Recently, in Ricci v. GoDaddy.com, the United State Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed a dismissal of defamation claims against GoDaddy.com, a website host, invoking the immunity and preemption provisions of the Communications Decency Act (“CDA”), 47 U.S.C. § 230. The lawsuit against GoDaddy arose out of a political fracas between the Ricci plaintiffs and his Teamsters’ Union.. Because Mr. Ricci’s refused to support the union’s president, Ricci allegedly received retaliation from union leadership, including the union’s publication of newsletters containing defamatory statements about Ricci. The newsletters were posted onto a website hosted on GoDaddy’s servers. Ricci sued GoDaddy on the basis that it hosted the website on which the Union’s newsletters were republished, refused to remove the newsletters, and refused to investigate his complaints about the veracity of the newsletters content . The trial court had dismissed the suit based on CDA immunity, and the Second Circuit affirmed.
The CDA shields hosts like GoDaddy from publisher liability both as to third-party and user-generated web content if it acts in the capacity as the provider of an interactive computer service. Section 230 offers broad protection to website operators, and courts generally have rejected an interpretation that renders meaningless the basic immunity provided by Section 230(c). Section 230(c)(1) provides that “[n]o provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by an information content provider.” Section 230(e)(3) further provided, “[n]o cause of action may be brought and no liability may be imposed under any State or local law that is inconsistent with this section.”The Second Circuit acknowledged several essential aspects in its ruling: First, “a plaintiff defamed on the internet can sue the original speaker, but typically cannot sue the messenger.” The Riccis’ should have pursued defamation claims only against the Teamsters and not against GoDaddy. Second, GoDaddy did not play a role in creating the alleged defamatory newsletters. Thus, GoDaddy was sued in its capacity as a provider of an “interactive computer service,” it is immune from defamation liability under the CDA. Finally, a hoster like GoDaddy can use the “four corners rule to prevail in a Section 230 challenge in a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. Even though preemption under the CDA is an affirmative defense, “it can still support a motion to dismiss if the statute’s barrier to suit is evident on the face of the complaint.”