Factual Background Edit
The mother of a young girl, identified only as “Doe,” sued MySpace, claiming that it was negligent in failing to take sufficient steps to prevent her 13-year-old daughter from lying about her age in order to create a personal profile on its web-based social network, which ultimately led to her being contacted by, agreeing to meet, and being sexually assaulted by an alleged sexual predator.
Julie Doe, at that time age 13, lied about her age and created a profile on MySpace.com. By lying about her age, she was able to circumvent all of the safety features of the website and resulted in her profile being made public. Nineteen-year-old Pete Solis (“Solis”) initiate contact with Julie in April 2006 when she was fourteen. The two communicated offline on several occasions after Julie provided her telephone number. They met in person in May 2006, and Solis sexually assaulted her.
Trial Court Proceedings Edit
Julie’s mother sued MySpace and others on her behalf. MySpace was sued for fraud, negligent misrepresentation, negligence, and gross negligence. After significant procedural activities, MySpace moved to dismiss the complaint. The district court in Texas dismissed with prejudice plaintiff's claims for negligence and gross negligence, finding that the claims were barred by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act and Texas common law. The plaintiff appealed.
Appellate Court Proceedings Edit
Plaintiff claimed that §230(c)(1) of the CDA was inapplicable because their claims did not implicate MySpace as a “publisher” protected by the Act and because MySpace not only published but was also partially responsible for creating the content of the information that was exchanged between Julie and Solis. Doe also claimed that Section 230(c)(2) did not immunize MySpace's failure to take reasonable steps to ensure minors' safety, claiming that MySpace had a common-law duty to protect Julie. Doe claimed that the suit was “predicated solely on MySpace's failure to implement basic safety measures to protect minors.” Rejecting their characterization of the claim, the court quoted the lower court’s ruling on that same claim:
|“||The Court, however, finds this artful pleading to be disingenuous. It is quite obvious the underlying basis of Plaintiffs' claims is that, through postings on MySpace, Pete Solis and Julie Doe met and exchanged personal information which eventually led to an in-person meeting and the sexual assault of Julie Doe. If MySpace had not published communications between Julie Doe and Solis, including personal contact information, Plaintiffs assert they never would have met and the sexual assault never would have occurred. No matter how artfully Plaintiffs seek to plead their claims, the Court views Plaintiffs' claims as directed toward MySpace in its publishing, editorial, and/or screening capacities.||”|
Agreeing with the trial court’s analysis, the Fifth Circuit said: “Their claims are barred by the CDA, notwithstanding their assertion that they only seek to hold MySpace liable for its failure to implement measures that would have prevented Julie Doe from communicating with Solis. Their allegations are merely another way of claiming that MySpace was liable for publishing the communications and they speak to MySpace's role as a publisher of online third-party-generated content.”
The appellate court also rejected Doe's claim (raised for the first time on appeal) “that MySpace is not immune under the CDA because it partially created the content at issue, alleging that it facilitates its members' creation of personal profiles and chooses the information they will share with the public through an online questionnaire.” The court held that this claim was contrary to the evidence.