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Fair Hous. Council v. Roommates.com, LLC

United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

December 12, 2007, Argued and Submitted, Pasadena, California; April 3, 2008, Filed

No. 04-56916, No. 04-57173

Opinion

 [*1161]  KOZINSKI, Chief Judge:

We plumb the depths of the immunity provided by section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 ("CDA").

Facts

Defendant Roommate.com, LLC ("Roommate") operates a website designed to match people renting  [**3] out spare rooms with people looking for a place to live. 2 At the time of the district court's disposition, Roommate's website featured approximately 150,000 active listings and received around a million page views a day. Roommate seeks to profit by collecting revenue from advertisers and subscribers.

Before subscribers can search listings or post 3 housing opportunities on Roommate's website, they must create profiles, a process that requires them to answer a series of questions. In addition to requesting basic information--such as name, location and email address--Roommate requires each subscriber to disclose his sex, sexual orientation and whether he would bring children to a household. Each subscriber must also describe his preferences in roommates with respect to the same three criteria: sex, sexual orientation and whether they will bring children to the household. The site also encourages subscribers to provide "Additional Comments" describing themselves and their desired roommate in an open-ended essay. After a new subscriber completes the application,  [**4] Roommate assembles his answers into a "profile page." The profile page  [*1162]  displays the subscriber's pseudonym, his description and his preferences, as divulged through answers to Roommate's questions.

Subscribers can choose between two levels of service: Those using the site's free service level can create their own personal profile page, search the profiles of others and send personal email messages. They can also receive periodic emails from Roommate, informing them of available housing opportunities matching their preferences. Subscribers who pay a monthly fee also gain the ability to read emails from other users, and to view other subscribers' "Additional Comments."

The Fair Housing Councils of the San Fernando Valley and San Diego ("Councils") sued Roommate in federal court, alleging that Roommate's business violates the federal Fair Housing Act ("FHA"), 42 U.S.C. § 3601 et seq., and California housing discrimination laws. 4 Councils claim that Roommate is effectively a housing broker doing online what it may not lawfully do off-line.  [**5] The district court held that Roommate is immune under section 230 of the CDA, 47 U.S.C. § 230(c), and dismissed the federal claims without considering whether Roommate's actions violated the FHA. The court then declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the state law claims. Councils appeal the dismissal of the FHA claim and Roommate cross-appeals the denial of attorneys' fees.

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521 F.3d 1157 *; 2008 U.S. App. LEXIS 7066 **; 36 Media L. Rep. 1545

FAIR HOUSING COUNCIL OF SAN FERNANDO VALLEY; THE FAIR HOUSING COUNCIL OF SAN DIEGO, individually and on behalf of the GENERAL PUBLIC, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. ROOMMATES.COM, LLC, Defendant-Appellee. FAIR HOUSING COUNCIL OF SAN FERNANDO VALLEY; THE FAIR HOUSING COUNCIL OF SAN DIEGO, individually and on behalf of the GENERAL PUBLIC, Plaintiffs-Appellees, v. ROOMMATE.COM, LLC, Defendant-Appellant.

Subsequent History: On remand at Fair Hous. Council of San Fernando Valley v. Roommate.com, LLC, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 130812 (C.D. Cal., Nov. 7, 2008)

Appeal dismissed by, in part, Remanded by, Appeal after remand at Fair Hous. Council v. Roommate.com, LLC, 666 F.3d 1216, 2012 U.S. App. LEXIS 1971 (9th Cir. Cal., Feb. 2, 2012)

Prior History:  [**1] Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of California. D.C. No. CV-03-09386-PA, D.C. No. CV-03-09386-PA. Percy Anderson, District Judge, Presiding.

Fair Hous. Council of San Fernando Valley v. Roommates.com, LLC, 489 F.3d 921, 2007 U.S. App. LEXIS 11350 (9th Cir. Cal., May 15, 2007)Fair Hous. Council of San Fernando Valley v. Roommate.com, LLC, 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 27987 (C.D. Cal., Sept. 30, 2004)

Disposition: REVERSED in part, VACATED in part, AFFIRMED in part and REMANDED. NO COSTS.

CORE TERMS

Roommate, immunity, users, website, subscribers, provider, interactive, profile, discriminatory, questions, computer service, preferences, housing, message, publisher, prompts, answers, webhost, online, match, site, third party, sorting, email, service provider, male, search engine, third-party, displays, searches

Business & Corporate Compliance, Public Health & Welfare Law, Housing & Public Buildings, Fair Housing, Civil Rights Law, Contractual Relations & Housing, Fair Housing Rights, Fair Housing Act, Computer & Internet Law, Content Regulation, Communications Decency Act, Governments, Legislation, Interpretation