Justia U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Internet Law
CARA JONES, ET AL V. GOOGLE LLC, ET AL
Google owns YouTube, an online video-sharing platform that is popular among children. Google’s targeted advertising is aided by technology that delivers curated, customized advertising based on information about specific users. Google’s technology depends partly on what Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) regulations call “persistent identifiers,” information “that can be used to recognize a user over time and across different Web sites or online services.” In 2013, the FTC adopted regulations under COPPA that barred the collection of children’s “persistent identifiers” without parental consent. The plaintiff class alleged that Google used persistent identifiers to collect data and track their online behavior surreptitiously and without their consent. They pleaded only state law causes of action but also alleged that Google’s activities violated COPPA. The district court held that the “core allegations” in the third amended complaint were preempted by COPPA. The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s dismissal of the third amended complaint on preemption grounds. The court remanded so that the district court can consider, in the first instance, the alternative arguments for dismissal to the extent those arguments were properly preserved. The panel held that state laws that supplement, or require the same thing as federal law, do not stand as an obstacle to Congress’s objectives, and are not “inconsistent.” The panel was not persuaded that the insertion of “treatment” in the preemption clause evinced clear congressional intent to create an exclusive remedial scheme for enforcement of COPPA requirements. The panel concluded that COPPA’s preemption clause does not bar state-law causes of action that are parallel to or proscribe the same conduct forbidden by COPPA. View "CARA JONES, ET AL V. GOOGLE LLC, ET AL" on Justia Law
CARA JONES, ET AL V. GOOGLE LLC, ET AL
Plaintiffs, a class of children, appearing through their guardians ad litem, filed a lawsuit against Google LLC and others, alleging that Google used persistent identifiers to collect data and track their online behavior surreptitiously and without their consent in violation of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (“COPPA”). They pled only state law claims arising under the constitutional, statutory, and common law of California, Colorado, Indiana, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Tennessee, but also allege Google’s activities violate COPPA. The district court held that the “core allegations” in the third amended complaint were squarely covered, and preempted, by COPPA. The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s dismissal on preemption grounds. The panel considered the question of whether COPPA preempts state law claims based on underlying conduct that also violates COPPA’s regulations. The Supreme Court has identified three different types of preemption—express, conflict, and field. First, express preemption is a question of statutory construction. The panel concluded that COPPA’s preemption clause does not bar state-law causes of action that are parallel to, or proscribe, the same conduct forbidden by, COPPA. Accordingly, express preemption does not apply to the plaintiff class’s claims. Second, even if express preemption is not applicable, preemptive intent may be inferred through conflict preemption principles. The panel held that although express and conflict preemption are analytically distinct inquiries, they effectively collapse into one when the preemption clause uses the term “inconsistent.” For the same reasons that the panel concluded there was no express preemption, the panel concluded that conflict preemption did not bar Plaintiffs’ claims. View "CARA JONES, ET AL V. GOOGLE LLC, ET AL" on Justia Law
JANE DOES, ET AL V. REDDIT, INC.
Users of Reddit, a social media platform, posted and circulated sexually explicit images and videos of minors online. The victims, or their parents, sued Reddit pursuant to Section 1595, the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal. Rhe panel held that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, 47 U.S.C. Section 230(c)(1), shielded defendant Reddit, Inc., from liability. The panel held that Reddit, an “interactive computer services” provider, generally enjoys immunity from liability for user-posted content under Section 230(c)(1). However, pursuant to the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2018 (“FOSTA”), Section 230 immunity does not apply to child sex trafficking claims if the conduct underlying the claim also violates 18 U.S.C. Section 1591, the criminal child sex trafficking statute. The panel held that the plain text of FOSTA, as well as precedent interpreting a similar immunity exception under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, established that the availability of FOSTA’s immunity exception is contingent upon a plaintiff proving that a defendant-website’s own conduct—rather than its users’ conduct—resulted in a violation of 18 U.S.C. Section 1591. The panel held that FOSTA’s wider statutory context confirmed its reading. In Section II.C, the panel held that its reading was also supported by the legislative history of FOSTA. View "JANE DOES, ET AL V. REDDIT, INC." on Justia Law
HIQ LABS, INC. V. LINKEDIN CORPORATION
LinkedIn Corp. sent hiQ Labs, Inc. ("hiQ") a cease-and-desist letter, asserting that hiQ violated LinkedIn’s User Agreement. LinkedIn asserted that if hiQ accessed LinkedIn’s data in the future, it would be violating state and federal law, including the CFAA, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”) and the California common law of trespass.HiQ sought injunctive relief and a declaratory judgment that LinkedIn could not lawfully invoke the CFAA, the DMCA, California Penal Code Sec. 502(c), or the common law of trespass against it. LinkedIn appealed the district court’s decision ordering LinkedIn to withdraw its cease-and-desist letter, to remove any existing technical barriers to hiQ’s access to public profiles, and to refrain from putting in place any legal or technical measures with the effect of blocking hiQ’s access to public profiles.The court affirmed the district court, finding that hiQ currently had no viable way to remain in business other than using LinkedIn public profile data for its “Keeper” and “Skill Mapper” analytics services and that hiQ demonstrated a likelihood of irreparable harm absent a preliminary injunction. The court found that the district court properly determined that the balance of hardships tipped in hiQ’s favor. The court concluded that hiQ showed a sufficient likelihood of establishing the elements of its claim for contract interference, and it raised a question on the merits of LinkedIn’s affirmative justification defense. Finally, the court found that the district court properly determined that the public interest favored hiQ’s position. View "HIQ LABS, INC. V. LINKEDIN CORPORATION" on Justia Law
DANIEL BERMAN V. FREEDOM FINANCIAL NETWORK LLC
Plaintiffs used the defendants’ websites but did not see a notice stating, “I understand and agree to the Terms & Conditions, which includes mandatory arbitration.” When a dispute arose, defendants moved to compel arbitration, arguing that plaintiffs’ use of the website signified their agreement to the mandatory arbitration provision found in the hyperlinked terms.The Ninth Circuit held that plaintiffs did not unambiguously manifest their assent to the terms and conditions when navigating through the websites. As a result, they never entered into a binding agreement to arbitrate their dispute, as required under the Federal Arbitration Act. The panel explained that the courts have routinely enforced “clickwrap” agreements, which present users with specified contractual terms on a pop-up screen requiring users to check a box explicitly stating “I agree” to proceed. However, courts are more reluctant to enforce browsewrap agreements, which provides notice only after users click a hyperlink.Finally, the panel held that the district court properly exercised its discretion in denying the defendants’ motion for reconsideration based on deposition testimony taken two months prior to the district court’s ruling on the motion to compel arbitration. Plaintiffs did not unambiguously manifest their assent to the terms and conditions when navigating the website. Thus, they never entered into a binding agreement to arbitrate. The court affirmed the district court’s order denying the defendants’ motion to compel arbitration. View "DANIEL BERMAN V. FREEDOM FINANCIAL NETWORK LLC" on Justia Law
ACA Connects v. Bonta
In 2018, the FCC stopped treating broadband internet services as “telecommunications services” subject to relatively comprehensive, common-carrier regulation under Title II of the Communications Act, and classified them under Title I as lightly regulated “information services,” with the result of terminating federal net neutrality rules. Trade associations sought an injunction to prevent the California Attorney General from enforcing SB-822, which essentially codified the rescinded federal net neutrality rules, limited to broadband internet services provided to California customers.The district court concluded there was no federal preemption. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the denial of a preliminary injunction against enforcement of the California law. The court cited a 2019 D.C. Circuit decision, upholding the FCC’s 2018 reclassification but striking an order preempting state net neutrality rules. The court rejected arguments that SB-822 nevertheless was preempted because it conflicted with the policy underlying the reclassification and with the Communications Act or because federal law occupies the field of interstate services. Only the invocation of federal regulatory authority can preempt state regulatory authority; by classifying broadband internet services as information services, the FCC no longer had the authority to regulate in the same manner that it did when these services were classified as telecommunications services. The FCC, therefore, could not preempt state action, like SB-822, that protects net neutrality. SB-822 did not conflict with the Communications Act, which only limits the FCC’s regulatory authority. The field preemption argument was foreclosed by case law. View "ACA Connects v. Bonta" on Justia Law
Joffe v. Google, Inc.
Plaintiffs alleged, in this consolidated class action, that Google illegally collected their Wi-Fi data through its Street View program. After the parties reached a settlement agreement that provided for injunctive relief, cy pres payments to nine Internet privacy advocacy groups, fees for the attorneys, and service awards to class representatives—but no payments to absent class members, David Lowery, one of two objectors to the settlement proposal, appealed the district court's approval of the settlement and grant of attorneys' fees.The Ninth Circuit affirmed, concluding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in approving the settlement, certifying the class, or in its award of attorneys' fees, and it did not commit legal error by rejecting Lowery's First Amendment argument. The panel rejected the suggestion that a district court may not approve a class-action settlement that provides monetary relief only in the form of cy pres payments to third parties; Lowery has not shown that the district court abused its discretion in approving the use of cy pres payments in the settlement; the infeasibility of distributing settlement funds directly to class members does not preclude class certification; and viewing the modest injunctive relief together with the indirect benefits the class members enjoy through the cy pres provision, the panel affirmed the district court’s finding that the settlement was fair, reasonable, and adequate.The panel also concluded that the settlement agreement does not compel class members to subsidize third-party speech because any class member who does not wish to subsidize speech by a third party that he or she does not wish to support, can simply opt out of the class. The panel has never held that merely having previously received cy pres funds from a defendant, let alone other defendants in unrelated cases, disqualifies a proposed recipient for all future cases. Furthermore, the panel affirmed cy pres provisions involving much closer relationships between recipients and parties than anything Lowery alleges here. The court further concluded that the district court properly considered all relevant circumstances, including the value to the class members, and concluded that a 25% benchmark was appropriate. Finally, the panel concluded that class counsel and class representatives did not breach their fiduciary duties by entering the settlement. View "Joffe v. Google, Inc." on Justia Law
WhatsApp Inc.v. NSO Group Technologies Ltd.
WhatsApp sued under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and California state law, alleging that NSO, a privately owned and operated Israeli corporation, sent malware through WhatsApp’s server system to approximately 1,400 mobile devices. NSO argued that foreign sovereign immunity protected it from suit and, therefore, the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction because NSO was acting as an agent of a foreign state, entitling it to “conduct-based immunity”—a common-law doctrine that protects foreign officials acting in their official capacity.The district court and Ninth Circuit rejected that argument. The Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act, 28 U.S.C. 1602, occupies the field of foreign sovereign immunity and categorically forecloses extending immunity to any entity that falls outside the Act’s broad definition of “foreign state.” There has been no indication that the Supreme Court intended to extend foreign official immunity to entities. Moreover, the FSIA’s text, purpose, and history demonstrate that Congress displaced common-law sovereign immunity as it relates to entities. View "WhatsApp Inc.v. NSO Group Technologies Ltd." on Justia Law
Bell v. Wilmott Storage Services, LLC
The Ninth Circuit wrote to clarify the role that de minimis copying plays in statutory copyright. The de minimis concept is properly used to analyze whether so little of a copyrighted work has been copied that the allegedly infringing work is not substantially similar to the copyrighted work and is thus non-infringing. However, once infringement is established, that is, ownership and violation of one of the exclusive rights in copyright under 17 U.S.C. 106, de minimis use of the infringing work is not a defense to an infringement action.The panel reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment for defendants based on a putative de minimis use defense in a copyright case involving plaintiff's photograph of the Indianapolis skyline. The panel applied the Perfect 10 server test, concluding that Wilmott's server was continuously transmitting the image to those who used the specific pinpoint address or were conducting reverse image searches using the same or similar photo. Therefore, Wilmott transmitted and displayed the photo without plaintiff's permission. Furthermore, Wilmott's display was public by virtue of the way it operated its servers and its website. The panel also concluded that the "degree of copying" was total because the infringing work was an identical copy of the copyrighted Indianapolis photo. Accordingly, there is no place for an inquiry as to whether there was de minimis copying. On remand, the district court must consider Wilmott's remaining defenses, and it can address the questions surrounding plaintiff's ownership of the Indianapolis photo, in addition to the other defenses raised by Wilmott. View "Bell v. Wilmott Storage Services, LLC" on Justia Law
AdTrader, Inc. v. Google LLC
The Ninth Circuit dismissed, based on lack of appellate jurisdiction, AdTrader's appeal from the district court's attorneys' fee award in a class action brought by AdTrader on behalf of itself and advertisers who used Google advertising services but did not receive refunds for invalid traffic.The panel concluded that this is neither a traditional common fund case nor one that meets the requirements of the collateral order doctrine. In this case, the litigants and the district court may have agreed that attorneys' fees should be determined in light of common fund principles, but they also agreed that "any award of attorneys' fees here would not come from a sum that Google has been ordered to pay the class." The panel explained that this alone shows that this case neither fits the situation under which the "common fund" doctrine developed nor meets the requirement of unreviewability that is essential to the limited collateral order exception to finality. The panel also considered plaintiffs' other arguments for an immediate appeal and found them to be without merit. View "AdTrader, Inc. v. Google LLC" on Justia Law