Justia Internet Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
Doe v. McLaughlin
In 2016, McLaughlin, the head of a business, was arrested based on an alleged domestic dispute with his former girlfriend, Olivia. In 2018, an Illinois court ordered all records in that case expunged, and the destruction of McLaughlin’s arrest records and photographs. McLaughlin sought an order of protection against Olivia. The terms of the parties’ subsequent settlement were incorporated in a judgment, which was sealed. Doe nonetheless posted multiple Twitter messages about McLaughlin’s arrest with McLaughlin’s mugshot, tagging McLaughlin’s business contacts and clients, and media outlets. Twitter suspended Doe’s accounts. The Illinois court issued a subpoena requiring the production of documents related to Doe’s Twitter accounts and issued “letters rogatory” to the San Francisco County Superior Court. Under the authority of that court, McLaughlin's subpoena was to be served on Twitter in San Francisco, requesting information personally identifying the account holders. In a motion to quash, Doe argued he had a First Amendment right to engage in anonymous speech and a right to privacy under the California Constitution. Doe sought attorney fees, (Code of Civil Procedure1987.2(c))The court of appeal affirmed orders in favor of McLaughlin. No sanctions were awarded. Doe failed to establish he prevailed on his motion to quash or that “the underlying action arises from [his] exercise of free speech rights on the Internet.” Doe presented no legally cognizable argument that McLaughlin failed to make a prima facie showing of breach of the settlement agreement. View "Doe v. McLaughlin" on Justia Law
Turo v. Superior Court of the City and County of San Francisco
Turo, an Internet-based platform, allows vehicle owners to list, and customers to rent, specific passenger vehicles, processes reservations and payments and retains a percentage of the proceeds of each rental transaction. Turo provides a liability insurance policy through a third-party insurer. Turo competes with traditional on-airport and off-airport rental car companies and has used phrases like “rent” and “rental car” in its advertisements.The government sued Turo under the Unfair Competition Law (Bus. & Prof. Code 17200) for operating a rental car business at SFO without the required permit, engaging in prohibited curbside transactions at SFO, and using airport roadways and offering services on airport property without permission. Turo sought a declaratory judgment that it is not a rental car company and alleged that SFO had unlawfully demanded that Turo obtain an off-airport rental car company permit, and pay fees that SFO is authorized to charge only “rental car companies” under Government Code 50474.1(a).The court of appeal held that Turo is not a rental car company. That term is not defined in the Government Code but is defined in nearly identical language in three separate California statutes to mean a person or entity in the business of renting passenger vehicles to the public. A rental car company has control over the vehicles in its fleet in a way Turo does not View "Turo v. Superior Court of the City and County of San Francisco" on Justia Law
B.D. v. Blizzard Entertainment
Blizzard Entertainment, Inc. (Blizzard) appealed an order denying its motion to compel arbitration. B.D., a minor, played Blizzard’s online videogame “Overwatch,” and used “real money” to make in-game purchases of “Loot Boxes” - items that offer “randomized chances . . . to obtain desirable or helpful ‘loot’ in the game.” B.D. and his father (together, Plaintiffs) sued Blizzard, alleging the sale of loot boxes with randomized values constituted unlawful gambling, and, thus, violated the California Unfair Competition Law (UCL). Plaintiffs sought only prospective injunctive relief, plus attorney fees and costs. Blizzard moved to compel arbitration based on the dispute resolution policy incorporated into various iterations of the online license agreement that Blizzard presented to users when they signed up for, downloaded, and used Blizzard’s service. The trial court denied the motion, finding a “reasonably prudent user would not have inquiry notice of the agreement” to arbitrate because “there was no conspicuous notice of an arbitration” provision in any of the license agreements. The Court of Appeal disagreed: the operative version of Blizzard’s license agreement was presented to users in an online pop-up window that contained the entire agreement within a scrollable text box. View "B.D. v. Blizzard Entertainment" on Justia Law
Lee v. Amazon.com, Inc.
California’s 1986 Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act, Health & Saf. Code 25249.5, Proposition 65, provides that no business shall "knowingly and intentionally expose any individual to a chemical known to the state to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity without first giving clear and reasonable warning.” Mercury compounds are listed as Proposition 65 reproductive toxins. Cosmetics containing 0.0001 percent or more of mercury are prohibited under federal law, 21 U.S.C. 331(a)–(c). Lee alleged skin-lightening creams offered for sale on Amazon’s Web site sold by third parties, contain mercury.The trial court concluded that Amazon is immune from liability under the federal Communications Decency Act (CDA), 47 U.S.C. 230, and that Lee failed to establish elements required by Proposition 65. The court of appeal reversed. The stated reasons for concluding that a laboratory test finding a high level of mercury in one unit of a skin-lightening cream is an insufficient basis for inferring other units of the same product contain mercury do not withstand scrutiny. The trial court erred in ruling that Lee was required to prove Amazon had actual knowledge the products contained mercury and in excluding evidence of constructive knowledge. The negligent failure to warn claim did not seek to hold a website owner liable as the “publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider,” so CDA did not bar the claim. View "Lee v. Amazon.com, Inc." on Justia Law
Multiversal Enterprises-Mammoth Properties, LLC v. Yelp, Inc.
Yelp filed suit seeking an injunction under the unfair competition law and the false advertising law to prevent Yelp from touting the accuracy and efficacy of its filter. The trial court excluded Multiversal's principal, James Demetriades, from a portion of the trial and denied Multiversal's motion to compel access to Yelp's source code.The Court of Appeal affirmed, concluding that the trial court was within its discretion to find that although Yelp's source code might be helpful in analyzing the challenged statements, it was not necessary. In this case, Multiversal offers no explanation as to why this data is relevant or would have been used to establish the falsity of the challenged statements. The court also concluded that Multiversal was represented by counsel and afforded the right to have its expert present during the portion of trial from which Demetriades was excluded, accommodations the Supreme Court has deemed sufficient in civil proceedings. Furthermore, the trial court could reasonably have found that excluding Demetriades from a limited portion of the trial while safeguarding Multiversal's right to have other representatives present, measures similar to the protective order entered during discovery, gave Multiversal notice and opportunity for hearing appropriate to the nature of the case. The court stated that due process required no more, and that Multiversal identifies no prejudice resulting from this exclusion. View "Multiversal Enterprises-Mammoth Properties, LLC v. Yelp, Inc." on Justia Law
Sellers v. JustAnswer LLC
JustAnswer LLC (JustAnswer) appealed an order denying its petition to compel arbitration. Tina Sellers and Erin O’Grady (together, Plaintiffs) used the JustAnswer website to submit a single question to an “expert” for what they believed would be a one-time fee of $5, but JustAnswer automatically enrolled them in a costlier monthly membership. After discovering additional charges to their credit cards, Plaintiffs filed a class action lawsuit against JustAnswer, alleging it routinely enrolled online consumers like them in automatic renewal membership programs without providing “clear and conspicuous” disclosures and obtaining their “affirmative consent” as mandated by the California Automatic Renewal Law. Seeking to avoid the class action litigation, JustAnswer filed a petition to compel individual arbitration, claiming Plaintiffs agreed to their “Terms of Service,” which included a class action waiver and a binding arbitration clause, when they entered their payment information on the website and clicked a button that read, “Start my trial.” In a case of first impression under California law, the Court of Appeal considered whether, and under what circumstances, a “sign-in wrap” agreement was valid and enforceable. The Court concluded the notices on the “Start my trial” screens of the JustAnswer website were not sufficiently conspicuous to bind Plaintiffs, because they were less conspicuous than the statutory notice requirements, and they were not sufficiently conspicuous under other criteria courts have considered in determining whether a hyperlinked notice to terms of services was sufficient to put a user on inquiry notice of an arbitration agreement. The Court therefore affirmed the trial court’s order denying JustAnswer’s petition to compel arbitration. View "Sellers v. JustAnswer LLC" on Justia Law
George v. eBay, Inc.
The appellants were two of a group of plaintiffs who sued eBay and PayPal, challenging provisions in their respective user agreements. Plaintiffs’ second amended complaint alleged 23 causes of action, 13 against eBay, seven against PayPal, and three against both defendants. The trial court dismissed, without leave to amend, 20 of the causes of action, including 14 claims against eBay. Three causes of action proceeded: breach of contract against both defendants and violation of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing against eBay. More than three years later, the appellants opted out of the case against eBay, and voluntarily dismissed the two claims against it. Judgment of dismissal was entered against them.The appellants appealed, contending the trial court got it wrong as to 11 of the dismissed causes of action. The court of appeal affirmed, noting that this was the third appeal of the case. The trial court properly dismissed the claims and did not abuse its discretion in doing so without leave to amend. All of the alleged causes of action failed to state a claim. The court stated that “counsel for appellants has apparently been urging the same contentions for some nine years, all without success. This is enough.” View "George v. eBay, Inc." on Justia Law
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