High Court Declines To Hear Yahoo 'Dead Man' Case

Yahoo lost a legal case on Monday when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear its appeal in the case of access to a deceased person’s emails.   

The company had asked SCOTUS to overthrow a Massachusetts court decision finding that Yahoo is not prevented by the federal Stored Communications Act (SCA) from releasing a deceased man’s email account to his relatives. 

As is the custom, SCOTUS gave no reason for not accepting the case, according to Law 360.   

Yahoo was supported by Facebook Inc., Google LLC, Dropbox Inc., Evernote Corp., Glassdoor Inc., the Internet Association and NetChoice, according to Law360.

The case had its origins in a tragedy. John G. Ajemian, age 42, was killed in a motorcycle accident in 2006. He died intestate, with no provisions made for the Yahoo email account he had set up four years earlier with his brother Robert.

In 2009, the Ajemian siblings sued in the Probate and Family Court, seeking full access to their brother’s Yahoo account. But that court granted a summary judgment to Yahoo. The family appealed.

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Last October, Associate Judge Barbara A. Lenk, writing for the majority in the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, stated that the SCA does not stand in the way of Yahoo releasing the emails with the family’s permission, thus throwing out the Probate and Family Court’s judgment. 

The court did not order Yahoo to release the contents of the account. Lenk, noting that there are “issues of fact pertinent to the enforceability” of Yahoo’s terms and conditions, sent the matter back to the Probate and Family Court for review.

Marc Zwillinger, an attorney for Yahoo, argued in a petition to the High Court that the Massachusetts ruling “effectively eliminates personal privacy in email content after death by giving estate administrators complete control over those private communications.”

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