Woodhull, EFF File New Amicus Brief in Support of Section 230

LOS ANGELES—The Woodhull Freedom Foundation and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) today filed an amicus brief supporting the LGBTQ+ dating platform Grindr in a federal lawsuit that was initially brought against the parent company of the app by a teenager referred to as "John Doe" in the case.

The case is John Doe v. Grindr Inc. et al., which was initially filed before the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. U.S. District Judge Otis Wright dismissed the lawsuit, citing that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 immunized the platform from the acts of third-party users due to the safe harbor in the law.

Doe alleged design defects in the mobile app that permitted him, when he was 15 years old, to create an account to meet adults for a sexual liaison. Hailing from Canada, John Doe said that he was sexually assaulted by four men he met on the app. Judge Wright recognized the tragedy of Doe's assaults but barred action against Grindr due to Section 230.

Counsel for John Doe appealed the case to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, seeking to overturn Judge Wright's dismissal of the case. However, lawyers representing Woodhull and EFF felt compelled to file an amicus brief pressing the Ninth Circuit to continue to affirm Section 230's safe harbor provision that virtually all web platforms, including porn sites, rely on.

"It is impossible to discuss this case without first recognizing the heartbreaking trauma that Doe suffered when he met with four men that he encountered while on Grindr," said Ricci Levy, president of the Woodhull Freedom Foundation. "Trials were held, and three men are serving time in jail for the sexual assaults. But those assaults aren’t what this case is about."

Woodhull's general counsel, Larry Walters of the Walters Law Group, joined attorneys from EFF and the law firm Cooley LLP, in San Francisco, Calif., in filing the amicus brief.

"The district court’s decision to dismiss this case was a straightforward and sound application of Section 230, notwithstanding the troubling nature of the third-party conduct alleged," reads the amicus brief.

"In seeking to reverse the district court’s decision here, [the] plaintiff would have this court narrow Section 230’s protections and erode the significant benefits Congress sought in enacting the statute. This court should decline the invitation, which would conflict with the mandate of Congress and would seriously harm online platforms, speech, and communities."

Other major litigation that would impact Section 230 includes the pair of NetChoice cases currently before the U.S. Supreme Court. AVN previously reported on these cases and how they could significantly change existing internet case law that governs Section 230 and the First Amendment online.