One of the primary purposes of the Communications Decency Act (“CDA”) is to limit liability for certain internet content providers specifically protecting websites from liability for material posting on their website by a third party. In Jane Doe No. 14 v. Internet Brands, Inc., the operator of a networking site in the modeling industry sought to use the CDA as a defense to a negligence claim based on a failure to warn. The facts of the case are horrific.
Jane Doe was an aspiring actress who posted her information on the networking site Modelmayhem.com. In February 2011, she was contacted by two men Lavont Flanders and Emerson Callum, about a modeling audition in Florida. Jane Doe traveled to Florida to meet with the two men and was given a drug that caused her to pass out after which she was raped and the assault made into a pornographic film. (Flanders and Mr. Callum were convicted of numerous crimes by a federal jury in Florida and sentenced to life in prison for this and other similar assaults.)
Jane Doe claimed that the owner of the Modelmayhem.com website, Internet Brands, Inc. knew of the two men’s unlawful conduct but took no steps to warn her or other users of the threat. Prior to the 2011 assault, Internet Brand, which had purchased the Modelmayhem site in 2008, had apparently sued the seller of the site in 2010 for failing to disclose the potential civil liability arising from the criminal deeds of Callum and Flanders. She brought a claim against Internet Brands, Inc. for negligence under California law which recognizes a cause of action for failure to warn. Internet Brands moved to dismiss the claim asserting that the CDA immunized it from liability as to Jane Doe’s claims. The trial court agreed and dismissed the complaint. Jane Doe appealed to the Ninth Circuit which reversed the trial court’s decision in an opinion dated September 17, 2014.