47 USC 230 Can Support 12b6 Motion to Dismiss-Gibson v. Craigslist

By Eric Goldman

Gibson v. Craigslist, 2009 WL 1704355 (SDNY June 15, 2009). The CMLP page. The Justia page.

In my lengthy deconstruction of the Barnes v. Yahoo case, I criticized the Ninth Circuit for concluding that 47 USC 230 was an affirmative defense (and thus could not support a 12b6 motion to dismiss) without proper briefing or analysis. First, this was sloppy work by the court. Second, the elimination of a 12b6 possibility for the defendants creates a real risk that defendants will be exposed to expensive and time-consuming discovery to eliminate plainly meritless cases. Yahoo and a group of amici have asked the Ninth Circuit to reconsider this aspect of the ruling, and I hope they do so.

Meanwhile, today’s case does a competent job reviewing whether or not 47 USC 230 can support a 12b6 motion to dismiss. Unlike the Ninth Circuit, it actually cites and discusses the numerous cases in the area although, remarkably, it does not cite or address the Barnes v. Yahoo case…! The court reaches the sensible positions that (1) 47 USC 230 does support a 12b6 motion, (2) as a result, the plaintiff was not entitled to discovery, and (3) the case should be dismissed. For more discussion on why 47 USC 230 supports a 12b6, see Paul Levy’s excellent brief.

Substantively, today’s lawsuit is brought by a shooting victim who claims that the shooter bought the gun via Craigslist. The complaint argues that Craigslist had a duty to prevent the sale of guns to future criminals and therefore Craigslist breached the duty. This argument is similar to the Doe v. MySpace cases (1, 2) in which the plaintiffs argued that MySpace had a duty to police its website “premises” to prevent online communications that lead to offline crimes. The plaintiff’s argument here fares no better here than it did in the MySpace cases. 47 USC 230 precludes the imposition of liability for any breach of duty by failing to police its users’ communications (putting aside the also-relevant inquiry of whether Craigslist could have any duty that would have prevented this offline tragedy). The plaintiff tries to get around 230 by arguing it’s just trying to hold Craigslist accountable as a “business” rather than as a speaker or publisher of third party content, but the court rejects this goofy argument as “unpersuasive.”

More on the case from Eugene Volokh.