Texas Appeals Court Brushes Off Section 230 In Allowing Lawsuit Over Sex Trafficking Against Facebook To Continue

from the it-continues-because-it-continues dept

Earlier this year, we mentioned, in passing, personal injury lawyer Annie McAdams’ weird crusade against internet companies and Section 230. The lawyer — who bragged to the NY Times about how she found out her favorite restaurant’s secret margarita mix by suing them and using the discovery process to get the recipe — has been suing a bunch of internet companies trying to argue that we can ignore Section 230 if you argue that the sites were “negligent” in how they were designed. In a case filed in Texas against Facebook (and others) arguing that three teenagers were recruited by sex traffickers via Facebook and that Facebook is to blame for that, the lower court judge ruled last year that he wouldn’t dismiss on Section 230 grounds. I wish I could explain to you his reasoning, but the ruling is basically “well, one side says 230 bars this suit, and the other says it doesn’t, and I’ve concluded it doesn’t bar the lawsuit.” That’s literally about the entire analysis:

In reviewing the statute and the cases cited by the parties, the Court concludes that the Plaintiffs have plead causes of action that would not be barred by the immunity granted under the Act.

Why? I could not tell you. Judge Steven Kirkland provides no real basis.

Either way, Facebook appealed, and the appeals court has upheld the lower court ruling with even less analysis. The only mention of Section 230 is to say that that was Facebook’s reason for asking for dismissal. The court takes three paragraphs to describe the history of the case, and this is the entire analysis:

Facebook has not established that it is entitled to mandamus relief. Accordingly, we deny Facebook?s petitions for writ of mandamus.

Why? Who the hell knows. Texas courts are weird, man.

At least one judge on the panel, Justice Tracy Christopher, issued a dissent from the majority opinion. The dissent is also pretty short and sweet, and basically says “um, seems like 230 applies here, so, yeah.”

I respectfully dissent from these denials of mandamus and I urge the Texas Supreme Court to review these cases. Federal law grants Facebook immunity from suits such as these. See 47 U.S.C. § 230. Because Facebook has immunity, these suits have no basis in law, and dismissal under Texas Rule of Procedure 91a is proper.

The Real Parties in Interest urge our court to adopt a construction of Section 230 that has been adopted by only a few courts. The vast majority of the courts reviewing this law have adopted the arguments made by Facebook. The artful pleading by the Real Parties in Interest should not prevail over the statute.

Also, just to be clear, since some may ask, and since this is a case about sex trafficking: FOSTA does not apply here because (1) the actions at issue happened prior to FOSTA becoming law, and (2) (as only the dissent notes), FOSTA does not apply to civil actions in state court. Still, what a weird set of rulings, that seem to go against nearly all Section 230 case law… and with basically no analysis as to why at all.

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Comments on “Texas Appeals Court Brushes Off Section 230 In Allowing Lawsuit Over Sex Trafficking Against Facebook To Continue”

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Samuel Abram (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I’m assuming these are state-level judges and not federal judges. If they’re state-level judges, they’re probably elected and not appointed, and if they’re elected, the judges possibly ruled that way due to political concerns (i.e. not wanting to get removed from office).

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

"…if they’re elected, the judges possibly ruled that way due to political concerns…"

Current Judge: "Because the law mandates immunity to the platform over the user’s posts, I have to dismiss this lawsuit."

Challenging candidate: "Current Judge gave sex traffickers Get-out-of-jail cards. Don’t vote for the criminal’s best friend!"

Sadly outright political advertising often isn’t subject to the same laws which would hang the marketer trying to use similar language in advertising…

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