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Wednesday, July 07, 2021

Today in dumb lawsuits

Coming to my neck of the woods in the Southern District of Florida: Class action lawsuits by Trump against Twitter and Jack Dorsey; YouTube and Sundar Pichai; and Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg; all allege violations of the First Amendment and the constitutional invalidity of § 230 (I guess because by protecting private actors, it incentivized their censorship or improperly delegated censorial power).

I think we can agree that this is stupid, for many of the reasons that this lawsuit was stupid. But wait, this one gives us more:

• There may not be personal jurisdiction here. Some of the named defendants are not Florida citizens. Trump was still President and residing (if nor domiciled) and tweeting from D.C. when Twitter and Facebook banned him. So the act of banning him was not "aimed at" Florida.

• Venue may not be proper. My understanding is that terms of service agreements include forum-selection clauses that funnel these cases to California. I have to look into that further. Update: Yep. Brad Heath of Reuters reports that Twitter and Facebook both require that federal lawsuits be in the Northern District of California]

• I do not know how you get a declaratory judgment that a law is invalid without suing the person charged with enforcing that law. Facebook, Twitter, et al., do not "enforce" § 230. They enforce their private terms of agreement and the rules for their sites. If § 230 has the effect of converting them into state actors (it does not, but work with me) in banning Trump and others, they still are enforcing their own private terms of service; but those terms of service have been converted into public regulations subject to First Amendment limits. The companies are not enforcing § 230. Enforcement of § 230 rests with someone in the executive branch. But no government officials have been sued. Update: Another problem with this issue that has been raised: Challenges to the constitutional validity of all provisions of the CDA of 1996, including § 230, must be heard by a three-judge district court.

• The purported class is everyone banned since June 1, 2018 within the United States, which includes a whole of people engaged in unprotected speech (as opposed to Trump's protected-but-false-and-offensive speech), That may be too broad to certify.

• The captions list the first plaintiff as "DONALD J. TRUMP, the Forty-Fifth President of the United States," which might be one of the saddest things in any pleading. And I teach the case brought by "NARUTO, a Crested Macaque." This is worse.

• Yes, the lawyers who filed this nonsense should be held up to public ridicule and potential clients should take this into account in deciding whether to retain them.  Also, referring to "Democrat lawmakers" works on Twitter and the Republican echo chamber; in real life, it is disrespectful. This tells us one of two things: 1) The lawyers are talking to the public rather than the court or 2) The lawyers assume the judge will be as hacky as they are; neither is likely to play well with the judge. Whether that warrants sanctions or PR consequences is another story.

Update: A point I saw raised: Trump spent four years arguing that he was not a state actor when blocking people from his Twitter and Facebook pages, while now arguing that those who created the site he was using are state actors. Are those positions reconcilable? If Twitter and Facebook are state actors, how does that affect the people who use those sites in their relationships to other users? If the site is state-run, does that make every piece of the site state-run, such that the individual user also is a state actor?

Another Update: How does the invalidity of § 230 affect the under-color argument? The defendants act under color (allegedly) because § 230 gives them immunity from suit and delegates censorial power and because the threatened repeal coerced/compelled/induced them to censor certain messages. But if § 230 is invalid (facially, according to the complaint), would it not be a good thing that Congress sought to amend or repeal? Alternatively, if the court declares § 230 invalid, does that eliminate the close nexus, so the defendants no longer are under color?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 7, 2021 at 12:28 PM in Civil Procedure, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink

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