Sixth Circuit to Construe Scope of CDA Section 230 Immunity on Appeal of Unusual Jones v. Dirty World Decision

23 09 2013

How can a website operator lose the broad immunity for liability associated with user-generated content conferred by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA)?

Section 230 has been consistently interpreted by most courts to protect website operators against claims arising out of third-party content, despite some less than honorable conduct by operators.  See, for example, our previous post here.  Courts have applied Section 230 even when they have found it problematic to do so, such as in Directory Assistants, Inc. v. Supermedia, LLC, 2012 WL 3329615 (E.D. Va. May 30, 2012), in which the court wrote, “The prospect of blanket immunity for those who intentionally redistribute defamatory statements could have widespread and potentially catastrophic consequences for individuals and entities alike.  Nevertheless, under the CDA the Court’s hands are tied.”

Thus, it is with great interest that we watch the appeal to the Sixth Circuit, filed on July 15, 2013, of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky’s unusual decision in Jones v. Dirty World, 840 F.Supp.2d 1008 (E.D. Ky. 2012).  In Jones, the court dismissed the defendant website operators’ motion for summary judgment based on Section 230, leading to a jury award this past July of $380,000 in compensatory and punitive damages against the defendants for defamation and invasion of privacy.  In the court’s opinion, and in its supplemental memorandum opinion issued after the jury verdict to “explain further” its rationale, Judge William O. Bertelsman drew a line less favorable to website operators with respect to third-party content than other courts have generally adopted.

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