iBrattleboro Moves to Dismiss Libel Lawsuit

    by David Ardia
    December 3, 2007

    Last week, I blogged here and on the Citizen Media Law Project Blog about a lawsuit filed by Effie Mayhew against Chris Grotke and Lise LePage, co-founders and owners of iBrattleboro.com,
    in which Mayhew claims that Grotke and LePage bear liability for a
    comment a user posted on the iBrattleboro site.  You can read more about the lawsuit, and follow its progress, by accessing the entry, Mayhew v. Dunn, in our legal threats database.

    Today, Grotke and
    LePage filed their anticipated motion for jugdment on the pleadings, arguing that they are immune from liability under section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (“CDA 230”).


    As I mentioned in my previous posts, Grotke and LePage are almost
    certainly shielded from liability under CDA 230. After reading their
    motion and re-reading Mayhew’s complaint, it is clear that the court
    should dismiss the claims against them. Of course, the case would
    continue against David Dunn, who is the author of the allegedly
    defamatory comment, as he does not have a basis for immunity under CDA

    According to Grotke and LePage’s motion, this case meets all of the requirements for immunity under CDA 230:


    iBrattleboro.com fits the definition of an
    interactive computer service as contemplated by the CDA because it
    provides or enables computer access by multiple users to a computer
    server and access to the Internet. See 47 U.S.C. § 230(f)(2). . . .

    complaint [treats Grotke and LePage as publishers of the allegedly
    defamatory comment] when it asserts that iBrattleboro’s disclaimer of
    authorship of the content of the Dunn message “is insufficient to
    escape liability for the libel committed in the article.” Complaint at
    para. 11.

    [T]he information subject to the
    claim has been provided by a third-party information content provider.
    To find that this element is unquestionably fulfilled the court need
    look no farther than plaintiff’s complaint itself. Plaintiff states
    that “On or about Sunday, September 30, 2007, Defendant Dunn authored
    an article on the website known as iBrattleboro . . . .” Complaint at
    para. 7.

    Because Vermont doesn’t have an anti-SLAPP statute,
    it’s unlikely that Grotke and LePage will be entitled to recover their
    attorney’s fees once the claims against them are dismissed. (SLAPP stands for “Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation.”)
    Anti-SLAPP statutes generally allow a defendant to recover her attorney’s fees and costs if the
    lawsuit was filed in retaliation for the target’s speaking out on a
    public issue or controversy. Unfortunately, Vermont doesn’t have such a statute.

    In any
    event, let’s hope the court moves quickly and dismisses Grotke and LePage from the
    case so they can focus their attention on continuing to make
    iBrattleboro.com an exemplary platform for community journalism.

    Tagged: citizen journalism cmlp ibrattleboro legal threat libel litigation
    • Dan Schultz

      Hi David,
      I just wanted to say that I am really loving the CMLP so far. It seems to me that it’s a major accomplishment to pull together so much legalese and make it understandable (and USEFUL) to potential stakeholders and curious folk.

      Looking forward to hearing more about the legal dramas. Heck, with the writers strike this is even better than TV!

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