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Courts have recognized that § 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 (CDA), 47 U.S.C.S. § 230, bars a claim if (1) the defendant asserting immunity is an interactive computer service provider, (2) the particular information at issue was provided by another information content provider, and (3) the claim seeks to treat the defendant as a publisher or speaker of that information. By contrast, a defendant is not entitled to protection from claims based on the publication of information if the defendant is responsible, in whole or in part, for the creation or development of the information.
Plaintiff Sarah Jones was the unwelcome subject of several posts anonymously uploaded to www.TheDirty.com, a website operated by defendants Hooman Karamian, a.k.a. Nik Richie, a.k.a. Corbin Grimes ("Richie") and DIRTY WORLD, LLC ("Dirty World"), and of remarks Richie posted on the site. The website enabled users to anonymously upload comments, photographs, and video, which Richie would then select and publish along with his own distinct, editorial comments. In short, the website was a user-generated tabloid primarily targeting non-public figures. In response to the posts appearing on the site, Jones filed an action against Richie and Dirty World in federal district court alleging state tort claims of defamation, libel per se, false light, and intentional inflection of emotional distress. Defendants claimed that § 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 (CDA), 47 U.S.C.S. § 230, barred Jones' claims. The district court rejected defendants' argument and denied defendants' motion to dismiss, motion for summary judgment, motion to revise judgment, and motion for judgment as a matter of law. The district court also denied defendants' motion for leave to file an interlocutory appeal. The case was submitted to a jury, twice. The first trial ended in a mistrial upon a joint motion. The second trial resulted in a verdict in favor of Jones for $38,000 in compensatory damages and $300,000 in punitive damages. On appeal, defendants maintained that § 230(c)(1) barred Jones' claims.
Did the district court err when it denied defendants' motion for judgment as a matter of law by holding that the CDA did not bar Jones' state tort claims?
Under the CDA, neither Richie nor Dirty World were the creators nor the developers of the challenged defamatory content that was published on the website. Jones' tort claims were grounded on the statements of another content provider; she sought to impose liability on defendants as if they were the publishers or speakers of those statements. Section 230(c)(1) therefore barred Jones' claims. Accordingly, court reversed the district court's judgment in favor of Jones, reversed the district court's denial of defendants' motion for judgment as a matter of law, and remanded the matter to the district court with instructions to enter judgment as a matter of law in defendants' favor.