GM Not Shielded from Liability by Communications Decency Act by Virtue of Employee Website Comments

On February 24, 2011, the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona ruled that the Communications Decency Act’s immunity for “good samaritan” blocking and screening of offensive material did not shield General Motors Financial Services from a $200 million lawsuit arising from allegedly defamatory comments an employee posted on a competitor’s website (Mealer v. GMAC Mortgage LLC, D. Ariz., No. 10-8172, 2/24/11).

The plaintiff contended that a GM engineer’s disparaging remarks had considerable influence on his potential investors and resulted in a loss of all potential investment capital.  He made no allegations related to GM’s screening or blocking of content posted on its own website.  The comments were posted on the plaintiff’s website and concerned a new technology that the plaintiff claimed would essentially deliver his company from obscurity into direct competition with GM and other major automakers.

The court noted that Section 230(c)(2) provides protection for “good samaritan” blocking and screening of offensive material.  “Mr. Mealer has asserted tenuous and abstract defamation-related claims against GMAC on the doubtful basis that GMAC owned computer equipment or provided internet access that facilitated blog commentary[,]” the court noted.  GM did not demonstrate how Section 230(c)(2) applied.

Section 230(c)(1) might have defeated the plaintiff’s claims, the court said.  That section states that “no provider … of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”  But GMAC did not make that argument. 

Therefore, a party asserting that CDA §230 protects it from claims involving user-generated online content should spell out which section of the statute applies, and why.  This court said that Section 230(c)(1), rather than Section 230(c)(2), might have been used to extinguish this lawsuit.

Richard B. Newman, Internet Defamation Lawyer – Hinch Newman LLP

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