Doe v. MySpace Inc.
|Doe v. MySpace|
|Citation||528 F.3d 413 (5th Cir. 2008).|
|Judges||Edith Brown Clement, William Lockhart Garwood, and Jennifer Walker Elrod|
|Decided||May 16, 2008|
|Holding||Fifth Circuit affirms District Court, dismissing Plaintiff's negligence and gross negligence claims, holding that they are barred by the Communications Decency Act of 1996 (CDA).|
|Case Opinions||Edith Brown Clement|
|Laws Applied||Communications Decency Act of 1996 (CDA)|
Doe v. MySpace, 528 F.3d 413 (5th Cir. 2008) is a 2008 Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that affirmed a lower court decision finding that MySpace was immune under the Communications Decency Act of 1996 from liability resulting from a sexual assault of a minor.
- 1 Facts & Procedural Posture
- 2 US District Court for the Western District of Texas Ruling
- 3 Arguments and Issues on Appeal
- 4 Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Ruling
- 5 Further reading
- 6 References
Facts & Procedural Posture
In the summer of 2005, Plaintiff (Julie Doe), then age thirteen, lied about her age, representing that she was eighteen years old, and created a profile on MySpace.com. In April 2006, a nineteen-year-old male (Pete Solis) contacted her through the site. The two parties communicated offline and formed a relationship. They met in person on May 12, 2006, and Solis sexually assaulted Plaintiff at this meeting. On May 13, 2006, Plaintiff's mother called the Austin Police Department to report the sexual assault of her daughter. Solis was subsequently arrested and indicted by a grand jury at the Travis County District Attorney's Office for Sexual Assault, a second degree felony.
The minor and her mother sued MySpace and its parent, News Corp., for negligence, fraud, and negligent misrepresentation. Additionally, they sued Solis, the assailant, for sexual assault and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Plaintiffs first filed a lawsuit in Texas state court, however filed a motion for nonsuit which the Texas court granted. Subsequently, Plaintiffs refiled in Bronx County, New York, however this time they did not name Solis as a defendant. Defendants immediately removed the case, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441, to United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, and simultaneously motioned for a transfer of venue, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a), to the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas. Finally, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).
The Texas District Court dismissed with prejudice Plaintiffs' negligence and gross negligence claims, finding that Plaintiffs' claims were barred by the Communications Decency Act (CDA) § 230 and Texas common law. Plaintiffs withdrew their claims for fraud and negligent misrepresentation; thus the District Court dismissed those claims without prejudice. Thereafter, Plaintiffs appealed the District Court's decision on their negligence and gross negligence claim, arguing that § 230 is both inapplicable and further does not fully immunize MySpace from taking reasonable steps to ensure a minors' safety.
US District Court for the Western District of Texas Ruling
Defendants Move for Motion to Dismiss
Defendants moved to dismiss the case with prejudice, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), asserting immunity from suit under the Communications Decency Act of 1996 (CDA). Moreover, Defendants asserted Plaintiffs' negligence claims fail under Texas common law doctrine and the negligent misrepresentation claims do not satisfy the pleading standard of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 9(b).
On February 13, 2007 the District Court ordered the dismissal of Plaintiffs' claims of negligence and gross negligence with prejudice and claims of fraud and negligent misrepresentation without prejudice.
Communications Decency Act Analysis
Both parties conceded that MySpace is an "interactive computer service" as defined by the CDA, and it is clear MySpace would meet the statutory definition of such a service. Furthermore, the District Court looked to the congressional purpose of the CDA, which is to encourage websites to create forums for people to exchange thoughts and ideas by protecting interactive computer services from potential liability for each message republished by their service. Moreover, the court looked to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals holding in Carafano v. Metrosplash.com and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals holding in Zeran v. America Online, Inc. to guide them in statutory construction. Ultimately, the court viewed Plaintiffs' claims as directed toward MySpace in its "publishing, editorial, and/or screening capacities." Thus, the court held that Defendants were entitled to immunity under the CDA and therefore dismissed Plaintiffs' negligence and gross negligence claims under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 12(c).
The District Court stated that the CDA also immunizes "interactive computer services" from liability based on efforts to self regulate material:
- "no provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be held liable on account of -- (A) any action voluntarily taken in good faith to restrict access to or availability of material that the provider or user-considers to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectable..."
In reflection of Congress's recognition of the potential liability for the implementation of safety policies creating a disincentive for "interactive computer services" to implement safety features at all, the District Court held that Plaintiffs' claims are barred by the CDA § 230(c)(2)(A).
Duty to Protect Under Texas Law Analysis
The District Court found that under Texas Law, in order to state a claim for negligence or gross negligence, a plaintiff must allege the existence of a duty, a breach of that duty, and the proximate causation of damages resulting from the breach. The court held that a person has "no legal duty to protect another from the criminal acts of a third person or control the conduct of another." Thus, the court found Plaintiffs had failed to state a claim for negligence or gross negligence because MySpace had no duty to protect Plaintiff Doe from Solis's criminal sexual assault.
Fraud and Misrepresentation
The District Court held that Plaintiffs had not plead her fraud and misrepresentation claims with "sufficient particularity", as Plaintiffs' counsel admitted in open court that they no longer wished to pursue those claims.
Arguments and Issues on Appeal
Plaintiffs appeals the district court's dismissal of their claims for negligence and gross negligence arguing:
- That § 230(c)(1) of the CDA is inapplicable here because their claims do not implicate MySpace as a 'published' protected by the Act
- That MySpace was partially responsible for creating the content of the information that was exchanged between Julie and Solis.
- That § 230(c)(2) does not immunize MySpace's failure to take reasonable steps to ensure minor's safety
- The court should apply the law of premises liability germane to owners of real property to publishers and Internet service providers operating in the virtual world of cyberspace.
Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Ruling
On May 16, 2008, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court's ruling that Plaintiffs' claims were barred by the Communications Decency Act, 47 U.S.C. § 230 and Texas common law. Judge Edith Brown Clement wrote the opinion of the court.
Communication Decency Act Analysis
With respect to Plaintiffs' negligence arguments, the court found that the claims were barred by the CDA. In its analysis, the court observed that prior courts had construed CDA immunity "broadly in all cases arising from the publication of user-generated content." Specifically, the court relied on Green v. AOL—a Third Circuit Court of Appeals case that granted CDA immunity to AOL against a "failure to protect" claim. In the court's view, Plaintiffs' allegations were similar to Green’s, and were "merely another way of claiming that MySpace was liable for publishing the communications." Claims based on a website's publication of third-party content, the court ruled, were prohibited by the CDA. Moreover, the court stated that parties who are complaining that they were harmed by a website's publication of user-generated content have an alternative claim against the third party content-generator.
In response to Plaintiffs' attempt to distinguish their case from Carafano and Zeran the Fifth Circuit reiterated the district courts ruling stating:
- "It is quite obvious the underlying basis for Plaintiffs' claim is that through posting on MySpace, Pete Solis and Julie Doe met and exchanged personal information which eventually led to an in-person meeting and sexual assault... If MySpace had not published communications between Doe and Solis... they never would have met and the sexual assault never would have occurred. No matter how artfully Plaintiffs seek to plead their claims, the court views Plaintiffs' claims as directed toward MySpace in its publishing, editorial, and/or screening capacities." 
With regard to the argument that MySpace partially created Julie and Solis’s posted content, the court ruled that Plaintiffs were barred from making this argument on appeal because they had not raised the issue earlier to the District Court. The court specifically noted that the trial record showed Plaintiffs did not complain at all about content, and instead had “stressed that their cause of action was rooted in the fact that MySpace should have implemented safety technologies…” 
Finally, the Court rejected Plaintiffs' argument that the CDA should not apply to MySpace because it was partially responsible for creating the information exchange. The court points to the fact that Plaintiffs' counsel neglected to present this argument to the district court and thus are barred from making the aforementioned argument on appeal. Ultimately, The court concluded that Plaintiff's negligence and gross negligence claims were barred by the CDA, and thus the court stated "there is no need to apply § 230(c)(2) or to access the viability" of Plaintiffs' claim under Texas common law in the absence of the CDA.
Brown, Evan. "A Look Back at Doe v. MySpace." Weblog post. Internet Cases. 10 June 2008. Web. 31 Oct. 2010. <http://blog.internetcases.com/2008/06/10/a-look-back-at-doe-v-myspace/>.
"Doe v. Myspace, Inc. Et Al." Justia Dockets & Filings. Web. 31 Oct. 2010. <http://dockets.justia.com/docket/texas/txwdce/1:2006cv00983/210819/>.
Goldman, Eric. "Concurring Opinions » MySpace Sued for Facilitating Offline Sexual Assaults." Concurring Opinions. 18 Jan. 2007. Web. 01 Nov. 2010. <http://www.concurringopinions.com/archives/2007/01/myspace_sued_fo.html>.
Goldman, Eric. "Technology & Marketing Law Blog: MySpace Gets 230 Win in Fifth Circuit--Doe v. MySpace." Technology & Marketing Law Blog by Eric Goldman. 17 May 2008. Web. 31 Oct. 2010. <http://blog.ericgoldman.org/archives/2008/05/myspace_gets_23.htm>.
O'Toole, Thomas. "TechLaw: High Court Declines Review of MySpace CDA 230 Case." E-Commerce and Tech Law. 17 Nov. 2008. Web. 01 Nov. 2010. <http://pblog.bna.com/techlaw/2008/11/high-court-decl.html>.
- Doe v. MySpace, 528 F.3d 413 (5th Cir. 2008).
- Doe v. MySpace, 474 F. Supp. 2d 843 (W.D. Tex. Feb. 13, 2007).
- Doe v. MySpace, 528 F.3d 413 (5th Cir. 2008).
- 47 U.S.C § 230 (c)(2)(A)
- Western Invs., Inc. v. Urena, 162 S.W.3d 547, 550 (Tex. 2005).
- Walker v. Harris, 924 S.W.2d 375, 377 (Tex. 1996).
- Green v. AOL, 318 F.3d 465 (3rd Cir. 2003).
- Doe v. MySpace, 474 F.Supp.2d 843 (W.D. Tex 2007).
- Thomas O'Toole, High Court Declines Review of MySpace CDA 230 Case, E-Commerce and Tech Law Blog (Nov. 17, 2008).