Union Isn’t Liable for Members’ Postings to Union Message Board–Raggi v. Las Vegas Police

By Eric Goldman

Raggi v. Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Dept., 2009 WL 653000 (D. Nev. March 10, 2009)

Unexpectedly, we’re celebrating union week at the Technology & Marketing Law Blog. Earlier this week, I blogged that union organizers aren’t liable for trademark infringement from their online activism. Today, I’m blogging that 47 USC 230 protects unions from liability for online postings by their members.

The plaintiff sued a variety of defendants for allegedly defaming and discriminating against the plaintiff. This particular ruling involves an SJ motion from the Las Vegas Police Protective Association (“LVPPA”), a union of Las Vegas law enforcement personnel. Two LVPPA union members allegedly posted impermissible messages to a message board operated by LVPPA, and the LVPPA did not remove the targeted messages after the plaintiff’s demand. Even with the refusal to take down the messages, this set of facts supports an easy 47 USC 230 case for the message board operator (see, e.g., Eckerd, DiMeo v. Max, Universal Communication Systems v. Lycos, Higher Balance), and frankly I think most plaintiffs are finally getting that message.

The complicating factor here is some caselaw suggesting that there may be a principal-agent relationship between unions and their members when members are conducting union business. Elsewhere, I’ve raised the issue of whether principal-agency relationships allow plaintiffs to bypass 47 USC 230; I think that’s still an open issue. See more discussion of this issue in my Higher Balance blog post. The court can avoid this doctrinally thorny issue because the posting members weren’t conducting union business while posting. The plaintiff argued that, by failing to remove the postings, the union ratified the members’ posts, but the court rejected that bypass as well. As a result, the court reaches the sensible result that 47 USC 230 protects unions for their members’ online postings.