Association Isn’t Liable for Its Members’ Message Board Postings–Inge v. Central Motorcycle Roadracing Association

[It’s impossible to blog about Section 230 without reminding you that it remains highly imperiled.]

Political turmoil can emerge in any community. This case involves a contested election for the Central Motorcycle Roadracing Association’s board. Unsuccessful candidate Inge claimed the organization’s leadership stuffed the ballot box. The fracas spilled over to the CMRA’s online discussion forums, and Inge claims he was defamed there. He sued the organization and various folks associated with it. Would it surprise you to learn that, in his day job, Inge is a litigator?

Perhaps surprisingly, Texas’ strong anti-SLAPP law wasn’t discussed. Nevertheless, Section 230 protects the organization from its members’ postings:

The Court concludes that dismissal is proper insofar as Inge brings this defamation claim against CMRA for posts on its online forum. As an interactive computer service, CMRA is immune from liability for defamatory posts made by its online forum’s users. Inge attributes most of the alleged defamatory statements to individuals who are defendants in this case. The three exceptions are statements ten, fourteen, and fifteen—comments made by nonparties Jessie Davis, Keith Hertell, and Marian Orchard. Because they are not parties to this suit and because CMRA cannot be held liable for their alleged defamatory posting, the Court dismisses Inge’s defamation claim with respect to those three statements.

This case brought to mind the Weigand v. NLRB ruling, where a union wasn’t liable for its members’ online postings–though the ruling didn’t rely on Section 230. It’s nice to have a Section 230 complement about organizations’ liability for running message boards for member discussion. (The Second Circuit’s Ricci ruling in the same genre, but it only addressed GoDaddy’s liability as host, not the union’s liability).

Note: the court included the online comments at issue: “Statement ten: “Take a step back from your keyboard and think for a second. Who in the **** really cares?…Didn’t make the board of directors for [CMRA]? So yer [sic] gonna [sic] sue? Yeah. And I’m what’s wrong with America. What a ****ing joke.” Statement fourteen: “As a long time CMRA member, (18 years) I’ve never seen such a C[**]T!!!.” Statement fifteen: “I’m sure this whole @(#$*@#$ thing wouldn’t have happened had someone paid attention and aired their grievances in the appropriate (and frequently requested) manner.”” Statements 10 and 14 especially looked like a huge stretch for defamation anyway.

Case citation: Inge v. Walker, 2017 WL 4838981 (N.D. Tex. Oct. 26, 2017)