These allegations are easily sufficient state a claim that Chopra personally accessed Puja's Hotmail Account.

Perhaps Chopra means to argue that the allegations are simply not true. If so, that argument is unavailable to him at this stage because of the well-known rule that a complaint's allegations are accepted as true for purposes of ruling on a motion to dismiss. Virnich, 664 F.3d at 212. The Chadhas were not required, in their complaint, to prove that Chopra must have accessed Puja's Hotmail Account. Rather, they were only ...


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