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Maynard v. Snapchat, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Georgia, Fifth Division

June 5, 2018

MAYNARD et al.

          MCFADDEN, P. J., RAY and RICKMAN, JJ.

          RAY, JUDGE.

         Wentworth and Karen Maynard sued Snapchat, Inc. for negligence and loss of consortium to recover for injuries sustained in a car accident that allegedly resulted from the use of Snapchat's Speed Filter. The Maynards filed this interlocutory appeal from the trial court's grant of Snapchat's motion to dismiss on the grounds that Snapchat is immune to liability under the federal Communications Decency Act ("CDA"), 47 USC §230. For the following reasons, we reverse the trial court's order and remand the case to the trial court for further proceedings.

         "In ruling on a motion to dismiss, the trial court must accept as true all well-pled material allegations in the complaint and must resolve any doubts in favor of the plaintiff. We review the trial court's ruling de novo." (Citations omitted.) Cunningham v. Gage, 301 Ga.App. 306, 307 (686 S.E.2d 800) (2009).

         The Maynards' complaint alleges that on the evening of September 10, 2015, a car accident occurred between the Maynards and Christal McGee. Heather McCarty was a passenger in the backseat of McGee's vehicle at the time of the accident. McCarty's affidavit recounts the events preceding the accident as follows:

I looked up and noticed that we seemed to be accelerating. I looked in the front, and saw Christal McGee holding her phone. The screen had a speed on it, which was about 80 m.p.h. and climbing. I asked Christal if her phone was keeping up with the speed of the car. Christal said it was. I told her I was pregnant and asked her to slow down. Christal responded and said she was just trying to get the car to 100 m.p.h. to post it on Snapchat. She said "I'm about to post it." I began pleading with Christal to slow down. I saw the speed on the phone hit 113 m.p.h. before she let off the gas. Just after I saw the speed of 113 m.p.h., a car pulled out of an apartment complex, and I screamed.

         As a result of the accident, Wentworth Maynard sustained permanent brain damage.

         Snapchat is an application made for mobile devices that allows users to take temporary photos and videos, also known as "Snaps, " and share them with friends. Snapchat creates "filters" that allow users to include captions, drawings, and graphic overlays on a user's photos or videos. One of these filters is a speedometer that shows the speed at which a user is moving and allows for that speed to be superimposed to a Snap before sending it out over the application (the "Speed Filter").

         The Maynards allege that McGee was using Snapchat and driving in excess of 100 m.p.h. at the time of the crash. The Maynards do not allege that McGee uploaded or posted a Snap using the Speed Filter before the accident occurred.

         The Maynards brought suit against both McGee and Snapchat. The Maynards allege that Snapchat knew that its users could "use its service in a manner that might distract them from obeying traffic or safety laws." Further, the Maynards allege that Snapchat's Speed Filter "encourages" dangerous speeding and that the Speed Filter "facilitated McGee's excessive speeding[, ]" which resulted in the crash. In granting Snapchat's Motion to Dismiss, the trial court concluded that Snapchat is immune to suit under the CDA because Snapchat was merely the publisher of third-party content, not the creator of content.

         1. The Maynards argue that the trial court erred by granting Snapchat's motion to dismiss on the grounds that the CDA provided it with immunity for its Speed Filter. We agree.

         Section 230 of the CDA immunizes providers of interactive computer services[1]against liability arising from content created by third parties: "No provider . . . of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider." 47 USC § 230 (c) (1). See Zeran v. America Online, Inc., 129 F.3d 327, 330 (II) (A) (4th Cir. 1997) (The CDA was enacted by Congress to provide "federal immunity to any cause of action that would make service providers liable for information originating with a third-party user of the service").[2] This grant of immunity applies only if the interactive computer service provider is not also an "information content provider, " which is defined as someone who is "responsible, in whole or in part, for the creation or development of" the offending content. (Emphasis supplied.) 47 USC §230 (f) (3). Ultimately, the use of the CDA is to "protect internet service providers for the display of content created by someone else." (Citation omitted; emphasis supplied). Jones v. Dirty World Entertainment Recordings LLC, 755 F.3d 398, 406 (II) (B) (6th Cir. 2014).

         The CDA states that it was enacted to further certain policy objectives, including:

to promote the continued development of the Internet and other interactive computer services and other interactive media[, ] . . . to preserve the vibrant and competitive free market that presently exists for the Internet and other interactive computer services, unfettered by Federal or State regulation[, and] . . . to encourage the development of technologies which maximize user control over what information is received ...

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