United States District Court, N.D. California, San Francisco Division
ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR JUDGMENT ON THE PLEADINGS [Re: ECF No. 11]
LAUREL BEELER, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiffs Alexandre Fayçal Joude and Daniel Joude sued WordPress Foundation and Automattic, Inc. to compel them to take down an anonymously-written blog about Plaintiffs and their family. Complaint, ECF No. 1. Plaintiffs dismissed WordPress from the action on April 2, 2014. Motion, ECF No. 11, at 8 n.1. Automattic removed the action to this court and now moves for an order granting judgment on the pleadings. Id. at 6. The court GRANTS Automattic's motion and dismisses all three claims.
Plaintiffs, both private individuals, are citizens and residents of France. Complaint, ECF No. 1-2, ¶¶ 5-6. Defendant Automattic, a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business in California, hosts, maintains, and operates Wordpress.com. Id. ¶ 3.
A. The Blog
In March 2014, Plaintiffs learned of a blog at the web address http://thejoudes.wordpress.com ("the Blog"). Id. ¶ 11. Titled "The Hoodwankers, " the Blog is about Plaintiffs and other members of the Joude family and published anonymously. Id. ¶¶ 11, 13. From February 27, 2014 to March 8, 2014, an anonymous contributor posted a total of twelve separate entries. See McCoy Declaration, Ex. A, ECF No. 1-4, at 35-43. While some of the entries appear to state plain facts about Plaintiffs' family history, others contain negative remarks. Id. For example, a March 3, 2014 entry titled "God's Fundraisers" states that "We [the Joudes] obtain funds through deceit and fraud..." and "have defrauded victims out of at least 30 million Euros..." to support the "Legionnaires of Christ." Id. at 41.
Although all of the Blog's entries purport to be written by plaintiff Alexandre Fayçal Joude, Alexandre claims that he did not publish these entries and has never authorized anyone else to do so. Complaint, ECF No. 1-2, ¶¶ 21-22. On March 6, 2014, plaintiff Alexandre sent an email to Automattic via WordPress requesting that they take down the Blog because "the author of this blog has usurped my identity to publish defamatory information about family members with photos that I do not know how he was able to obtain." Id. ¶ 14; 3/7/14 Email, ECF No. 1-4, at 7. Later the same day, Automattic responded that they "were in no position to arbitrate content disputes" but would remove any content "found to be defamatory or illegal by a U.S. court of law" in a formal order from a United States court. Id.
B. The French Defamation Order
On March 12, 2014, through counsel in France, Plaintiffs sought an order from the Tribunal de Grande Instance de Paris (the "High Court of Paris") directing Automattic and WordPress to remove the Blog. Compl., ECF No. 1-2, ¶ 15; Davis Declaration, Ex. A, ECF No. 1-3 at 17, translated at Ex. B., ECF No. 1-3, at 24. In their request, Plaintiffs stated that "the blog concerned lets it be imagined that it was written by one of the petitioners, in the current case, Mr. Alexandre Fayçal Joude. This is false, as Alexandre Fayçal Joude also affirms in the certification that he [wrote] on March 7th, 2014..." Id. at 17-21, translated at ECF No. 1-3 at 25-26. Their request also stated that "the blog concerned is manifestly malicious" and contains "statements without the slightest element of proof in support." Id. at 26. Plaintiffs further characterized the Blog's statements as "purely and simply injurious, " "false, " and aimed at "harm[ing] the petitioners." Id. Plaintiffs also expressed concern regarding private family photos posted to the Blog and asserted that "[their] placement online... constitutes an infringement on the rights to the image on both of the petitioners..." Id. Finally, Plaintiffs stated that they were both "businessmen with honorable reputations" and "families and... children" and thus had a particular interest in seeing the Blog removed. Id. at 27.
On the same day the Plaintiffs filed their request, the High Court of Paris granted it and issued an order stating that Automattic and WordPress must "take all necessary or useful measures for the immediate removal of the blog entitled Alexandre Fayçal Joude/the Hoodwankers' and Danny Joude/the Hoodwankers'" within three months. Complaint, Ex. A, ECF No. 1-2, at 12, translated at Ex. B., ECF No. 1-2 at 14.
C. Wordpress.com Terms of Service
The WordPress.com Terms of Service state that "Automattic will not be liable for any acts or omissions by You, including any damages of any kind incurred as a result of such acts or omissions." McCoy Declaration, Ex. B, ECF No. 1-4, at 46, ¶ 1. Regarding the "Responsibility of Contributors, " the Terms of Service provide that blog operators are "entirely responsible for the content of, and any harm resulting from, that Content.... By making the Content available, you represent and warrant that... your blog is not named in a manner that misleads your readers into thinking that you are another person or company." Id. at 46, ¶ 2.
The Terms of Service reserve Automattic's authority to remove harmful or objectionable blog content:
Automattic has the right (though not the obligation) to, in Automattic's sole discretion (i) refuse or remove any content that, in Automattic's reasonable opinion, violates any Automattic policy or is in any way harmful or objectionable, or (ii) terminate or deny access to and use of the Website to any individual or entity for any reason, in Automattic's sole discretion.
Id. at 46-47, ¶ 2. Concerning the "Responsibility of Website Visitors, " the Terms of Service also disclaim responsibility for the content ...