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Doe v. Internet Brands, Inc.

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

September 17, 2014

JANE DOE NO. 14, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
INTERNET BRANDS, INC., DBA Modelmayhem.com, Defendant-Appellee

Argued and Submitted, Pasadena, California February 7, 2014.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of California. D.C. No.2:12-cv-03626-JFW-PJW. John F. Walter, District Judge, Presiding.

SUMMARY[**]

Communications Decency Act

The panel reversed the district court's Federal Rule Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) dismissal of a diversity action alleging negligence under California law, and concluded that the claim was not barred by the federal Communications Decency Act.

The Jane Doe plaintiff alleged that Internet Brands, Inc.'s failure to warn users of its networking website, modelmayhem.com, caused her to be a victim of a rape scheme. Section 230(c)(1) of the Communications Decency Act precludes liability that treats a website as the publisher or speaker of information users provide on the website, and generally protects websites from liability for material posted on the website by someone else.

The panel held that Doe's negligent failure to warn claim did not seek to hold Internet Brands liable as the " publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider," and therefore the Communications Decency Act did not bar the claim. The panel expressed no opinion on the viability of the failure to warn allegations on the merits, and remanded for further proceedings.

Jeffrey Herman (argued) and Stuart S. Mermelstein, Herman Law, Boca Raton, Florida, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

Patrick Fraioli, Ervin Cohen & Jessup LLP, Beverly Hills, California; Wendy E. Giberti (argued), iGeneral Counsel, P.C., Beverly Hills, California, for Defendant-Appellee.

Before: Mary M. Schroeder and Richard R. Clifton, Circuit Judges, and Brian M. Cogan, District Judge.[*]

OPINION

Page 895

CLIFTON, Circuit Judge:

Model Mayhem is a networking website, found at modelmayhem.com, for people in the modeling industry. Plaintiff Jane Doe, an aspiring model who posted information about herself on the website, alleges that two rapists used the website to lure her to a fake audition, where they drugged her, raped her, and recorded her for a pornographic video. She also alleges that Defendant Internet Brands, the company that owns the website, knew about the rapists but did not warn her or the website's other users. She filed an action against Internet Brands alleging liability for negligence under California law based on that failure to warn.

The district court dismissed the action on the ground that her claim was barred by the Communications Decency Act (" CDA" ), 47 U.S.C. § 230(c) (2012). We conclude that the CDA does not bar the claim. We reverse and remand for further proceedings.

I. Background

At the motion to dismiss stage, we assume factual allegations stated in the Complaint filed by Plaintiff to be true.[1] Sprewell v. Golden State Warriors, 266 F.3d 979, 988 (9th Cir. 2001). Plaintiff alleges that Internet Brands owns and operates the website modelmayhem.com, which it purchased in 2008. Model Mayhem is a networking site for professional and aspiring models to market their services. It has over 600,000 members. Plaintiff Jane Doe, a fictitious name, was an aspiring model who became a member of Model Mayhem.

Unbeknownst to Jane Doe, two persons, Lavont Flanders and Emerson Callum, were using Model Mayhem to identify targets for ...


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