Tech Companies Mull Appeal To Supreme Court In Lawsuit Over Terrorist Bombing

Twitter, Facebook and Google are considering asking the Supreme Court to throw out a lawsuit accusing them of helping the terrorist organization Islamic State to expand, the companies said in a document filed late Friday with an appellate court.

The companies disclosed the potential move in papers asking the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to hold off on finalizing an earlier decision that allowed the lawsuit to move forward.

The companies said they need additional time to confer with each other about “the potential complexities” of an appeal to the Supreme Court, and asked for the appellate court to wait until January 21 before sending the case back to the trial judge.

The request came several days after the 9th Circuit rejected the companies' earlier petition to revisit a ruling that allows family members of Jordanian citizen Nawras Alassaf -- who was killed in a January 2017 terrorist attack in Istanbul -- to proceed with a lawsuit.

Alassaf's family alleged that Google, Twitter and Facebook aided and abetted ISIS, in violation of the Anti-Terrorism Act -- a law that enables people harmed by international terrorism to sue anyone who knowingly assists foreign terrorist organizations.

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A trial judge dismissed the lawsuit, but a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit revived the case in June, ruling that the family could proceed with allegations that the platforms' services were “central to ISIS’s growth and expansion,” and that the companies “allowed ISIS accounts and content to remain public even after receiving complaints.”

“Not every transaction with a designated terrorist organization will sufficiently state a claim for aiding-and-abetting liability,” the judges wrote. “But given the facts alleged here, we conclude the ... plaintiffs adequately state a claim for aiding-and-abetting liability.”

Google, Twitter and Facebook then urged the appellate court to reconsider the ruling, arguing that it marked an “unprecedented approach” that contradicts traditional principles of “aiding and abetting.”

“Until now, no court has allowed an [Anti-Terrorism Act] claim to proceed where the defendant provided only standardized services, common to billions of users, that supporters of a terrorist organization allegedly used to benefit that organization,” the companies wrote in papers filed in August.

They sought a new hearing by the same three judges who originally decided the case, or a hearing in front of at least 11 of the circuit court's judges.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce backed that request, arguing that the appellate panel's decision expands the scope of the Anti-Terrorism Act “far beyond anything that Congress intended.”

The same three judges who rejected that request also refused to revive claims against the tech companies in two other lawsuits stemming from terrorist attacks -- one in Paris and the other in San Bernardino, California.

The lawsuit stemming from the Paris attack was brought against Google only, while the one stemming from the San Bernardino shooting was brought against all three.

The victims and families in those cases also petitioned the 9th Circuit to reconsider those decisions. On Monday, the 9th Circuit said it wouldn't reconsider the request to revive claims against Google over the Paris attack. Last week, the court rejected a similar request regarding the lawsuit over the San Bernardino incident.

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