Supreme Court Refuses To Hear Case That Threatened CDA 230

from the good-news! dept

As we noted earlier this year, the California Supreme Court wisely sided with Yelp in a legal fight over whether or not the company could be forced to remove reviews based on another legal dispute of which Yelp was not a party. The crux of the case was about Section 230 of the CDA. As we detailed back in 2016, a lower court had initially ordered Yelp to take down a review that the court found to be defamatory (though, it was on default judgment as the defendant in the case decided to not show up in court). The case was brought by a lawyer, Dawn Hassell, who sued a former client, Ava Bird, claiming that Bird had posted a negative review of Hassell's legal work. Bird then ignored the lawsuit, leading to the default judgment -- all of which is fine. But then the court issued an injunction against Yelp, ordering it to take down the review, despite Yelp not even being a party to the lawsuit.

The California Supreme Court properly ruled that the injunction should be thrown out, based on CDA 230, which (as we've discussed over and over again) says that an internet service provider (such as Yelp) cannot be held liable due to the speech of a user (such as Ava Bird). This was a pretty standard and "easy" ruling on CDA 230, and the court had many cases to cite. And thus, it's good news that the US Supreme Court has denied Hassell's cert petition to hear the case -- meaning the California ruling stands. It shouldn't be a surprise that the Supreme Court decided not to hear the case, as there is widespread agreement that this is exactly how CDA 230 is meant to work and it's how basically every circuit that has ruled on this issue has found, sot here's no circuit split to deal with. Having the Supreme Court refuse to hear a case isn't always newsworthy, but it's at least a bit of a relief that the court apparently didn't think this one was an issue worth reconsidering. The internet and the services we all use, remain protected... for now.

Filed Under: ava bird, california, cda 230, dawn hassell, free speech, hassell v bird, intermediary liability, reviews, section 230, supreme court
Companies: yelp


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  1. icon
    Mike Masnick (profile), 24 Jan 2019 @ 12:12am

    Re:

    Protection from liability means that they can't be sued for this (so of course they won't be a party to the lawsuit in question!) and end up having to pay damages if someone writes a defamatory post on their site, which is exactly as it should be, but defamation is still defamation. If it's been found to be defamatory in a court of law and the court ordered it taken down, how does CDA 230 mean that they get to ignore that?

    Because if they are facing liability for that (i.e., punishment from the court) then they are facing liability due to third party speech, and courts have regularly found that to be precluded by CDA 230.

    Now, there is a point that many have made that once a court has found the work to be defamatory sites should take it down... and, the fact is that most sites WILL do so upon a legitimate court order. And, of course, even that process has now been abused. As we've discussed in the past, people started forging court orders, or suing "fake" defendents who would immediately admit guilt and "settle" the case, just to get a court order that could be sent to a site to remove content.

    Having CDA 230 protect sites from liability over all of this is the only way to prevent widespread use of the courts for censorship. Most reputable sites will still take down content based on a legitimate court order, so the "harms" that people are talking about are quite limited. But taking away CDA 230 protections in such cases would create lots of new harms in the form of takedowns.


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