Section 230 Precludes Injunctive Relief Against Message Boards–Medytox v. InvestorsHub

Photo credit: enameled house number two hundred and thirty // ShutterStock

Photo credit: enameled house number two hundred and thirty // ShutterStock

We’re celebrating #ThrowbackThursday today at the Technology & Marketing Law Blog! InvestorsHub runs message boards on financial topics. A user, Hawley, posted several messages on InvestorsHub about Medytox and its principals. Medytox and the principals sued Hawley for defamation and contacted InvestorsHub for its help. InvestorsHub removed two Hawley posts but kept 2 others. Eventually, Medytox sued InvestorsHub for an injunction ordering the removal of the remaining posts.

To work around the obvious Section 230 immunity, the plaintiffs try the oh-so-tired argument that Section 230 only preempts money damages but not equitable relief. This argument is so specious, it only works on TV soap operas (see this 2013 episode of The Good Wife, getting Section 230 right on defamation damages and wrong on injunctive relief). In non-fictional courts of law, DIRECTLY ON POINT is the 2011 Florida ruling in Giordano v. Romeo, which specifically ruled that Section 230 preempts equitable relief. The court further cites four other moldy-oldy rulings rejecting the plaintiffs’ argument, including Ben Ezra (from 2000), Noah (from 2003), Kathleen R. (from 2001) and Intercosmos (from 2002). In other words, this vector of attack on Section 230–if it was ever viable–had repeatedly failed over a dozen years ago. (The court doesn’t discuss the Blockowicz case, which isn’t directly on point but nevertheless highly relevant). The court concludes:

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. An action to force a website to remove content on the sole basis that the content is defamatory is necessarily treating the website as a publisher, and is therefore inconsistent with section 230. Thus, by the plain language of the statute, the immunity afforded by section 230 encompasses the claims for declaratory and injunctive relief sought in this case.

Notice that the odds of this case being brought go down substantially if it might be covered by a robust anti-SLAPP statute. Florida does have an anti-SLAPP law but it’s too narrow to get the job done. This is another good example of why a federal anti-SLAPP law would do a lot of good, even in states that already have anti-SLAPP laws.

While Medytox got properly shut down here, don’t underestimate the insatiable desire of plaintiffs to have a legal “magic wand” to make content disappear whenever they want. My next major academic project will look at how plaintiffs are misusing copyright to get around Section 230 and synthetic create the magic wand that no one else in society wants them to have.

Medytox Solutions, Inc. v., Inc., 2014 WL 6775236 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. Dec. 3, 2014).