United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit
January 18, 2018
from the United States District Court for the District of
Columbia (No. 1:16-cv-02283)
J. Jordan argued the cause and filed the briefs for the
K. Roche argued the cause and filed the brief for the
Before: Henderson, Rogers and Kavanaugh, Circuit Judges.
LECRAFT HENDERSON, CIRCUIT JUDGE.
by a third-party blog post, Plaintiff Dawn Bennett (Bennett)
and her company, DJ Bennett Holdings, LLC (DJ Bennett), sued
Google LLC (Google) for failing to remove the post. They
alleged three state-law causes of action: (1) defamation; (2)
tortious interference with a business relationship; and (3)
intentional infliction of emotional distress. The district
court granted Google's motion to dismiss, concluding that
the Communications Decency Act (CDA), 47 U.S.C. § 230,
immunized Google from liability for the publication of
third-party content. We affirm.
owns DJ Bennett, a retailer of high-end sports
apparel. Scott Pierson is the founder of The
Executive SEO Agency, which provides search engine
optimization and marketing (SEO) services. In March 2013, DJ
Bennett hired Pierson to provide SEO services, seeking to
increase its sales. After a few months, the parties'
relationship deteriorated and Pierson agreed to renegotiate
his contract and accept slightly less than $20, 000 as full
payment for his services.
Bennett paid Pierson in five installments but the fifth
installment was returned by the post office as
"undeliverable." Thereafter, Pierson called DJ
Bennett's Vice President and General Merchandise Manager,
Anderson McNeill. According to McNeill, Pierson was
"hysterical" and "emotionally
distraught." Compl. ¶ 10. Pierson threatened DJ
Bennett, declaring "I know things, I can do things, and
I will shut down your website." Id. In
response, McNeil explained that DJ Bennett had attempted to
mail Pierson his final check but that it had been returned.
Pierson then gave McNeil an alternative address, "the
last payment was sent there, and [Pierson] cashed it."
the business relationship fell apart, Pierson wrote a blog
titled "DJ Bennett-think-twice-bad business ethics"
and published it on the internet through Google. Id.
¶ 11. Among other things, the blog asserted that (1)
"DJ Bennett, the luxury sporting goods company, did not
pay its employees or contractors"; (2) DJ Bennett was
"ruthlessly run by Dawn Bennett who also operated
Bennett Group Financial Services"; (3) Bennett falsely
stated that Pierson had agreed to reduce his hours "as
justification for reducing his final invoice by $3,
200"; (4) Pierson's counsel described Bennett as
"judgment proof"; and (5) "DJ Bennett owes
thousands and thousands to many people." Id.
¶¶ 11-12. The blog concluded: "I urge you to
think twice before giving your patronage to DJ Bennett.com .
. . . The website is pretty, but the person running the show
is quite contemptible." Id. ¶ 12.
counsel, Bennett attempted to convince Pierson to remove the
post; Pierson refused. Bennett's counsel also contacted
Google's general counsel and other senior corporate
officers, "asking them to drop Pierson's blog
because it violated Google's Guidelines of what is
appropriate material for inclusion in blogs."
Id. ¶ 13. Notwithstanding Bennett's
complaints, Google "continues to publish Pierson's
blog." Id. Bennett also alleged that "as
of May 23, 2016, not a single comment has been received in
two years; Pierson was artificially maintaining his blog in a
favorable position by using black-hat tactics, a practice
universally condemned by the digital media industry,
including Google." Id.
has a "Blogger Content Policy" that regulates,
inter alia, adult content, child safety, hate
speech, crude content, violence, harassment, copyright
infringement, and malware and viruses. Joint Appendix
(JA) 42-45. Users are encouraged to "flag" policy
violations through the website. JA 45. If Google finds that
the blog does violate its content policies, it may limit
access to the blog, delete the blog, disable the author's
access or report the user to law enforcement. Id. If
the blog ...