Don’t Sue the Messenger: Second Circuit Affirms Dismissal of Defamation Claims Against GoDaddy
On March 18, 2015, in Ricci v. Teamsters Union Local 456, the Second Circuit joined a growing number of courts in finding that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act bars defamation claims against Internet-based service providers.
The lawsuit stemmed from allegedly defamatory statements made in a newsletter posted online. Among others, the injured plaintiffs sued GoDaddy.com, LLC, alleging that GoDaddy hosted the website that contained the allegedly defamatory newsletter. Notably, plaintiffs never alleged that GoDaddy had any role in creating the newsletter. Rather, GoDaddy’s role was predictably passive and limited to (1) hosting the website containing the newsletter; (2) refusing to remove the newsletter from its servers; and (3) refusing to investigate plaintiffs’ complaints.
The district court granted GoDaddy’s motion to dismiss, and the Second Circuit affirmed. Describing how Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act preempts state law and provides that “[n]o provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another,” the court held that GoDaddy would be immune from defamation liability if it was an “interactive computer service.”
The Second Circuit found that GoDaddy was indeed an interactive computer service. Observing that the congressional purpose behind Section 230 was to minimize government interference in the Internet, the Second Circuit held that plaintiffs defamed on the Internet can typically sue the original speaker, but not the messenger. And significantly, though preemption under the Communications Decency Act is typically an affirmative defense, the argument may support a motion to dismiss if such a defense appears on the face of the complaint.
This Second Circuit ruling is another important victory for Internet service providers that act merely as intermediaries. By dismissing the defamation claim on the pleadings, the decision will hopefully deter plaintiffs from unnecessarily involving passive Internet service providers in their defamation actions.