Here's the analysis from one of MIPTC's readers, who I've been corresponding with since this case was filed. MIPTC tips its hat to one of its friends, Michael H. Erdman, who has been monitoring Chicago Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law, Inc. v. Craigslist, Inc., which was filed earlier this year in the Northern District of Illinois (06 C 0657) and assigned to Judge Amy J. St. Eve.
Here's Michael's take on the ruling (slightly edited, with his permission): "Plaintiff’s (“CLC”) complaint alleges that Craigslist (which claims to post more than 10 million items of ‘user-supplied information’ per month) violates the U.S. Fair Housing Act provisions prohibiting discriminatory housing advertisements. In its defense, Craigslist argues that as a ‘provider of interactive computer services’ (“ICS”), it is immune to this kind of suit under section 230 of Title 47 (part of what is referred to as the Communications Decency Act (“CDA”)). A joint amicus brief was filed by a number of Internet big shots including Amazon.com, AOL, eBay, Google, Yahoo and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
"Yesterday, the Court granted Craigslist’s Motion for Judgment on the pleadings, putting an end, for now, to the district court proceedings. Citing over a dozen cases, the Court noted that '[n]ear-unanimous case law holds that section 230(c) affords immunity to ICSs against suits that seek to hold an ICS liable for third-party content.' While awarding judgment in favor of Craigslist, Judge St. Eve declined to follow the herd’s analysis. She ruled that 'Congress did not intend to grant a vast, limitless immunity,' and noted that 'that Section 230(c)(1) does not bar ‘any cause of action’ . . . but instead is more limited – it bars those causes of action that would require treating an ICS as a publisher of third-party content.'"
More of Michael's analysis of the Court's decision follows (his selections of relevant excerpts):
Section 230(c)(1) provides that “[n]o provider . . . of an interactive computer service shall be treated as a publisher” – a term the CDA does not define – “for information provided by another information content provider.” While this language does not grant immunity per se . . . it does prohibit treatment as a publisher, which, quite plainly, would bar any cause of action that requires, to establish liability, a finding that an ICS published third-party content. As the Seventh Circuit already has suggested, “defamation law would be a good example of such liability,” . . . ; so too, as it turns out, are causes of action under section 3604(c). 42 U.S.C. section 3604(c) (rendering it illegal “[t]o make, print, or publish, or cause to be made, printed, or published any [discriminatory] notice, statement, or advertisement . . .”(emphasis added)).
"Even though Congress [in enacting Section 230] specifically aimed to overrule Stratton Oakmont, a defamation case, it did so by using language – a prohibition against ‘treat[ing] [an ICS] as a publisher’ – that plainly bars any claim that requires ‘publishing’ as an element."
"For all these reasons, the Court here holds that, at a minimum, Section 230(c)(1) bars claims, like the CLC’s claim, that requires publishing as a critical element."
"Because to hold Craigslist liable under Section 3604(c) would be to treat Craigslist as if it were the publisher of third-party content, the plain language of Section 230(c)(1) forecloses CLC’s cause of action."
So, with that, Craigslist wins, and the Chicago Lawyers lose. With the Seventh Circuit just down the street from Michael, he plans to keep an eye out for any appeals that may follow. The plaintiffs are, after all, lawyers.
In case you're wondering, here's how to contact Michael Erdman, today's guest blogger: Teeple & Leonard, 175 W. Jackson Blvd., Suite 240, Chicago, Illinois 60604, 312-986-3226 and 312-986-3981 (fax). Here's his email: firstname.lastname@example.org and law firm website: www.teeplelaw.com.