District Court Dismisses Facebook User’s Claims that Account Termination Violated First and Fourteenth Amendments and Various State Laws
By Samantha Kuhn – Edited by Matt Gelfand
Young v. Facebook, Inc., 5:10-cv-03579-JF/PVT (N.D. Cal. Oct. 25, 2010)
Opinion hosted by Justia.com
On October 25, 2010, the U.S District Court for the Northern District of California granted Facebook’s motion to dismiss Karen Beth Young’s complaint that, in terminating her account, Facebook violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments as well as state contract and tort law, for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. The court has granted Young a thirty-day period during which she may file an amended complaint.
With respect to the claim that Facebook deprived Young of equal protection by failing to accommodate her need for human interaction (resulting from bi-polar disorder), the court held that because Young failed to allege a deprivation of rights “under color of state law,” she has not stated a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In so holding, the court noted that the simple existence of contracts and relationships between Facebook and the government are insufficient to establish a claim under § 1983. Young, the court suggests, would have to show some nexus between those specific contracts and the alleged rights violations or, if certain Facebook activities amounted to state action, a causal relationship between those activities and the injuries suffered.
With respect to the claims for breach of contract, breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, negligence, and fraud, the court held that Young failed to state a claim on all four counts due to the absence of applicable contractual obligations on Facebook’s part, an explicit disclaimer in Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities that released responsibility for safety from third party conduct, and a lack of specificity in Young’s allegations. In addition to the specific shortcomings of Young’s pleading in this case, the court referred to the policy concerns manifested in the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which severely restricts the liability of interactive computer service providers for content posted by third parties.
A brief summary of the claims and bases for dismissal can be found in Evan Brown’s article on the Internet Cases blog. Eric Goldman provides an additional overview of the court’s conclusions and takes issue with the court’s concession that, had Young argued that there was a bad faith or arbitrary cancellation of her account, this could potentially constitute a violation of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. (more…)