Justia Internet Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
Thurston v. Omni Hotels Management Corporation
Plaintiff-appellant Cheryl Thurston was blind and used screen reader software to access the Internet and read website content. Defendant-respondent Omni Hotels Management Corporation (Omni) operated hotels and resorts. In November 2016, Thurston initiated this action against Omni, alleging that its website was not fully accessible by the blind and the visually impaired, in violation of the Unruh Civil Rights Act. By way of a special verdict, the jury rejected Thurston’s claim and found that she never intended to make a hotel reservation or ascertain Omni’s prices and accommodations for the purpose of making a hotel reservation. On appeal, Thurston contended the trial court erred as a matter of law: (1) by instructing the jury that her claim required a finding that she intended to make a hotel reservation; and (2) by including the word “purpose” in the special verdict form, which caused the jury to make a “factual finding as to [her] motivation for using or attempting to use [Omni’s] Website.” Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court. View "Thurston v. Omni Hotels Management Corporation" on Justia Law
DotConnectAfrica Trust v. Internet Corporation for Assigned Names & Numbers
In this dispute over internet names, DotConnect appealed to ICANN's internal dispute resolution program and told the arbitrators they should grant it seven procedural advantages during the arbitration—advantages like interim relief and an independent standard of review. The arbitrators accepted DotConnect's arguments and gave DotConnect the advantages it sought, but the arbitrators did not award the .africa name to DotConnect. ICANN ultimately rejected DotConnect and awarded ZA the rights to .africa. DotConnect then filed suit against ICANN in Los Angeles Superior Court, where the trial court ruled against DotConnect on grounds of judicial estoppel.The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's application of judicial estoppel and concluded that DotConnect has estopped itself from suing in court by convincing ICANN's arbitrators DotConnect could not sue in court. In this case, DotConnect took two contrary positions; DotConnect took these positions in quasi-judicial and judicial settings; DotConnect used its initial position—"we cannot sue in court"—to persuade the panel to award DotConnect seven legal victories; DotConnect's positions are totally inconsistent; DotConnect did not take its initial position as the result of fraud, ignorance, or mistake; and the trial court had an ample basis to decide, in its discretion, to apply the doctrine of judicial estoppel to this case. The court rejected DotConnect's arguments to the contrary. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment in all respects and awarded costs to respondents. View "DotConnectAfrica Trust v. Internet Corporation for Assigned Names & Numbers" on Justia Law
Swenberg v. Dmarcian
Swenberg sued Dmarcian, Draegen, and Groeneweg, alleging claims related to his ownership interest in and employment with the company. Dmarcian was incorporated in Delaware and, in 2017, registered with the California Secretary of State as a foreign corporation with its “principal executive office” in Burlingame. Groeneweg, who resides in the Netherlands, is alleged to be a chief executive of, and have an ownership interest in, “a company whose true name is unknown to Swenberg, but which was a European affiliate entity of” Dmarcian (Dmarcian EU). The complaint alleges on information and belief that Groeneweg is presently a shareholder or beneficial owner of Dmarcian.The trial court granted Groeneweg’s motion to quash service for lack of personal jurisdiction. The court of appeal reversed. By publicly presenting himself as a leader of Dmarcian, having Dmarcian EU’s web address automatically route to Dmarcian’s Web site, administered in California, and receiving prospective customers directed to Dmarcian EU by a Dmarcian employee in California, Groeneweg “purposely availed himself " of forum benefits and purposefully derived benefit from his activities in the forum. There is no unfairness in requiring him to subject himself to the jurisdiction of California courts in litigation involving his relationship with that California company and its employees. View "Swenberg v. Dmarcian" on Justia Law
People v. Lund
Lund was convicted of possession of more than 600 images of child pornography, at least 10 of which involved a prepubescent minor or a minor under 12 years old (Penal Code 311.11(c)(1)) and was sentenced to five years' imprisonment.One of the tools used in the investigation was CPS (Child Protection System), a privately-developed web interface for viewing results from a suite of several software tools that each search for child pornography on a specific peer-to-peer network. CPS compares the files listed in response to keyword searches against CPS’s database of hash values, which contains the hash values of files that law enforcement officers somewhere in the world have previously tagged as child pornography.The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting arguments that the trial court should have excluded some of the CPS data because the data was case-specific, testimonial hearsay and that the prosecution failed to establish that CPS was reliable and generally accepted in the scientific community. The CPS hash values were not hearsay in this case because they were not admitted for their truth. Lund also unsuccessfully argued that the prosecutor committed repeated, pervasive misconduct and that the trial court abused its discretion in allowing the prosecution to play for the jury several child pornography videos. View "People v. Lund" on Justia Law
Pillar Project AG v. Payward Ventures, Inc.
Pillar hired Epiphyte to convert its cryptocurrency into Euros. Epiphyte informed Pillar that it used Payward’s online exchange to convert its clients’ cryptocurrencies. Pillar transferred its cryptocurrency into Epiphyte’s account on Payward’s platform. After Epiphyte converted the currency but before the exchanged funds were transferred to Pillar’s bank account, four million Euros belonging to Pillar were stolen from Epiphyte’s account.Pillar sued Payward, alleging Payward knew or should have known that Epiphyte was using its Payward account on Pillar's behalf, failed to use standard security measures that would have prevented the theft, and falsely advertised that it provided the best security in the business. Payward moved to compel arbitration, claiming that Epiphyte agreed to Payward’s “Terms of Service” when it created an account, as required for all users, that those Terms included an arbitration agreement, and that Pillar was bound by that agreement.The court of appeal affirmed the denial of Payward’s motion. There is no evidence Epiphyte was acting as Pillar’s agent when it agreed to the Terms two years before Pillar hired it or that the agency relationship automatically bound the principal to the agent’s prior acts. There is no evidence Pillar knew the arbitration agreements existed or had a right to rescind them. No ratification occurred. There was no intent to benefit Pillar or similar parties. Pillar’s claims are not inextricably intertwined with the Terms. View "Pillar Project AG v. Payward Ventures, Inc." on Justia Law
Loomis v. Amazon.com LLC
Plaintiff filed suit against Amazon for injuries she suffered from an allegedly defective hoverboard she purchased from a third party seller named TurnUpUp on Amazon's website. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Amazon.The Fourth District recently addressed this issue as a matter of first impression in Bolger v. Amazon.com, LLC (2020) 53 Cal.App.5th 431 (Bolger), review denied November 18, 2020, holding that Amazon is an integral part of the overall producing and marketing enterprise that should bear the cost of injuries resulting from defective products.The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court's judgment and concluded that Bolger properly applied a well-established strict liability law to the facts of its case and was correctly decided. Based on the court's review of Amazon's third-party business model under the Business Solutions Agreement (BSA), the court is persuaded that Amazon's own business practices make it a direct link in the vertical chain of distribution under California's strict liability doctrine. Although the court concluded that Amazon is a link in the vertical chain of distribution, the court nevertheless recognizes that e-commerce may not neatly fit into a traditional sales structure. Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to plaintiff, the court concluded that there exists a triable issue of material fact as to liability under the stream of commerce approach and thus the trial court erroneously granted summary adjudication on the strict liability claim. The court rejected Amazon's contention that it was merely a service provider and thus not strictly liable for plaintiff's injuries. Furthermore, the court was not persuaded by Amazon's reliance on those decisions that restrict strict liability to sellers or manufacturers by applying out-of-state law. The court also concluded that policy considerations underlying the doctrine are furthered by imposing strict products liability in this case. Finally, summary adjudication was improperly granted as to the negligent products liability claim where Amazon provides no legal support for its argument that negligent products liability may only be imposed on manufacturers and sellers. View "Loomis v. Amazon.com LLC" on Justia Law
Yue v. Yang
Yue, living in California, established and moderated a Chinese language online community website, ZZB. Many of ZZB’s bloggers and readers are California residents. Liu is a California resident who lives in Canada and owns and operates a competing website, Yeyeclub.com. Yang, who lives in Canada, posted on both sites. Yue filed suit in Contra Costa County against several defendants, including Yang and Liu, alleging unfair competition and defamation, citing Yang’s “sexually explicit, violent and insulting” posts on Yeyeclub. Some posts referred to Yang traveling to California to harm Yue. According to the complaint, Yang intentionally directed his defamatory messages at Yue in California, and intended to, and did, cause harm there.The trial court granted a motion to quash, finding that there was no basis for general jurisdiction over Yang. The court of appeal reversed. Yang purposefully availed himself of forum benefits, targeting his conduct at California through a website operated by a California resident that had a California audience, with a California focus. Yang’s defamatory posts on Yeyeclub injured Yue’s business and his reputation in California. Yang has not met his burden of presenting a compelling case that jurisdiction would be unreasonable under all of the circumstances. View "Yue v. Yang" on Justia Law
Chen v. Paypal, Inc.
California residents who sell goods on eBay, an online marketplace, as part of their online businesses and use PayPal to receive payments for many of their sales filed a putative class action. The suit challenged provisions of the user agreements, including PayPal’s policy of placing a temporary hold on funds in a user’s account when PayPal believes there is a high level of risk associated with a transaction or a user’s account; PayPal’s retention of interest on users’ funds that are placed in pooled accounts when users maintain a balance in their PayPal accounts; PayPal’s buyer’s protection policy, which allows buyers, under certain circumstances, to dispute transactions up to 180 days after the date of purchase; and a claim that PayPal aids and abets buyers in defrauding sellers by the manner in which it resolves disputes. The court of appeal affirmed the dismissal of the claims against PayPal, without leave to amend. The challenged practices are not unconscionable. The degree of procedural unconscionability that arises from the fact that a contract is one of adhesion is ‘minimal.” View "Chen v. Paypal, Inc." on Justia Law
Murphy v. Twitter, Inc.
Murphy, a journalist with approximately Twitter 25,000 followers, had a Twitter “verification badge,” which “lets people know that an account of public interest is authentic.” Murphy “writes primarily on feminist issues, including the Me Too movement, the sex industry, sex education, third-wave feminism, and gender identity politics.” Murphy argues “that there is a difference between acknowledging that transgender women see themselves as female and counting them as women in a legal or social sense.” Murphy posted several tweets critical of transgender women. Twitter removed her posts and informed her she had violated its hateful conduct rules. After she posted additional similar messages, Twitter permanently suspended her account.Murphy filed suit, alleging breach of contract, promissory estoppel, and violation of the unfair competition law. The trial court dismissed the complaint, concluding Murphy’s suit was barred by the Communications Decency Act of 1996, 47 U.S.C. 230, under which interactive computer service providers have broad immunity from liability for traditional editorial functions undertaken by publishers—such as decisions whether to publish, withdraw, postpone or alter content created by third parties. The court of appeal affirmed. Each of Murphy’s causes of action seeks to hold Twitter liable for its editorial decisions. Murphy also failed to state a cognizable claim under California law. The Hateful Conduct Policy was in place when Murphy began posting her deleted tweets; Twitter expressly reserved the right to remove content, and suspend or terminate accounts “for any or no reason.” View "Murphy v. Twitter, Inc." on Justia Law
Dziubla v. Piazza
Plaintiffs-appellants Robert Dziubla and Linda Stanwood claimed defendant Ignatius Piazza II, owner of a Nevada firearms training facility, harassed and threatened them by publishing defamatory statements along with their personal identifying information, and sending associates to invade their home. Piazza retorted that plaintiffs conned him out of thousands of dollars and are now attempting to steal his property and "chill his constitutional rights." The trial court granted in part and denied in part Piazza’s special motion to strike under California’s anti-SLAPP statute. With one important clarification as to the scope of protected activity, the Court of Appeal reached the same conclusion. That clarification involved so-called “doxing” allegations in the complaint: plaintiffs’ claim that Piazza published private personal identifying information about them to thousands of gun enthusiasts as a thinly-veiled threat about what could happen if they continued to litigate the business dispute. Although it was included in an otherwise-protected litigation “alert” that discussed the pending lawsuit, the doxing information was entirely extraneous to the court proceedings that were the ostensible subject of the communication. The Court of Appeal thus rejected Piazza’s assertion that plaintiffs could not meet the “minimal merit” standard on the anti-SLAPP motion because the doxing allegations would necessarily be barred by the litigation privilege in Civil Code section 47(b). The order granting the special motion to strike was reversed in part as to two of plaintiffs’ cause of action ‒ the tenth, seeking an injunction, and the twelfth, alleging a civil rights violation ‒ but only as to the claims included in these causes of action that alleged injury from the publication of their personal information, i.e., the doxing allegations. In all other respects, the order was affirmed. The matter was remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Dziubla v. Piazza" on Justia Law