Section 230 Applies to Nextdoor Consumer Reviews–Duffer v. Nextdoor

The court summarizes the plaintiff’s allegations:

Plaintiff alleges that in October, 2020, he received a negative review on Nextdoor from a former customer. A series of other negative reviews followed. An associate of the plaintiff alerted Nextdoor about the reviews and requested their removal. Eventually, Nextdoor did remove some reviews, although the posts remained online for roughly three weeks. Other negative reviews were never removed by Nextdoor.

Duffer complains that he received no new business through Nextdoor after those negative reviews were left online. In the spring of 2021, he relocated to Montana and revamped his contracting business.

Duffer sued Nextdoor for failing to remove its users’ consumer reviews. This is a mockably easy Section 230 case:

ICS Provider. Nextdoor is “clearly” a provider.
Third-party Content. The claim is based on users’ reviews.
Publisher/Speaker Claim. “Duffer seeks to hold Nextdoor, a service provider, liable for its failure to remove material posted by users of
its website. Because the removal of content is a traditional editorial function, Section 230(c)(1) bars plaintiff’s lawsuit.” The court cites Force v. Facebook, but it could have cited to any of literally hundreds of cases.

The plaintiff claimed that federal law didn’t preempt his state law claim, but the court breezily rejects that. (I think that’s a sanctionable argument–literally hundreds of cases have said otherwise). The court tersely concludes: “Section 230’s barrier to suit is evident from the face of plaintiff’s complaint.” Motion to dismiss granted.

This ruling isn’t surprising at all, but I was surprised that a lawyer (Mark Ellis O’Brien of Lunenburg, MA) willing to bring this case in the face of the OBVIOUS Section 230 immunity. Even pro se litigants typically recognize these cases are doomed and rarely file them any more. Massachusetts’ anti-SLAPP law is old-school and narrow, so Nextdoor didn’t have the option to invoke anti-SLAPP protection. Massachusetts should fix that. Without anti-SLAPP protection, Nextdoor can’t force a fee shift, although it would be appropriate to cover Nextdoor’s costs to defend the obviously meritless claim.

Case Citation: Duffer v. Nextdoor, Inc., 2023 WL 7165042 (D. Mass. Oct. 31, 2023). The complaint.

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