The Tata Sons’ John Doe suit [UPDATE]
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The Tata Sons’ John Doe suit [UPDATE]

Anuj Agrawal

Yesterday, the Delhi High Court’s RS Endlaw J. heard one civil suit, and five interim applications, that sought, amongst other things, “John Doe” orders. This civil suit, titled,  Tata Sons & Ors v John Doe(s) & Ors had Senior Counsel Sudhir Chandra, briefed by Anand and Anand, appear for Tata Sons.

The cause of action arose, as per the plaint, in September last year after a number of “defamatory” and “disparaging” e-mails were sent in connection with a senior executive in Tata Motors subsidiary.  These e-mails were being sent from different e-mail ID’s, and were addressed to government officials, the Tata Motors executive, and even the Prime Minister.

Naturally, Tata Sons (of which Tata Motors is an associate company) decided to take action against these e-mails, which resumed in December this year. And hence the John Doe suit. Not only has the company identified the ISP’s being used to send some of the e-mails, but has also asked them to reveal details of those holding these e-mail ID’s.

So far so good. This clearly has nothing to do with the ongoing corporate battle that is being waged at Tata House.

Yet.

The first prayer in the plaint seeks –

“a decree and order of permanent injunction restraining the Defendants / their affiliates and all others acting for and on their behalf from making, publishing, distributing, posting, repeating and/or republishing any defamatory, libelous and disparaging material by any media with respect to the Plaintiffs in any manner whatsoever.” (Emphasis supplied)

It was these wording that caught the attention of Justice Endlaw during the course of yesterday’s arguments. When Justice Endlaw asked Chandra whether such a wide-ranging relief could be granted, and whether this was an attempt to simply silence criticism of any kind. In the end, we understand that Chandra agreed to not press for this particular relief.

Tata Sons v John Doe
Tata Sons v John Doe

However, Tata Sons had to then restrict their complaint against specific individuals. 

The wordings of this particular prayer though raises several questions. Could it be that this was a gamble of sorts? If the court did pass such an order, then could that order not be held applicable to Mistry as well? Or rather, anyone who is critical of Tata Sons? Was this a legal gambit, an attempt to test the waters then?

Tata Sons certainly does not think so.

Our source, who is in the Senior Management at Tata Sons and part of the Ratan Tata camp told Bar & Bench that the suit had “absolutely nothing” to do with Mistry. And that, in fact, it was Mistry himself who had green signalled the litigation”. 

On the other hand, sources in the Mistry camp say that this was perhaps a gamble that simply did not pay off. The Mistry camp also said – “By not naming Mistry (or any of his companies) as respondents, Tata Sons would have managed to evade the caveat(s) filed”.

With both sides tentatively refusing to approach the courts, even as the bitterness escalates, there certainly was no harm in testing the waters. And if indeed, the matter is simply related to a disparaging e-mail campaign that began more than year ago, then there is little to explain the timing of the suit.

Read the Tata Sons order

Tata-Sons-John-Doe-Order.pdf
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