Sex Trafficking Victims Urge Court To Reconsider 'Radical' Pro-Backpage Decision

Three teen sex trafficking victims who want to sue Backpage are pressing a federal appeals court to reconsider a recent decision in favor of the online classifieds site.

A three-judge panel of the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals ruled two weeks ago that the teens can't proceed with their case due to the federal Communications Decency Act. That law says that companies offering interactive online platforms are immune from liability for activity by their users.

Lawyers for the teens argue that the decision marked an expansion of the Communications Decency Act.

"The panel’s radical interpretation of the CDA to establish a new form of absolute immunity ... has disturbing implications for the operation of the Internet, as well as for efforts to combat online sex trafficking and other crimes," the teens' lawyers write in papers filed Wednesday.

The teens are seeking to revive a lawsuit filed in October 2014, when they alleged that Backpage (along with related companies Camarillo Holdings and New Times Media) violated a host of laws, including federal and state laws against sex trafficking and a state law against unfair and deceptive conduct.

Backpage countered that it wasn't responsible for crimes committed by users of its service. Last year, U.S. District Court Judge Richard G. Stearns accepted Backpage's argument and dismissed the case. The teens then appealed to the 1st Circuit, which also ruled against them.

"The law requires that we, like the court below, deny relief to plaintiffs whose circumstances evoke outrage," the appellate judges wrote in a 3-0 decision. One of the judges on the panel was retired Supreme Court Justice David Souter, who sometimes hears cases in the 1st Circuit.

"Congress did not sound an uncertain trumpet when it enacted the CDA, and it chose to grant broad protections to internet publishers," the appellate ruling reads. "Showing that a website operates through a meretricious business model is not enough to strip away those protections."

Lawyers for teens the argue in their latest round of papers that Backpage "participated in the trafficking ventures," by engaging in a "knowing and voluntary course of conduct that was designed to increase the incidence and effectiveness of sex trafficking on its website."

They are seeking to reargue the case before a larger group of appellate judges.

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