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. identicon
    cpt kangarooski, 23 Jan 2019 @ 4:08pm

    Re:

    Well, one factor may be that it wasn’t found to be defamatory on the merits; there was a default judgment where, for lack of any defense, the claims of the plaintiff alleging defamation had to be accepted.

    More importantly though, let’s say that Yelp had been a party to the defamation suit. If so, the ruling would clearly be that they were not liable for it and did not have to do anything about it. Why then would a different result be expected if they’re not a party?

    Remember, aside from the treatment of service providers as non-publishers, one of the key parts of the law is 47 USC 230(e)(3) which prohibits any action under state law against a service provider if it is inconsistent with section 230. That includes injunctive relief such as court orders to take down material. And having service providers ever take anything posted by a third party down other than by the provider’s own choice would be inconsistent with section 230.

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