Judge: Complaint Web Site Protected From Suit
Judge Gerald Bruce Lee of Alexandria, Va., ruled that the site is protected from suit based on user comments under the federal Communications Decency Act.
The case involved a franchise of car dealers--Nemet Chevrolet of Jamaica, N.Y., and Thomas Nemet, the proprietor of Nemet Motors--who sued the Fairfax, Va.-based site in March after users complained about the dealerships.
Nemet listed seven examples of posts to the site that were allegedly defamatory. For instance, one unhappy buyer wrote: "We were trying to lease a car. Unfortunately, we got too excited so they took advantage by adding a lot of extras to the car without informing us."
But Nemet alleged that the author of that post had "signed a valid, binding retail agreement with the plaintiffs and then attempted to back out of the contract."
ConsumerAffairs.com argued that the case should be dismissed under the Communications Decency Act, which generally holds that Web sites are immune from liability for comments posted by users. The court agreed and dismissed the lawsuit last week.
Other complaint sites like RipOff Report.com have prevailed in similar lawsuits, but this case was one of the first since a federal appellate court chipped away at the Communications Decency Act in the Roomates.com case.
There, the court ruled that Roommates.com could be sued for civil rights violations because the site helped create the unlawful ads. When the opinion came out, some digital rights advocates warned that the decision could make it easier to sue publishers in general.
In the ConsumerAffairs.com case, Nemet argued that the Communications Decency Act did not shield the site because it allegedly helped users to create the posts by supplying titles, headings and categories. But the court declined to consider that argument because Nemet had not raised it in the initial complaint.
The dismissal seems to signal that some judges are still willing to give Web publishers wide protection from lawsuits based on user comments even after a federal appellate court ruled that the Web site Roommates.com could be sued for discriminatory ads posted by users. "Every defense win after Roomates.com provides further clarity about the limits of that ruling," said Eric Goldman, director of the High Tech Law Institute at Santa Clara University.