Appellate Decision – J.S. v. Village Voice Media Holdings, L.L.C., 184 Wn.2d 95
About the case
Washington Supreme Court upheld a trial court’s refusal to dismiss claims brought by three girls who allege they were trafficked for sex on www.backpage.com. The website asserted it was immune from suit under the Communications Decency Act. Michale Pfau, Jason Amala and Vincent Nappo co-authored the Appellate brief.
On September 3, 2015, the Court issued its 6-3 opinion upholding Judge Serko’s ruling and denying CDA immunity at the CR 12(B)(6) phase. To our knowledge, this was the first such ruling against Backpage nationwide.
Writing for the majority, Justice Steven C. Gonzalez noted that the girls “have been the repeated victims of horrific acts committed in the shadows of the law,” and that “[t]hey brought this suit in part to bring light to some of those shadows: to show how children are bought and sold for sexual services online on Backpage.com in advertisements that, they allege, the defendants help develop.”
The Court concluded that it was appropriate to allow the case to continue given the girls’ allegations that Backpage.com knowingly helped develop an online marketplace for sex trafficking and then helped sex traffickers develop the content of their advertisements. According to the majority opinion, “[t]his case turns on whether Backpage merely hosted the advertisements that featured J.S., in which case Backpage is protected by CDA immunity, or whether Backpage also helped develop the content of those advertisements, in which case Backpage is not protected by CDA immunity.”