Section 230 Applies to Police Union’s Message Board–Desilet v. East Hartford Police Officers’ Association

Courtney Desilet was a police officer for the East Hartford police department. She alleges she was the victim of workplace discrimination and harassment. Her allegations sparked chatter on the union’s message board, including anonymous messages attacking her. She sued (among others) the union and its president/sysop Iacono for those messages. The court grants their motions to dismiss based on Section 230 grounds.

This isn’t a complicated conclusion. The plaintiff didn’t introduce any evidence that the union or Iacono posted the anonymous messages. Instead, the plaintiff apparently argued they should be liable for allowing anonymous comments at all. This is an argument against Section 230 I haven’t heard in many years, and it fails like it always has. Thus, the court says simply, “The plaintiff’s allegations concerning the union’s blog fall within the editorial functions that have been afforded immunity under § 230, and therefore the defendants are immune from liability as interactive computer service providers.”

There have been a few similar 230/association rulings, including Ricci v. Teamsters (cited by the court), Weigand v. NLRB, and Inge v. Central Motorcycle Roadracing Association.

To get around Section 230, the plaintiff argued that the defendants should be vicariously liable for the anonymous comments. If that confuses you, you are not alone–this is exactly what Section 230 is intended to prevent. The court doesn’t find it confusing at all:

The invocation of vicarious liability in the present case runs counter to the CDA’s express mandates and Congress’s intent when it was enacted. The act specifically shields interactive computer service providers from liability from the potentially injurious messages posted to the service by other information content providers, and expressly preempts state law which seeks to hold service providers liable for information provided by another information content provider. Accordingly, § 230 preempts General Statutes § 52-76, which would have the effect of holding a service provider liable for the information provided by another information content provider in violation of §§ 230 (c)(1) and 230 (e)(3).

Although the court doesn’t make it explicit, chalk this ruling up as another example of how Section 230 can protect ICS users in addition to ICS providers.

The court adds that the vicarious liability claim against the union would also fail on its elements because “there is no evidence that individual union members authorized, approved, actively participated in, aided and abetted or ratified the comments posted on the blog.”

Although her lawsuit against the union and its sysop has partially failed, Desilet did obtain a settlement from the city.

Case Citation: Desilet v. East Hartford Police Officers Association, 2022 WL 18047309 (Conn. Superior Ct. Dec. 27, 2022)