Wednesday, March 25, 2015

GoDaddy, the Teamsters Union and Defamation

This post examines a recent opinion from the U.S. Court ofAppeals for the Second Circuit:  Ricci v. Teamsters Union Local 456, 2015 WL 1214476 (2015). The court began its opinion by explaining that
[p]laintiffs Peter and Barbara Ricci (“the Riccis”) bring this action pro se against, LLC (`GoDaddy’) and the Teamsters Union Local 456 (the `Union’ or the `Teamsters’), alleging that false statements about the Riccis in a Union newsletter were republished on a website hosted on GoDaddy's servers.

As relevant here, plaintiffs sue GoDaddy for defamation; they sue the Teamsters for retaliation in violation of sections 7 and 8 of the National Labor Relations Act (`NLRA’), 29 U.S. Code §§157158(b)(1)(A), and for breach of the NLRA's implied duty of fair representation. 
Ricci v. Teamsters Union Local 456, supra. 
Next, the court notes that this
case arises out of a dispute between Peter Ricci and the Teamsters Union 456. According to the Complaint, Appellant Peter Ricci has been a Teamster Union member since 1983. . . . In September 2002, Mr. Ricci attended a meeting in which he was asked to speak in support of a fellow union member, Eddie Doyle. . . . Mr. Ricci declined to do so. . . . Shortly thereafter, Mr. Ricci began having employment problems, which he believes was retaliation by Mr. Doyle for not speaking on his behalf at the September 2002 independent review board meeting. . . .

Almost ten years later, on August 22 and 23, 2012, unidentified individuals allegedly associated with the Teamsters Union Local 456, not GoDaddy, distributed newsletters to unidentified union members, which [the Riccis] contend contained defamatory statements about them and their family members. . . .  

No specific details regarding the statements have been alleged. The newsletters were subsequently posted by an unidentified third party on two websites registered by someone with no affiliation to GoDaddy. . . . GoDaddy did not author or post the allegedly defamatory material. . . .
Ricci v. Teamsters Union Local 456, supra. 
The brief filed on appeal on behalf of Teamsters Union Local 456 adds the following:
Ricci was a truck driver member of . . . Teamsters Local 456 from September 7, 1983 to December 6, 2012. . . . Teamsters Local 456 is a `labor organization’ . . representing truck drivers in Westchester County, New York and providing, through Local 456 Taft-Hartley employee benefit funds, various pension, welfare and other benefits to covered workers, retirees, and their dependents via collective bargaining agreements with employers and trust and plan documents.

[The Riccis] commenced this action July 8, 2013. . . . The Complaint, inter alia, contained indeterminate causes of action . . . seeking 5 million in damages from the Teamsters Local 456 for purported retaliation and defamation arising from Peter Ricci's alleged decision to refrain from assisting Local 456 by speaking at a membership meeting in 2002. . . .
Brief and Appendix for Teamsters Union Local 456, Ricci v. Teamsters Union Local 456, 2014 WL 6721023.
The Riccis filed their lawsuit in the Supreme Court of New York but Teamsters Union Local 456 moved it into a U.S. District Court, pursuant to a process allowed by federal law. Ricci v. Teamsters Union Local 456, supra.  The Teamsters Union and GoDaddy then moved to dismiss the suit pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for failing to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.  Ricci v. Teamsters Union Local 456, supra. 
The U.S. District Court Judge who had the case granted both motions to dismiss, which effectively ended the Riccis’ lawsuit. Ricci v. Teamsters Union Local 456, supra.  They appealed the dismissals, and in this opinion the Court of Appeals is reviewing the correctness of the U.S. District Court Judge’s rulings.  Ricci v. Teamsters Union Local 456, supra. 
In its opinion, the Court of Appeals explains that the Riccis
do not allege that GoDaddy had any role in creating the allegedly defamatory newsletters. To the contrary, their complaint repeatedly alleges that the newsletters were drafted and distributed by others. See Complaint ¶ 9 (alleging that `Teamsters Union Local 456’ is `the creator of the newsletters’); see also id. ¶ 10 (alleging that GoDaddy (eventually) `decided to reveal the . . . identity of the publisher and creators of the newsletters’).

As to GoDaddy, the only allegations in the complaint are: (1) GoDaddy hosted a website that published the allegedly defamatory newsletters, see id. ¶¶ 9–10; (2) GoDaddy `refused to remove the newsletter’ from its servers, id. ¶ 9; and (3) GoDaddy `completely refused to investigate Barbara Ricci's complaints,’ id. None of those allegations are disputed by the parties.
Ricci v. Teamsters Union Local 456, supra. 
The court began its analysis with the dismissal of the Riccis’ claim against GoDaddy, explaining that
[a]ccepting as true all of the allegations in the complaint, GoDaddy is immune from the Riccis' defamation claims under a provision of the Communications Decency Act of 1996: `[n]o provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.’ 47 U.S. Code § 230(c)(1). Preemption is express: ‘No cause of action may be brought and no liability may be imposed under any State or local law that is inconsistent with this section.’ 47U.S. Code § 230(e)(3).

The Riccis seek to hold GoDaddy liable as a `publisher or speaker’ of allegedly defamatory statements authored by someone else-that is, “another information content provider.” 47 U.S. Code § 230(c)(1). So if GoDaddy is being sued in its capacity as a provider of an `interactive computer service,'  d., it is immune from defamation liability under the Communications Decency Act.
Ricci v. Teamsters Union Local 456, supra. 
The Court of Appeals went on to explain that the statute
defines `interactive computer service’ expansively, to include `any information service, system, or access software provider that provides or enables computer access by multiple users to a computer server.’ 47 U.S. Code§ 230(f)(2). This wording has been construed broadly to effectuate the statute's speech-protective purpose:

`Congress recognized the threat that tort-based lawsuits pose to freedom of speech in the new and burgeoning Internet medium. . . . Section 230 was enacted, in part, to maintain the robust nature of Internet communication and, accordingly, to keep government interference in the medium to a minimum. . . .

None of this means, of course, that the original culpable party who posts defamatory messages would escape accountability. . . .Congress made a policy choice, however, not to deter harmful online speech through the separate route of imposing tort liability on companies that serve as intermediaries for other parties' potentially injurious messages. Zeran v.
America Online, Inc., 129 F.3d 327 (U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit 1997). In short, a plaintiff defamed on the internet can sue the original speaker, but typically `cannot sue the messenger. Chicago Lawyers' Comm. for Civil Rights Under Law, Inc. v. Craigslist, Inc., 519 F.3d 666 (U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit 2008).
Ricci v. Teamsters Union Local 456, supra. 
The Court of Appeals then noted that
[w]e have never construed the immunity provisions of the Communications Decency Act, but other courts have applied the statute to a growing list of internet-based service providers. See, e.g., Klayman v. Zuckerberg, 753 F.3d 1354 (U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit 2014); Doe v. MySpace, Inc., 528 F.3d 413 (U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit 2008); Chicago Lawyers' Comm. for Civil Rights Under Law, Inc. v. Craigslist, Inc., supra.

That includes GoDaddy. See Kruska v. Perverted Justice Found. Inc.,  2008 WL 2705377 (U.S. DistrictCourt for the District of Arizona 2008) (`GoDaddy, as a web host, qualifies as an interactive computer service provider under the CDA.’).

We join this consensus. The Riccis allege only that GoDaddy `refused to remove’ from its web servers an allegedly defamatory newsletter that was authored by another. These allegations do not withstand the Communications Decency Act, which shields GoDaddy from publisher liability (with respect to web content provided by others) in its capacity as a provider of an interactive computer service.
Ricci v. Teamsters Union Local 456, supra.  The court therefore found that the District Court Judge did not err in dismissing the Riccis’ claims. Ricci v. Teamsters Union Local 456, supra. 
It also affirmed the court’s dismissal of the Riccis’ “labor law claims against the Teamsters Union” because it found they were
all barred by the six-month statute of limitations in the NLRA. See 29 U.S. Code § 160(b)see also DelCostello v. Int'l Bhd. of Teamsters, 462 U.S. 151 (1983). The last event referenced in the complaint took place on December 6, 2012, when Peter Ricci left the Teamsters Union. Even assuming the statute did not begin to run until then, the complaint, which was filed on July 8, 2013, was about a month late.
Ricci v. Teamsters Union Local 456, supra. 

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