February 15, 2007
Parents Lose MySpace Assault Suit
Judge Sam Sparks of the Western District of Texas dismissed a lawsuit against MySpace by parents over the assault of their daughter by another member of the social networking web site. Julie Doe had misrepresented her age as 18 years old in gaining a MySpace membership. She apparently exchanged correspondence and personal information with 19 year old Pete Solis, who initiated the contact. Doe was 14 at the time this happened. The two met for a date on May 12, 2006 and during the course of that date, Solis sexually assaulted Doe. Doe's mother reported the assault to Austin, Texas, police the next day. Solis was arrested and is facing criminal charges over the encounter.
Jane Doe's parents initiated suit against MySpace, alleging negligence, gross negligence, fraud, and negligent misrepresentation. They asked for damages of $30 million. The crux of the suit revolved around whether MySpace had a duty to to take measures to protect Julie Doe. Judge Sparks analyzed the case against safe harbor provisions in the Communication Decency Act of 1996. These provisions protect an online communication service against liability for the statements made by third parties on the site, and other editorial controls such as "deciding whether to publish, withdraw, postpone, or alter content."
The Plaintiff parents argued that the safe harbor provisions did not apply as other court decisions construing the statute dealt with libel issues and other types of untruthiness (thank you Stephen Cobert). Plaintiffs say that communications between Doe and Solis were true and there is no issue involving publication of third party communications. In any event, they claim, MySpace should have implemented basic safety measures to prevent sexual predators from communicating with minors on their site.
Judge Sparks rejected the argument, noting the broad findings of Congress in passing the CDA to protect online services from suits over content. He said the CDA protects online content providers such as MySpace from actions by its subscribers. If MySpace had not published the postings of Doe and Solis, the meeting would not have taken place and the assault would not have occurred. From his perspective, the suit was all about the publication. the Judge also addressed the issue from the perspective of Texas common law, noting that the state did not place a duty on entities to control the behavior of third parties. None of the exceptions to the doctrine applied, including that which would have turned the MySpace web site into a virtual "premise." The Court dismissed most of the suit with prejudice as a result.
One of the most interesting statements in Judge Sparks' opinion is this one:
Accordingly, the Court finds Plaintiffs have failed to state a claim for negligence or gross negligence because MySpace had no duty to protect Julie Doe from Pete Solis's criminal acts nor to institute reasonable safety measures on its website. If anyone had a duty to protect Julie Doe, it was her parents, not MySpace."
If there every was a zinger that said that people should take responsibility for their own actions, and that parents should take responsibility for the upbringing of their children, then this is it. The case is available through the Western District of Texas web site. Links from Judge Sparks will lead to CourtWeb, which is a free web opinion service of the federal courts for selected jurisdictions. The case is Doe v. MySpace, Docket Number A-06-CA-983-SS. The decision was released on February 13, 2007.
February 15, 2007 | Permalink
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