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A negligence claim filed against a website by a model who was raped after two men used the website to lure her to a fake audition is not barred by the Communications Decency Act, says an appellate court in overturning a lower court ruling and reinstating the case.
Model Mayhem, a networking website found at modelmayhem.com that is used by professional and aspiring models for marketing purposes, was purchased in 2008 by Ell Segundo, California-based Internet Brands Inc., according to Wednesday's ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco in Jane Doe No. 14 v. Internet Brands Inc., DBA Modelmayhem.com.
Lavont Flanders Jr. and Emerson Callum were using Model Mayhem to identify targets for a rape scheme, allegedly as early as 2006, according to the ruling. They browsed profiles on Model Mayhem posted by models, contacted potential victims with fake identities posing as talent scouts, and lured the victims to south Florida for bogus modeling auditions, according to the ruling. When a victim arrived, they used a date rape drug to put her in a semicatatonic state, raped her and recorded the activity on videotape for sale and distribution as pornography, according to the ruling.
In 2010, Internet Brands sued the two original developers of the site for failing to disclose the potential for civil suits arising from Mr. Flanders' and Mr. Callum's activities, said the ruling. By that time, according to the plaintiff in the case, the company knew about their activities.
In February 2011, Mr. Flanders, pretending to be a talent scout, contacted Jane Doe through Model Mayhem. She went to south Florida for a purported audition, where the two men drugged, raped and recorded her.
The ruling does not indicate the outcome of the Internet Brands lawsuit, nor whether Mr. Flanders and Mr. Callum were apprehended. Reports state they were sentenced to life in prison in February 2012.
Ms. Doe filed suit against Internet Brands for negligence in U.S. District court in Pasadena, California. The court dismissed the case, ruling that as a publisher of information provided by another content provider, the company could not be held liable under the Communications Decency Act.
But a three-judge appellate panel ruled that Ms. Doe's negligence claim was not barred under the act. The act “precludes liability that treats a website as the publisher or speaker of information user's provider on the website,” said the ruling. This protection applies “even though the website proprietor has not acted to remove offensive content posted by others.”
“Jane Doe's claim is different, however,” says the ruling. She does not seek to hold Internet Brands liable as a 'publisher or speaker' of content posted on the Model Mayhem website, or for Internet Brands' failure to remove content posted on the website. Flanders and Callum are not alleged to have posted anything themselves.”
“Instead, Jane Doe attempts to hold Internet Brands liable for failing to warn her about how third parties targeted and lured victims through Model Mayhem” said the ruling.
“Barring Jane Doe's failure to warn claim would stretch the (Communication Decency Act) beyond its narrow language and purpose,” said the ruling.
“We express no opinion on the validity of the failure toward allegations on the merits,” said the ruling, “We hold only that the (Communications Decency Act) is not a valid basis to dismiss Jane Doe's complaint,” the ruling said, in reversing the lower court ruling and remanding the case for further proceedings.
(Reuters) — Insurance companies are increasingly turning to "big data" from satellites, social media and even cigarette sales at gas stations to help identify risks and build up customer profiles.