Judge Tosses Woman's Lawsuit Brought Against Google Because A Blogger Said Mean Things About Her
from the SUE-BETTER dept
Because even some lawyers can’t seem to understand the legalities of Section 230 of the CDA or third-party liability, the courts are frequently burdened with stupid defamation lawsuits that can’t survive a motion to dismiss. DC lawyer Harry J. Jordan lobbed one of these lawsuits into court late last year on behalf of Dawn Bennett, who felt she was defamed by a blog run by Scott Pierson, an SEO specialist who apparently failed to make Bennett’s less-than-flattering history with the SEC disappear.
While there may have been a legitimate complaint against Pierson for some of the statements he made, Jordan and Bennett formed a legal suicide pact and decided to sue Google, which did nothing but provide hosting for the blog. The deadly duo pursued this theory in an attempt to hold Google responsible for something a user said:
As Google was aware of plaintiffs’ complaints that Pierson’s blog was factually false and a malicious vendetta against them and meant to cause crippling financial damages, it is therefore equally responsible and liable for the damages plaintiffs’ have suffered.
It doesn’t matter whether Google was aware or not. Short of a court order, Google has no responsibility to kill off a blog simply because someone else doesn’t like its contents. Bennett’s lawyer appeared to be completely unfamiliar with Section 230 because it’s not even addressed in the complaint. It does, however, get discussed in the court’s dismissal of the case [PDF link], as quoted by Eric Goldman.
To salvage their claim, Plaintiffs attempt to argue that a novel issue is presented in this case which requires the court to deny the Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss. Plaintiffs state “[b]ut what courts have not fully addressed is where a service provider, such as Google, adopts definitive prohibitions regarding the content of third party user material, and does not enforce them … [what is] the impact of such failure on Section 203(e) immunity.” Simply, “… does it create such an obligation for itself if it adopts guidelines of what it deems objectionable content and fails to follow through by enforcing such standards?” The answer is “no,” and thus Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss must still be granted. See Klayman, 753 F.3d at 1359–60 (discussing that the CDA bars claims arguing that service providers must be held to a heightened duty of care based on adoption of any statements allocating rights and responsibilities between interactive computer services and their users). “It would be impossible for service providers to screen each of their millions of postings for possible problems.” Zeran v. America Online, Inc., 129 F.3d 327, 331 (4th Cir. 1997). Furthermore, holding Google liable for establishing standards and guidelines would ultimately create a powerful disincentive for service providers to establish any standards or ever decide to remove objectionable content, which the CDA was enacted to prevent.
It’s an old argument, but it doesn’t make it any less ridiculous. The plaintiff tried to convince the court that Google taking any actions at all to moderate content it hosts makes its legally liable for anything found defamatory. The final sentence of this quote makes it clear any ruling finding moderation efforts by third parties somehow erases their Section 230 protections would only make things worse by forcing every platform provider to take an entirely hands-off approach to user-generated content.
This is basic Section 230 stuff, as attorney Harry Jordan should know. But as we’ve seen before, even lawyers providing education classes for other lawyers don’t seem to have a firm understanding of Section 230 protections, which is why this sort of thing happens far more often than it should. A person representing himself may not fully understand the intricacies of the CDA, but lawyers definitely should. Otherwise, this sort of embarrassment awaits them in court, and they’ll have inverted the old saying by making it possible for someone to retain counsel, but still have a fool for a lawyer.