‘Scruff’ App Qualifies for Section 230 Immunity–J.R. v. Mancino

“Scruff is a web application that provides a matchmaking platform for men.” I believe competes (at least in part) with Grindr.

The plaintiff (the victim’s parent, proceeding pro se) alleges that Scruff app users exchanged CSAM and discussed plans to commit sexual abuse of the minor-victim. The plaintiff alleged a long list of claims against Scruff, including (1) negligence/recklessness/willful and wanton conduct; (2) negligence per se; (3) civil conspiracy; (4) outrage/intentional or reckless infliction of emotional distress; (5) products liability—design defect; (6) violations of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1595 and 1591; (7) violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2255; (8) violation of S.C. Code Ann. § 16-3-2010 et seq.; (9) necessaries; and (10) unfair trade practices in violation of S.C. Code Ann. § 39-5-10 et seq. The court grants Scruff’s motion to dismiss based on Section 230.

ICS Provider. The parties agree that Scruff qualifies.

Third-Party Content. The complaint says “Defendants Mancino and Aspinwall created the content that harmed Plaintiffs.” The plaintiff argued that Scruff materially contributed to the illegality “by failing to properly monitor the content of communications exchanged on its platform, and by failing to implement policies to identify and eliminate sex trafficking on its platform.” The court responds that “these claims do not allege affirmative conduct beyond merely providing a platform to communicate.” Cite to MH v. Omegle.

Publisher/Speaker Claim. The plaintiff claimed that Scruff should have known that the users in question were sexual predators and blocked their accounts accordingly. The court responds: “courts have repeatedly determined that the decision to allow access to and use of an internet application constitutes publishing activity covered by the CDA, as does the decision not to police communications between or among an internet application’s users.” Cites to Force v. Facebook (both the lower court and 2d Circuit rulings), Doe v. Backpage, Doe v. Grindr, Fields v. Twitter, Saponaro v. Grindr.

The design defect allegations are rejected per M.P. v. Meta Platforms: “Plaintiffs cannot ‘plead around Section 230 immunity’ in an attempt to style operations and decisions that inherently result from the publishing of third-party content as non-publisher activity.”

Thus, the court reaches the Section 230 denouement that’s inevitable for pleadings of this nature. The court concludes:

While the communications exchanged by Defendants Mancino and Aspinwall (and the actions that resulted therefrom) are deplorable, the CDA prohibits Plaintiffs from holding Defendant Perry Street—as the mere platform for the appalling exchanges between Defendants Mancino and Aspinwall—liable for their conduct

In related developments, Mancino has pleaded guilty to a CSAM charge. Aspinwall was also charged with multiple CSAM crimes; I can’t easily determine where those charges stand.

Case Citation: J.R. v. Mancino, 2024 WL 3048368 (D.S.C. May 31, 2024). Some background on this case.

I believe this is my first blog post on Scruff. Prior Blog Posts About Grindr: