Sex Trafficking Lawsuit Against Craigslist Moves Forward–ML v. Craigslist

In April, a magistrate judge issued a breathtaking ruling that Craigslist can be sued for sex trafficking torts, that Section 230 didn’t support Craigslist’s motion to dismiss, and that the statute of limitations might not apply even though the facts at issue took place in 2008 or before. Craigslist contested the magistrate report but makes no progress with the supervising judge.

Section 230

Craigslist pushed back on the plaintiffs’ allegations that Craigslist had been involved with creation or development of the sex traffickers’ ads. The court says the following allegations sufficed to survive Craigslist’s motion to dismiss:

her complaint makes numerous allegations regarding craigslist’s involvement in developing or creating the advertisements used to traffic Plaintiff—more than the plaintiffs in Chicago Lawyers’ or in Dart. Plaintiff alleges that traffickers developed the advertisements in conjunction with craigslist’s rules and guidelines. Plaintiff also alleges that the traffickers would pay a fee to craigslist so that the advertisement could be displayed in the “erotic services” section of the website. Plaintiff claims that craigslist facilitated and assisted traffickers and purchasers through its communication system, which allowed anonymous communication and evasion of law enforcement. Through craigslist’s unique system, Plaintiff alleges that craigslist facilitated her trafficking and reaped financial benefits. Moreover, Plaintiff alleges that it was craigslist’s policy that images on the “erotic services” section of the website were to be blurred and cropped and that traffickers used this policy to facilitate and further Plaintiff’s trafficking. These allegations go beyond a mere assertion that craigslist contributed materially to Plaintiff’s trafficking by having an “erotic services” section. Plaintiff rather asserts specific, concrete actions taken by craigslist that facilitated her trafficking.

Everyone agrees that Craigslist accepted paid advertising. Is the court saying that such services categorically don’t qualify for Section 230? Because otherwise, exactly what “specific, concrete actions” did Craigslist take to facilitate the plaintiff’s trafficking? A reminder what Doe v., LLC, 817 F.3d 12, 22 (1st Cir. 2016) said on this point: “[C]laims that a website facilitates illegal conduct through its posting rules necessarily treat the website as a publisher or speaker of content provided by third parties and, thus, are precluded by section 230(c)(1).”

The plaintiff’s FOSTA claims get the same Section 230 treatment:

The Court agrees with craigslist’s argument that FOSTA does not create [a Section 230] exemption for all § 1595 claims. Yet, for the same reasons discussed in the preceding section on Plaintiff’s state law claims, CDA immunity for Plaintiff’s federal law TVPRA claim is not warranted at this stage. Plaintiff has alleged sufficient facts in regard to craigslist’s development or creation of the advertisements which trafficked Plaintiff.

The court didn’t address the JB v. Craigslist ruling’s discussion of Section 230, which found that Craigslist qualified for Section 230 against sex trafficking allegations.

1595 Claim

Craigslist said it lacked the requisite scienter about the plaintiff’s situation. The court now acknowledges and agrees with the JB case, specifically its suggestion that constructive knowledge satisfies the 1595 scienter requirement:

Plaintiff has alleged that craigslist was aware that its website was hosting sex trafficking advertisements, and that craigslist benefitted financially through charging fees for advertisements on its “erotic services” section. At this stage, Plaintiff has pled sufficient facts to establish that craigslist plausibly had constructive knowledge of her trafficking. Plaintiff does not need to allege that craigslist knew specifically of her trafficking or of Plaintiff’s specific identity, but rather that craigslist knowingly fostered a business relationship with traffickers to support the venture of trafficking Plaintiff. Here, Plaintiff has alleged that craigslist knew that traffickers were using the “erotic services” section of its website and that craigslist retained a financial benefit from her traffickers through the purchase of advertisements on the “erotic services” section. Therefore, Plaintiff has sufficiently alleged that craigslist had constructive knowledge of her trafficking

Once again, the court may be implying that every ad-supported venue potentially satisfies the scienter standard if it published ads from sex traffickers.

Though Craigslist didn’t make any real progress in this ruling, the district court judge reiterates that the plaintiff can only recover damages for the 1595 claim for activity between December 23, 2008 and December 31,2008–if any. Between the statute of limitations and the likelihood that the 1595 conduct falls outside this window, this case may look substantially different when the court reaches those questions on summary judgment.

Case Citation: M.L. v. Craigslist, 2020 WL 5494903 (W.D. Wash. Sept. 11, 2020)

More SESTA/FOSTA-Related Posts:

* Section 230 Preempts Another FOSTA Claim–Doe v. Kik
Section 230 Protects Craigslist from Sex Trafficking Claims, Despite FOSTA–JB v. Craigslist
Facebook Still Can’t Dismiss Sex Trafficking Victims’ Lawsuit in Texas State Court
Craigslist Denied Section 230 Immunity for Classified Ads from 2008–ML v. Craigslist
2H 2019 and Q1 2020 Quick Links, Part 3 (FOSTA/Backpage)
New Paper Explains How FOSTA Devastated Male Sex Workers
FOSTA Constitutional Challenge Revived–Woodhull Freedom Foundation v. US
New Civil FOSTA Lawsuits Push Expansive Legal Theories Against Unexpected Defendants (Guest Blog Post)
Section 230 Helps Salesforce Defeat Sex Trafficking Lawsuit–Doe v. Salesforce
Latest Linkwrap on FOSTA’s Aftermath
Section 230 Doesn’t End Lawsuit Claiming Facebook Facilitated Sex Trafficking–Doe v. Facebook
New Essay: The Complicated Story of FOSTA and Section 230
Who Benefited from FOSTA? (Spoiler: Probably No One)
FOSTA’s Political Curse
FOSTA Doesn’t Help Pro Se Litigant’s Defamation Claim Against Facebook
Constitutional Challenge to FOSTA Dismissed for Lack of Standing (Guest Blog Post)
An Update on the Constitutional Court Challenge to FOSTA–Woodhull Freedom v. US (Guest Blog Post)
Indianapolis Police Have Been “Blinded Lately Because They Shut Backpage Down”
Constitutional Challenge Against FOSTA Filed–Woodhull v. US (Guest Blog Post)
Catching Up on FOSTA Since Its Enactment (A Linkwrap)
More Aftermath from the ‘Worst of Both Worlds FOSTA’
‘Worst of Both Worlds’ FOSTA Signed Into Law, Completing Section 230’s Evisceration
Backpage Loses Another Section 230 Motion (Again Without SESTA/FOSTA)–Florida Abolitionists v. Backpage
District Court Ruling Highlights Congress’ Hastiness To Pass ‘Worst of Both Worlds FOSTA’– Doe 1 v. Backpage
More on the Unconstitutional Retroactivity of ‘Worst of Both Worlds FOSTA’ (Guest Blog Post)
Senate Passes ‘Worst of Both Worlds FOSTA’ (Linkwrap)
Why FOSTA’s Restriction on Prostitution Promotion Violates the First Amendment (Guest Blog Post)
SESTA’s Sponsors Still Don’t Understand Section 230 (As They Are About to Eviscerate It)
Can the ‘Worst of Both Worlds FOSTA’ Be Salvaged? Perhaps…and You Can Help (URGENT CALL TO ACTION)
Congress Probably Will Ruin Section 230 This Week (SESTA/FOSTA Updates)
What’s New With SESTA/FOSTA (January 17, 2018 edition)
New House Bill (Substitute FOSTA) Has More Promising Approach to Regulating Online Sex Trafficking
* My testimony at the House Energy & Commerce Committee: Balancing Section 230 and Anti-Sex Trafficking Initiatives
How SESTA Undermines Section 230’s Good Samaritan Provisions
Manager’s Amendment for SESTA Slightly Improves a Still-Terrible Bill
Another Human Trafficking Expert Raises Concerns About SESTA (Guest Blog Post)
Another SESTA Linkwrap (Week of October 30)
Recent SESTA Developments (A Linkwrap)
Section 230’s Applicability to ‘Inconsistent’ State Laws (Guest Blog Post)
An Overview of Congress’ Pending Legislation on Sex Trafficking (Guest Blog Post)
The DOJ’s Busts of MyRedbook & Rentboy Show How Backpage Might Be Prosecuted (Guest Blog Post)
Problems With SESTA’s Retroactivity Provision (Guest Blog Post)
My Senate Testimony on SESTA + SESTA Hearing Linkwrap
Debunking Some Myths About Section 230 and Sex Trafficking (Guest Blog Post)
Congress Is About To Ruin Its Online Free Speech Masterpiece (Cross-Post)
Backpage Executives Must Face Money Laundering Charges Despite Section 230–People v. Ferrer
How Section 230 Helps Sex Trafficking Victims (and SESTA Would Hurt Them) (guest blog post)
Sen. Portman Says SESTA Doesn’t Affect the Good Samaritan Defense. He’s Wrong
Senate’s “Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act of 2017”–and Section 230’s Imminent Evisceration
The “Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017” Bill Would Be Bad News for Section 230
WARNING: Draft “No Immunity for Sex Traffickers Online Act” Bill Poses Major Threat to Section 230
The Implications of Excluding State Crimes from 47 U.S.C. § 230’s Immunity