APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County. Joe W. Hilberman, Judge. Affirmed. (Los Angeles County Super. Ct. Nos. SC092421, SC092422, SC092423 & SC092424).
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Bigelow, J.
CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION
The question posed by this appeal is: Can an internet Web server such as MySpace Incorporated, be held liable when a minor is sexually assaulted by an adult she met on its Web site? The answer hinges on our interpretation of section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.*fn1 We hold section 230 immunizes MySpace from liability.
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL POSTURE
This appeal consolidates four cases involving similar facts and essentially identical legal allegations. In each case, one or more "Julie Does" -- girls aged 13 to 15 -- were sexually assaulted by men they met through the internet social networking site, MySpace.com (MySpace). The Julie Does, through their parents or guardians,*fn2 have sued MySpace for negligence, gross negligence, and strict product liability.
I. An Overview of MySpace*fn3
MySpace.com is a social networking Web site founded in July 2003 that is popular with adults and teenagers. As of July 11, 2006, MySpace was the world‟s most visited domain on the internet for American users. MySpace membership is only open to users aged 14 and over. However, an underaged user can easily gain access simply by entering a false birth date to appear older.
MySpace users typically create profiles which include personal information on such topics as age, gender, interests, personality, background, lifestyle, and schools. Other MySpace users are then able to search and view profiles that fulfill specific criteria, such as gender, age range, body type, or school. MySpace channels information based on members‟ answers to various questions, allows members to search only the profiles of members with comparable preferences, and sends email notifications to its members. Although profiles are automatically set to allow public access, users can adjust the levels of privacy on their profile when they navigate to a specific webpage on the site and select a setting of "public" or "private." MySpace automatically sets to "private" all accounts for 14 and 15 year olds and does not allow searching or browsing of those accounts.
"* Don‟t post anything you wouldn‟t want the world to know (e.g., your phone number, address, IM screens name, or specific whereabouts). Avoid posting anything that would make it easy for a stranger to find you, such as where you hang out every day after school[;] "* People aren‟t always who they say they are. Be careful about adding strangers to your friends list[;] [¶] . . . [¶] "* Don‟t mislead people into thinking that you‟re older or younger."
Similar cautionary advice is provided to parents in the "Tips for Parents" page.
Then 15-year-old Julie Doe II created a MySpace profile in 2005. In 2006, she met a 22-year-old man through MySpace and was sexually assaulted by him at an in-person meeting. As a result, he is currently serving 10 years in prison. Julie Doe III was also 15 when she created a MySpace profile. She subsequently met a 25-year-old man on MySpace, who "lured Julie Doe from her home, heavily drugged her, and brutally sexually assaulted her." Julie Doe III‟s attacker pled guilty to charges stemming from the incident and is currently serving 10 years in prison. Julie Doe IV was 13 years old when she created a MySpace profile. In 2006, she turned 14 years old and met an 18-year-old MySpace user. He and his adult friend met Julie Doe IV, drugged her and took turns sexually assaulting her. As of August 2007, the 18-year-old user is awaiting trial while his friend pled guilty to second degree felony rape and was sentenced to 4 and one-half years in prison. In 2006, 14-year-old Julie Doe V and 15-year-old Julie Doe VI each met 18-year-old and 19-year-old men on MySpace and were later sexually assaulted by the men at in-person meetings. As of August 2007, both men were awaiting trial.
The appellants each bring substantially identical causes of action against MySpace for negligence, gross negligence, and strict product liability. In summary, they complain that "MySpace has made a decision to not implement reasonable, basic safety precautions with regard to protecting young children from sexual predators[.] [¶] MySpace is aware of the dangers that it poses to underaged minors using [its Web site]. MySpace is aware that its Web site poses a danger to children, facilitating an astounding number of attempted and actual sexual assaults . . . ." They more specifically allege that MySpace should have implemented "readily available and practicable age-verification software" or set the default security setting on the Julie Does‟ accounts to "private."
The four cases were related at the trial court level. A demurrer to the original complaints was sustained on the ground that appellants‟ claims were barred by section 230. The trial court, however, granted appellants leave to amend to plead around section 230. Appellants amended their complaint to include a section specifically entitled "Plaintiffs Bring No Claims That Implicate the Communications Decency Act." Appellants alleged that their "claims rest on MySpace‟s failure to institute reasonable measures to prevent older users from directly searching out, finding, and or communicating with minors. The claims are not content based."
The trial court sustained the second demurrer without leave to amend, finding the plaintiffs had failed to allege sufficient facts to plead around the immunity granted by section 230, and entered judgments of dismissal in each case. Four separate appeals were filed, and on May 9, 2008, ...