4th DCA: CDA applies to injunctions, too
Earlier this month, the Fourth District Court of Appeals found that the Communications Decency Act protected websites in actions for injunctive relief as well as those for damages.
West Palm Beach medical tech company Medytox Solutions, Inc. sued InvestorsHub.com to have allegedly defamatory postings removed from the website. Although the website removed two posts voluntarily, it declined to remove the remaining two, which gave rise to the lawsuit.
InvestorsHub.com is a forum for investors to discuss financial markets and information about public companies. According to the suit, it hosts nearly 85 million individual postings on almost 22,000 separate message boards, with about 40,000 new messages added each trading day.
InvestorsHub moved to dismiss the suit on the grounds that it was immune as an internet service provider under section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Plaintiffs appealed, arguing the Communications Decency Act did not preempt actions in equity but rather only applied to limited to tort-based claims seeking monetary damages.
Section 230 prevents interactive computer services from being treated as the publisher or speaker of something that one of its users posted. 47 U.S.C. § 230(c)(1). The purpose is to avoid finding a service provider liable for exercising a publisher’s traditional editorial functions, i.e. deciding whether to publish, withdraw, postpone or alter content, so as to encourage the unfettered and unregulated development of free speech on the Internet, and to promote development of e-commerce.
The statute has a few exceptions, such as actions based on federal criminal statutes, intellectual property law, or “any State law that is consistent with this section.” 47 U.S.C. § 230(e)(1)-(3). However, actions in libel (defamation) are included.
The Court looked to federal cases throughout the country and noted that other courts have found that the section 230 immunity encompasses claims for injunctive relief. Because the statute precludes not only “liability,” but also causes of action for other forms of relief based upon any State or local law inconsistent with section 230, the court found that an action to force a website to remove defamatory content would be inconsistent with section 230. Ruling in favor of InvestorsHub, the Court affirmed the dismissal of Medytox’s case.
The case is Medytox Solutions, Inc. v. Investorshub.com, Inc., No. 4D13-3469, 2014 WL 6775236 (Fla. DCA Dec. 3, 2014), and is available here.