Idea Submission Case Revived Against MySpace–Riggs v. MySpace

By Eric Goldman

Riggs v. MySpace, Inc., 2011 WL 3020543 (9th Cir. July 25, 2011)

Riggs created a popular MySpace page, only to have MySpace delete it twice. Not pleased by that turn of events, for years Riggs has been doggedly pursuing a lawsuit against MySpace pro se. Two years ago, the district court unceremoniously bounced her lawsuit relying, in part, on a novel reading of 47 USC 230(c)(1). The Ninth Circuit upheld the 230 ruling on appeal:

The district court properly dismissed Riggs’s negligence and gross negligence claims, arising from MySpace’s decisions to delete Riggs’s user profiles on its social networking website yet not delete other profiles Riggs alleged were created by celebrity imposters, because these claims were precluded by section 230(c)(1) of the Communications Decency Act. See Fair Hous. Council of San Fernando Valley v., LLC, 521 F.3d 1157, 1170-71 (9th Cir. 2008) (en banc) (“[A]ny activity that can be boiled down to deciding whether to exclude material that third parties seek to post online is perforce immune under section 230.”).

Another citation for the defense. But, as I explain in my prior blog post, I think this should have been a 230(c)(2) dismissal, not a 230(c)(1) dismissal.

The court also rejected her claim for “promissory fraud breach of contract claim” (whatever that means) for lack of cognizable damages.

However, in an unexpected turn, the court revived her idea submission claim (an implied-in-fact contract breach) “because Riggs alleged in her First Amended Complaint at paragraph 120 that she told the News Corporation’s executive’s assistant that she wanted to “sell” her ideas before she disclosed them.” That’s a pretty weak allegation made to a person who may lack proper authority to promise anything, so the court seemed mighty generous to Riggs in reviving the case. Nevertheless, this is consistent with California’s amorphous idea submission doctrines. They can be a nice end-run to survive motions to dismiss because, by definition, the parties are likely to dispute the facts in an implied-in-fact contract. Sadly, the Ninth Circuit recently expanded the idea submission doctrines in the Larry Montz case (mentioned here), so expect more weak idea submission claims to get further in litigation than they should.

Although the idea submission claim wasn’t really a workaround to 47 USC 230, I think this case bears some parallels to Barnes v. Yahoo. In both cases, 47 USC 230 emphatically closed some doors to plaintiffs, but squishy state law doctrines opened other doors for the plaintiffs. It’s a good reminder why 47 USC 230 works so well. Because it has so few exceptions, it ends cases cold. Fluffy doctrines like promissory estoppel and implied-in-fact contracts make it hard for judges to cleanly end cases early.

Eriq Gardner’s story on the case.