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Section 230(e)(3) of the Communications Decency Act, 47 U.S.C. § 230(e)(3), underscores, rather than undermines, the broad scope of § 230 immunity by prohibiting not only the imposition of "liability" under certain state-law theories, but also the pursuit of a proscribed "cause of action." This inclusive language, read in connection with § 230(c)(1) and the rest of § 230, conveys an intent to shield Internet intermediaries from the burdens associated with defending against state-law claims that treat them as the publisher or speaker of third party content, and from compelled compliance with demands for relief that, when viewed in the context of a plaintiff's allegations, similarly assign them the legal role and responsibilities of a publisher qua publisher.
Defendant Ava Bird left one-star reviews of the Hassell Law Group; the review appeared on Yelp. Plaintiffs Dawn L. Hassell and the Hassell Law Group filed suit against defendant, alleging that the reviews were libelous, and that in posting the reviews, defendants casted plaintiffs in a false light and intentionally inflicted emotional distress upon plaintiff. The trial court entered judgment in favor of the plaintiffs, and ordered defendant to remove each and every defamatory review published or caused to be published by her about plaintiffs from Yelp.com. Yelp was served with a copy of the default judgment later that month. It then filed a motion to set aside and vacate the judgment, arguing that, to the extent that the order to remove the posts was aimed at it, the directive violated Yelp’s due process rights, exceeded the scope of the relief requested in the complaint, and was barred by § 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA; 47 U.S.C. § 230). The superior court denied the motion to set aside and vacate the judgment. The court of appeals affirmed the superior court’s order, but instructed the court to modify the order on remand so that it compelled only the removal of the challenged reviews. The Court of Appeal concluded that § 230 did not prohibit a directive that Yelp remove the challenged reviews. It reasoned that the removal order did not violate § 230 because it did not impose any liability on Yelp. Yelp challenged the decision.
Could the court direct Yelp to remove the challenged reviews from its website, without violating § 230 of the Communications Decency Act?
In a plurality opinion, the Supreme Court concluded that a removal order improperly treated Yelp, a website operator, as the publisher or speaker of information provided by another information content provider, and that the order had to be revised to comply with § 230 of the Communications Decency Act, 47 U.S.C. § 230. In light of Congress's designs with respect to § 230, the capacious language Congress adopted to effectuate its intent, and the consequences that could result if immunity were denied, the Court held that Yelp was entitled to immunity under the statute. According to the court, the plaintiffs' legal remedies lay solely against defendant, and could not extend - even through an injunction – Yelp. Accordingly, the judgment of the court of appeals was reversed.