So last week saw the unveiling of Tiffany Dehen v. John Doe, Twitter Inc. and the University of San Diego School of Law, an amazing pro se complaint filed to Docket No. 17-CV-00198 in the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. While this has been written about and tweeted about several times already by now, and the attention span of the internet at large is about that of a gnat, I decided now would be a somewhat decent time to talk about my thoughts on it. More specifically, I decided now was a pretty good time to use this to teach a lesson to those folks out there with a J.D. and a dream of employment:
Stop making yourselves so goddamn unemployable.
Alright, so if you aren’t embroiled in the #TiffanyvTwitter situation, let me break it down. Tiffany Dehen is a graduate of the University of San Diego School of Law. She apparently graduated in May of 2016, and since that time has either a) not taken the Bar or b) taken and failed the Bar. One or the other, I don’t know which one. Anyhow, Tiffany is also an outspoken supporter of President Donald J. Trump (yes, it makes me a little ill to append the word “President” in front of his name, but such are the times we live in). When I say she’s outspoken, I mean outspoken. There is no room for argument with Tiffany, it appears. Trump is quite simply the best thing to happen to America since the Founding Fathers said “Fuck your tea!”
Tiffany, as an outspoken Trump supporter, often voices this view on social media. However, social media came back to bite Tiffany a bit in January of 2017, when someone out there created a “parody Twitter account” in her name and began filling it with pictures of Tiffany in front of the Nazi flag and retweets of things from Tiffany’s actual timelime, often with some commentary added in. This account had, at most, three followers on or about February 1, 2017, one of which was Tiffany’s mom and the other was at least someone Tiffany knew and followed herself. It was not exactly well known or widespread, and Tiffany certainly could have reported the matter to Twitter, let Twitter look into it and delete the account, then move on with her life and focus her studies on the bar exam.
Instead, Tiffany took the completely reasonable and well-considered tactic that only a person with a J.D. and no actual experience as an attorney would jump to. Tiffany, apparently within 48 hours of learning about the parody account, made a federal case out of it. That’s right, on February 1, 2017 Tiffany Dehen, graduate of the University of San Diego School of Law, filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Southern District of California, naming as defendants “John Doe,” who created the parody account, Twitter Inc., and the University of San Diego School of Law. The basis for the claim? Malicious Defamation.
It isn’t the lawsuit itself which made the Complaint hilarious. People file stupid and unfounded lawsuits every day of the week, it’s a thing that happens, and nine out of ten times the legal world simply picks up and moves on with their days after a hearty chuckle. It was the substance of the Complaint that made this a bigger deal than anyone would ever want it to be. Go take a look at this Complaint, which is a matter of public record and not hosted on my site at all, here. Read it in all of its glory, then come on back.
Do you see the glaring issues with Tiffany’s Complaint? Let’s start with how she’s pleading. You’ll note that, on the pro se filing form (which is written so even an idiot can figure out what it means), Tiffany has written two statements for every single inquiry from the court: “Please let me file an amended complaint after I get a lawyer” and “please see the attached brief.” Issue number one is familiar to damn near anyone who didn’t snooze through Civil Procedure: You don’t need leave of court to amend your complaint within 21 days of service, you get to do it as a matter of right under Fed. R. Civ. P 15. Secondly, it doesn’t bode well when your first statement to the court is “My complaint sucks, so I’m going to have to amend it,” especially when you apparently wrote and filed the complaint within 24 hours of finding out about the harm, didn’t request any injunctive relief, and don’t have an imminent issue with the statute of limitations.
Practice Tip # 1 To Not Make Yourself Unemployable: Don’t do things that show potential employers you’re a trigger-happy litigious bastard that will file poorly researched complaints that fail to comport with the basic form and standards of legal pleading requirements.
Practice Tip #2 To Not Make Yourself Unemployable: Don’t show to future legal employers that your opinion towards the rules of court and the Rules of Civil Procedure amount to “it’s cool, I’ll just amend later.”
Reading through Tiffany’s brief is even better. A look through the four page document, which is for some reason written in IRAC/CRAC style and has nothing that even resembles a citation to authority to support any of the legal claims, is a through-the-looking-glass view of Tiffany’s perception of this situation. First, she merely states the elements of malicious defamation, because it isn’t like there’s some blog or something our there that googling “California Malicious Defamation” would have revealed that told her exactly what she was looking for. Second, while she makes a number of statements, and some of them could be perceived as statements of fact, they are all simply speculations. The only actual facts presented are as follows:
- Tiffany is a Trump supporter;
- Someone created a parody account in Tiffany’s name;
- That account indicated Tiffany was a Nazi;
- Tiffany found the account;
- Tiffany reported the account to Twitter;
- Within 24 hours, Twitter had not removed the account;
- Prior to all of this, Tiffany had some issue of some nature with some member of the University of San Diego School of Law community that she feels was not appropriately dealt with by the school.
Oh, yeah, and for some reason Tiffany felt the need to let everyone know she was in an accident on her way to the courthouse to file the complaint. I’m not sure what the relevance of that statement is, but good deal.
Practice Tip #3 To Not Make Yourself Unemployable: First, understand that you don’t need to brief a Complaint. That’s not how this works. However, if you do feel the need to brief a complaint, especially when filing it on a system that lawyers in your jurisdiction and elsewhere will regularly check, show an understanding that a “brief” is an actual legal document that we expect to cite to authority. It is not a law school essay exam where you don’t need to point to any specific cases or law that support your position. But again, understand that you under no fucking set of circumstances should be filing briefs with your complaints.
Practice Tip #4 To Not Make Yourself Unemployable: Write an actual fucking Complaint. The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure are not a fucking series of mere suggestions as to the form and nature of pleadings in the federal courts. I have personally seen cases tossed because someone doesn’t know how to read their local or federal rules of procedure, and it’s obvious that Tiffany either never read, forgot about, or just disregarded Fed. R. Civ. P. 8 and Fed. R. Civ P. 10, both of which couldn’t be clearer about how her “Complaint and Brief” completely fail at being acceptable federal pleadings. If you don’t know how to follow the rules of civil procedure, you’re a walking malpractice suit and therefore unemployable.
The real crazy starts to come out when you look at the exhibits attached to the complaint, though. All thirty-fucking-nine of them. They include printouts of apparently every screenshot taken of the Parody Twitter account, printouts of Tiffany’s LinkedIn, which somehow means that the person who created the parody account must be a USD Law student, and a police incident report from her completely unrelated automobile action…unless Tiffany is about to claim the accident was part of some conspiracy to stop her from filing the complaint in the first place.
Practice Tip #5 To Not Make Yourself Unemployable: Try not to make it look too much like you read a bunch of sovereign citizen complaints and figured that was the appropriate way to file the complaint.
Why does Tiffany’s brief make her unemployable? Well, because of the above practice tips. To any potential employer, the brief screams “I assume I have the knowledge to do this as a result of attending law school, but I have no clue what I’m doing, and I refuse to have anyone correct me or tell me this is not the best way to get the results that I want.” However, in the world in which people live, we need to realize that Tiffany is unlikely to understand her filing, and not the parody twitter account, is responsible for her future unemployment. The twitter account had three followers. I guarantee you that hundreds of attorneys have seen her filing by now, however, many of whom are in the markets she’ll be applying for work in, and that will be the first thing to pop in their minds. “Isn’t this the girl who sued Twitter because someone was calling her a Nazi?”
Practice Tip #6 To Not Make Yourself Unemployable: Show that you understand there are situations where tact and discretion are benefits. Lawsuits should be filed in a precise and surgical manner, not in a way that carpet bombs your opponents into submission, specifically because they are public record and they may draw attention to the situation. If there’s a quiet way to resolve a situation, show you understand that is the better option nearly every fucking time.
Let me be clear, I don’t support the making of that parody account. It’s mean and served no purpose at all. There’s no justification for presenting someone else in that light simply because you disagree with their politics. Whoever did that is an asshole, and Tiffany should rest assured knowing the rest of us agree with her on that part. But Jesus-fucking-Christ, why was this a good idea?
The answer is “It isn’t,” and Tiffany appears to be realizing this as many of her tweets and comments about the suit have been steadily disappearing from social media over the last 24 hours. However, no matter how many Tweets Tiffany now deletes, the fact is they’re saved somewhere on someone’s computer showing how she responded to being called a Nazi on the internet by writing and filing a federal complaint that failed to meet the minimal pleading requirements in a period of 24 hours.
Hopefully Tiffany can recover from this, take her lumps (we all have to take our lumps in this profession), get admitted to the Bar (which yeah, this’ll probably have to be disclosed on a bar application), and learn that the actual practice of law is more than finding your way to the courthouse and filing carpet-bombing lawsuits. I have faith in Tiffany’s ability to be chagrined by the reaction and become a competent attorney because, let’s be honest, the bar for a competent attorney isn’t a really fucking high one. However, even if she doesn’t any prospective attorney can learn a lesson from this….namely, how to not make yourself unemployable.
Learn from Tiffany, kids.
[Quick Edit: Tiffany’s mom reached out to me last week during this offering some information on the situation. I sent her an email back saying that while I wouldn’t really suggest Tiffany discuss the details of pending litigation openly, I’d be more than willing to hear and talk about her side of things as I planned on writing this post. To date, I’ve received no response.]