Failure-to-Warn Claim Against Match.com Fails–Beckman v. Match.com
The Ninth Circuit’s Doe 14 v. Internet Brands and Beckman v. Match.com rulings held that Section 230 immunity did not apply to failure-to-warn claims. Those rulings revived both cases and provided some encouragement to plaintiffs more generally. However, this hope has proven to be false. The plaintiffs cannot win failure-to-warn claim on their merits, so the extra litigation cycles inevitably led to the exact same result as Section 230 immunity, just after more time and money in court.
The Beckman v. Match.com failure-to-warn issue was appealed back to the Ninth Circuit, and last week the Ninth Circuit dismissed it in a brief memo opinion. Beckman lacked the “special relationship” with Match.com necessary to create a duty to warn:
Nevada courts have never recognized a special relationship akin to that between Beckman and Match, and Beckman failed to allege facts sufficient to show that her ability to provide for her own protection was limited by her “submission to the control of the other” such that a special relationship should be found here.
Not even close.
I’ve mentioned the Doe 14 denouement before, but for completeness I’ll reiterate here that it reached the same outcome. In 2016, on remand, the district court dismissed the Doe 14 v. Internet Brands case because the plaintiff lacked a special relationship:
The more difficult question is whether Internet Brands had a “special relationship” with Jane Doe, who along with at least 600,000 others, were members of the Model Mayhem website. The relationship between Jane Doe and Internet Brands, a website operator, does not fall under any of the well-recognized “special relationships” under California law, and the Court has not found, nor have the parties cited, any case in which courts have found the existence of a “special relationship” or imposed a duty under similar or analogous circumstances….
While Jane Doe’s injuries are no doubt severe, the Court concludes that there is no exceptional reason to depart from the general common law rule that “one owes no duty to control the conduct of another, nor to warn those endangered by such conduct.” Although it may have been foreseeable that Flanders and Callum would strike again, Internet Brands only had knowledge of a threat to its member base at large, not to any specific member. Imposing a duty to warn under these circumstances would, in the Court’s opinion, only minimally increase the precautions already taken by website users, and would also likely cause website operators to inundate and overwhelm their users with warnings, ultimately diluting the effectiveness of such warnings. Moreover, as argued by Internet Brands and amicus curiae in the Ninth Circuit, imposing a duty in this case would likely have a “chilling effect” on the internet by opening the floodgates of litigation.
I think it’s time to declare the failure-to-warn exception to Section 230 a dead-end for plaintiffs. Pleading around Section 230 with a failure-to-warn claim brings plaintiffs no closer to victory.
Case citation: Beckman v. Match.com, LLC, No. 17-16043 (9th Cir. Nov. 21, 2018)
Other Section 230/Failure-to-Warn Blog Posts: