Full Ninth Circuit to rehear Roommate.com case

Remember the Ninth Circuit’s ruling in Fair Housing Council of San Fernando Valley v. Roommate.com LLC? How could you forget.

Plaintiff fair-housing groups had charged Roommate.com with Fair Housing Act violations in connection with its online questionnaires and member profiles. This past May a three-judge Ninth Circuit panel ruled that Section 230 does not immunize Roommate.com for all of the content on its website and in its email newsletters. Specifically, the panel concluded that Roommate was “responsible” for its questionnaires because it created or developed the forms and answer choices (rendering the website a content provider of the questionnaires). Explaining that it did not read Carafano “as granting CDA immunity to those who actively encourage, solicit and profit from the tortious and unlawful communications of others,” the panel also ruled that

[b]y categorizing, channeling and limiting the distribution of users’ profiles, Roommate provides an additional layer of information that it is “responsible” at least “in part” for creating or developing.

The decision thus left Roommate.com exposed to potential FHA liability for its questionnaires and user profiles. But that may change.

Eric Goldman and Howard Bashman report on their respective blogs today that the Ninth Circuit has granted Roommate.com’s petition for rehearing en banc. Stay tuned.

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6 thoughts on “Full Ninth Circuit to rehear Roommate.com case

  1. I am happy to see that the petition for rehearing raises first amendment issues of free speech and free association. It’s quite possible, then, that the en banc panel could reach a different outcome without ever considering CDA immunity.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Greg.

    My recollection is that neither the district court nor the panel addressed the question of whether Roommate.com violated the FHA.

    Are you suggesting that the en banc panel (whether it addresses the CDA question or not) may get at whether the FHA, as applied here, comports with the First Amendment?

  3. Michael,

    I’m not sure it’s an FHA issue. But the rehearing petition argues that the court did not need to reach the CDA issue because a person has a right to seek out and select the roommate of his or her choice. If that’s the case, there can be no liability for the online speech.

    Professor Goldman’s Technology & Marketing Law Blog links to the rehearing petition and related documents here:

    http://blog.ericgoldman.org/archives/2007/10/roommatescom_en.htm

  4. If this comes down against RoomMate.com, would every website with a questionaire be in jepoardy?

    MySpace, FriendFinder, iFreind, Yahoo Personals, eHarmony…

    The issue in the case was raised by Fair Housing but the ruling has nothing to do with fair housing but with if a company is a content provider vs just a publisher.

    Don’t they have a forms with predetermined selections ?
    I can limit my results by Age, Sex, religion…. therefore all of the sites are allowing (through their forms, questionaires, and drop down answers) to discrimate against who I select for online chat, dating, et all ?

    Where will it stop?

    USA
    Under
    Seige by
    Attorneys

    It is not right for businesses to discrimate… but I should be able to personally select who I want to hang out with, talk to, or live with !

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