Dart v. Craigslist, Inc., No. 09 C 1385 (N.D. Ill. Oct. 20, 2009)
The United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois held, on Craigslist’s motion for judgment on the pleadings, that Craigslist is not liable for the content posted by its viewers. The court cited Section 230(c) of the Communications Decency Act, concluding that Craigslist, as an Internet classified ads service provider, is immune to civil liability for third party content. The court found Craigslist analogous to an ISP or phone service provider and thus not liable for users’ content and conduct, as opposed to, as plaintiff contended, a newspaper or magazine which may be held liable for its ads.
Plaintiff Tomas Dart, the Sheriff of Cook County Illinois, alleges that Craigslist is facilitating prostitution through their erotic (now “adult”) services section, and thus constitutes a public nuisance. Plaintiff sought money damages and to enjoin Craigslist from hosting its adult services section (Compl. P 1; id. at P 27.) Dart claims that Craigslist violated Illinois statute by arranging “meetings of persons for purposes of prostitution and directs them to a place for the purpose of prostitution.” As evidence, Dart cites “The Polaris Project,” an advocacy group against human trafficking, stating that “Craigslist is the single largest source for prostitution, including child exploitation, in the country.”
The court’s holding is wise and conservative; to rule otherwise would blatantly disregard the plain meaning of the Communications Decency Act, and invite a slew of litigation. The court does note, however, that the act does not protect online content hosts from all civil liability, warning that Craigslist could be held liable for its own content or if its system were truly designed to encourage or cause the unlawful behavior. Given Craigslist’s existing precautions, it seems this message is directed at the public rather that to Craigslist itself.