Jones v. Dirty World, LLC

NOTE: The information and commentary contained in this database entry are based on court filings and other informational sources that may contain unproven allegations made by the parties. The truthfulness and accuracy of such information is likely to be in dispute. Information contained in this entry is current as of the last event mentioned in the "Description" section below; additional proceedings might have taken place in this matter since this event.

Summary

Threat Type: 

Lawsuit

Date: 

12/23/2009

Status: 

Pending

Location: 

Kentucky

Disposition: 

Lawsuit Filed

Verdict or Settlement Amount: 

$338,000.00
On December 23, 2009, a Jane Doe filed a lawsuit in federal court. The plaintiff intended to sue TheDirty.com, alleging that a number of posts on the blog (self-described as a "reality blogger . . . all about gossip... read full description
Parties

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

Dirty World Entertainment Recordings, LLC; Hooman Karamian; Dirty World, LLC; Dirty World Entertainment, LLC

Type of Party: 

Individual

Type of Party: 

Media Company

Location of Party: 

  • Kentucky

Location of Party: 

  • Arizona

Legal Counsel: 

Alexander C. Ward and Alexis B. Mattingly (Huddleston Bolen LLP) and David Gingras (Gingras Law Office, PLLC) (for defendants Hooman Karamian and Dirty World, LLC)
Description

On December 23, 2009, a Jane Doe filed a lawsuit in federal court. The plaintiff intended to sue TheDirty.com, alleging that a number of posts on the blog (self-described as a "reality blogger . . . all about gossip and satire") defamed her.

According to court documents, TheDirty operates through user-submitted posts. Readers of the site submit posts, and TheDirty's editor, Nik Richie, selects some of the submissions for publication on the site. Richie also adds one or two sentences of comment to each post.

The contested posts made a number of crude comments about the sexual affairs of the plaintiff, a Cincinnati Bengals cheerleader and schoolteacher. The posts made claims about the plaintiff's promiscuity, among other topics.

The complaint alleged that the posts made a number of false statements about plaintiff's sexual history, and included four counts: defamation, libel per se, false light, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The plaintiff later filed an amended complaint, more specifically alleging the purported identity of the website's operator, and adding a second libel per se count (bringing the total to five).

Instead of suing the Arizona-based company that operated TheDirty.com, however, the plaintiff named a California company which operated a website called TheDirt.com. According to news reports, this led to a failure to serve the intended defendants. With the served defendant making no response, the plaintiff eventually moved for a default judgment, which was granted by the district court. The default judgment included an $11 million damage award, $10 million of which was punitive.

When the operator of TheDirty.com announced publicly that it had nothing to do with TheDirt.com, the plaintiff moved for leave to file a second amended complaint seeking to add the Arizona operator of TheDirty.com.  The plaintiff did not voluntarily vacate the $11 million judgment; instead, she indicated that she did not trust TheDirty.com's operator when it disclaimed a relationship with TheDirt.com, but wanted to be sure that all of the appropriate parties were named. The amended complaint included the same five counts as the first amended complaint.

Now identified and served, TheDirty moved to dismiss and made two arguments: that jurisdiction in Kentucky was lacking, and the CDA § 230 protected TheDirty. Since the plaintiff only alleged that TheDirty "published" the disputed material, as opposed to "creating" it, TheDirty argued that § 230's protections applied.

The plaintiff, in response, made a number of § 230 arguments. First, she argued that, by adding comments to the user-submitted posts, the operator of TheDirty became a "creator" of the content. Second, she argued that TheDirty was designed to "encourage" users to post defamatory material. Third, she argued that because TheDirty claimed ownership of user-submitted material, the site and its operators become "publishers."

After TheDirty submitted a reply, the court denied the motion to dismiss. The judge focused mainly on the jurisdiction questions, and only briefly discussed § 230, ruling that discovery was required before the § 230 question could be resolved. Shortly thereafter, TheDirty answered the second amended complaint.

Seven months later, TheDirty moved for summary judgment. The motion focused on two arguments: (1) that the disputed posts were submitted by users of the site, and (2) the comments that Richie added to the user-submitted posts were non-actionable opinion. At this point in the litigation, the plaintiff's real name appeared in the case caption.

The plaintiff responded, arguing that because Richie read each user-submitted post before approving it for publication on TheDirty, and because TheDirty encouraged "the development of defamatory material," § 230's protections did not apply. TheDirty then filed another reply, responding in detail to the idea that TheDirty "created" the posts at issue. TheDirty argued that § 230 caselaw was well-established, and that performing editorial/moderation functions did not suffice to make TheDirty the "creator" of the posts.

On January 10, 2012, the district court judge denied TheDirty's motion for summary judgment. The judge based his § 230 ruling on two cases: Fair Housing Council of San Fernando Valley v. Roommates.com, and Federal Trade Commission v. Accusearch. Taken together, according to the judge, these cases stood for the proposition that if a website "specifically encourage[s] development of what is offensive about the content" of the disputed post, § 230 provides no protection. The judge ruled that TheDirty's name and management style, combined with Richie's added comments to the post, meant that TheDirty encouraged the offensive content.

Updates:

05/09/12: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit granted Jones's motion to dismiss the TheDirty's interlocutory appeal of the district court's denial of their summary judgment motion. The Court of Appeals held that the denial of a motion to dismiss is not a final order, and that there were not sufficient interests at stake to hear TheDirty's appeal prior to final adjudication.

01/25/13: The first trial of the matter ends in a hung jury after two days of deliberation; the district court judge declared a mistrial.

07/11/13: After retrial, a jury awarded Jones $338,000 in damages.

08/12/13: The trial court denied the defendants' motion for judgment as a matter of law, again rejecting the application of Section 230 to the facts of the case. Based upon the legislative intent of Section 230 to encourage voluntary censorship of offensive content, the court held that the protection of the statute does not extend to intermediaries who actively encourage the posting of offensive material: "[T]he Act's text indicates that it was intended only to provide protection for site owners who allow postings by third parties without screening them and those who remove offensive content."

Details

Content Type: 

  • Text

Publication Medium: 

Blog

Subject Area: 

  • Defamation
  • Privacy
  • Blogs
  • Section 230
  • Legal Threat
Court Information & Documents
CMLP Information (Private)

Threat Source: 

Blog Post

CMLP Notes: 

1/12/2012: Pulling it together; will be done first thing tomorrow (JS)

1/13: Ready for review (JS)

1/13: JH editing