Sixth Circuit Court Dumps Lawsuit Seeking To Hold Twitter Responsible For The Pulse Nightclub Shooting

from the another-attack-victim-taken-for-a-ride dept

Another one of 1-800-LAW-FIRM's lawsuits has been tossed for a second time. After being shut down at the district level for attempting to hold social media companies responsible for the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida, the law firm asked the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals to take another look at its dubious legal theories.

The Appeals Court has taken another look and it doesn't like what it sees any more than the district court did. The violent act committed inside the nightclub was horrible, but the court cannot provide a remedy for every wrong -- especially not in a case where the plaintiffs are trying to hold a third party responsible for violent acts they neither encouraged nor committed.

Social media platforms may make it easier for terrorists to spread their message, but that does not add up to material support for terrorism. That's the legal theory 1-800-LAW-FIRM and Excolo Law have been using to push these lawsuits in order to dodge the obvious Section 230 implications. It has yet to find support in any court. It doesn't find any here either. From the decision [PDF]:

We sympathize with Plaintiffs—they suffered through one of the worst terrorist attacks in American history. “But not everything is redressable in a court.” Kemper v. Deutsche Bank AG, 911 F.3d 383, 386 (7th Cir. 2018). And terrorist attacks present unique difficulties for those injured because the terrorists “directly responsible may be beyond the reach of the court.” Id. This is one such case. But the absence of Mateen and the inability to hold ISIS responsible cannot create liability elsewhere. Plaintiffs’ complaint includes no allegations that Twitter, Facebook, or Google had any direct connection to Mateen or his heinous act. And Plaintiffs do not suggest that Defendants provided “material support” to Mateen. Without these connections, Plaintiffs cannot state a viable claim under the ATA. As a result, we affirm the district court’s dismissal of Plaintiffs’ claims.

The Appeals Court also agrees with the lower court's finding that the nightclub shooting had almost nothing to do with the international terrorism the plaintiffs claim Twitter and others are helping support. The shooter was "self-radicalized" and nothing in the plaintiffs' 51-page complaint is able to conclusively tie a domestic shooting by a US citizen to ISIS or its online recruitment efforts.

The plaintiffs want the court to apply a completely ridiculous "proximate cause" standard that has never been applied before and will never be applied in the future. There's no legal basis for it and it would pretty much allow almost anyone to sue almost anyone else for almost anything.

With the “highly interconnected” nature of social media, the internet, and “modern economic and social life”—we expect Defendants’ websites to cause some “ripples of harm” that would “flow far beyond the defendant’s misconduct.” Fields, 881 F.3d at 749. But without more, Defendants do not proximately cause all these potential ripples. The content did not compel Mateen’s actions.

Indeed, if we accepted Plaintiffs’ argument, Defendants would become liable for seemingly endless acts of modern violence simply because the individual viewed relevant social media content before deciding to commit the violence.

With nothing to hang on Twitter, there's nothing left of this lawsuit. The state law claims follow the federal claims into a dismissal with prejudice. 1-800-LAW-FIRM wants another chance to amend its lawsuit but the Appeals Court says it should have tried that earlier at the district level. This lawsuit is dead, just like so many others filed by this law firm.

Filed Under: 6th circuit, cda 230, intermediary liability, liability, pulse nightclub shooting, section 230, social media
Companies: 1-800-law-firm, excolo law, twitter


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Apr 2019 @ 1:49pm

    Sue almost anyone else for almost anything

    ...it would pretty much allow almost anyone to sue almost anyone else for almost anything.

    Sounds like a lawyer's dream come true.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Zgaidin (profile), 19 Apr 2019 @ 4:17pm

      Re: Sue almost anyone else for almost anything

      Only ambulance chasers. The vast majority of lawyers either represent powerful/wealthy people/corporations (the exact people who would be targeted by these lawsuits) or more normal people on an as needed basis (the lawyers who write wills, handle divorces, etc).

      The number of lawyers who file large damage, contingency-fee cases like this are relatively small. They're just the ones who make the news (for all the wrong reasons) and give everyone else a bad name.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Jordan Chandler, 19 Apr 2019 @ 1:57pm

    Plaintiffs

    I have a feeling that the layers encourage the plaintiffs to pursue the case solely so they can bill heavily. I bet the plaintiffs would have case to sue their layers for bad advice. While they might not understand the initial case, the clarity of the judge's ruling should indicate to just about anyone that they never had a chance in the first place and wise council would have let them know this.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 19 Apr 2019 @ 3:07pm

    Start applying benchslaps or get used to it

    Judge really need to start treating these cases as vexatious litigation and applying sanctions against the lawyers bringing them, as these cases are pretty clearly an attempt to harass companies enough that they fork over a 'settlement' to go away(that time), and has little to nothing to do with actually seeing justice done.

    When your 'novel' legal ideas/interpretations have been slapped down every single time, and yet you keep trying to push them, it's pretty clear that at best you're trying to re-write the law by finding some judge who's recently taken a head wound and thereby thinks said ideas/interpretations are sound, and more likely are simply trying to pester the target into paying money to make you go away.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 19 Apr 2019 @ 3:19pm

      It's a tricky path, because filing a lawsuit is also a form of protected speech.

      This is a big reason why Anti-SLAPP laws punish the plaintiffs by making them pay the defendants' legal fees, not by fining them or preventing them from issuing other lawsuits; and why there has to be a very high bar of frivolousness met to be labelled a vexatious litigant and face those restrictions.

      If there's even the slightest chance that the case could work out in the plaintiff's favor, if a reasonable person could see a single reasonable point in the argument, then it doesn't meet the standards to be officially labelled a frivolous lawsuit.

      Thus, we need more Anti-SLAPP and similar laws in place to discourage it, because right now, there's no good solution. (Either that, or greatly streamline the procedures of, and reduce costs of, defending yourself in court; and that's probably not going to happen any time soon.)

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 19 Apr 2019 @ 6:33pm

        Re:

        That or we need people to quit being so vengeful that they lash out at the innocent for lack of ability to target the perpetrator.

        There's something seriously wrong with our society given that this story seems to keep repeating itself. The idea that a third party should be held accountable for the actions of another is morally and ethically wrong. Thankfully, it's still legally wrong as well. But given the number of repeats, it's still alarming to think that so many people are perfectly fine with ignoring this fact and desiring to causing harm to others, even themselves, just because they've been wronged. It's the response of a wild animal, not the response of a human being, and should be stomped out whenever discovered. Our society should be ashamed that we act that way. We need more than just Anti-SLAP laws, we need to remind people what responsibility actually is.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Zgaidin (profile), 20 Apr 2019 @ 4:39am

          Re: Re:

          I largely agree with you, but I think you just answered your own implied question of why this happens. Take this case, or 9/11 or some other awful terrorist act (whether foreign or domestic). In nearly every case, the perpetrator is unavailable for suit either because their dead or outside U.S. jurisdiction. The surviving family is grieving the senseless loss of a loved one and cannot get justice of any sort (precisely the sort of emotionally wrought situation in which we can expect people to lash out like injured wild animals). Someone comes along and says, "The people responsible for this should be made to pay," by which they mean monetarily, but the family hears that as a call to justice. Said someone convinces them that Twitter or Google or whoever provided material support for this act, and while the direct perpetrator is unavailable this other target is not. Said someone has a a license to practice law, documents proving they are expert in this field (which presumably the family is not) and so the suit is filed.

          We shouldn't be ashamed that grieving survivors lash out in an admittedly misguided pursuit of justice. We should be ashamed that the "professional" legal counsel that advised them to do this isn't slapped down and sanctioned for their horrendous legal advice, for keeping those wounds open even longer, all in the long-odds hopes of a big pay day.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Bobvious, 19 Apr 2019 @ 10:53pm

    I-can't-believe-it's-a-LAW-FIRM

    September 11, 2001 was a truly horrifying event, and yet, despite the fact that aircraft manufacturers provided the means by which these morons executed their vile plans, nobody sued or pursued those manufacturers instead.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Apr 2019 @ 2:47pm

    1-800 law firm has won. It got idiots to give it money to run an obviously impossible case.

    Thats their ENTIRE business model. take every case if someone gives them money no matter how ridiculous.

    Want to sue the Moon because the 2nd coming of Jesus hasn't happened yet? 1-800 Law firm will happily take on your case for only $Money

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 22 Apr 2019 @ 8:38am

      Re:

      It got idiots to give it money to run an obviously impossible case.

      And managed to get its memorable phone number further into the public consciousness ("no such thing as bad publicity", right?).

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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