E-Alert Case Updates
Negligent Failure to Warn Claim against Amazon Barred by Communications Decency Act in Products Liability Case
Ryan McDonald v. Amazon, Inc., et al.
In a recent opinion, the United States District Court for the District of Maryland held that Amazon, Inc. was immune under the Communications Decency Act (“CDA”) to a negligent failure warn claim based upon a third party’s sale of an allegedly defective product on Amazon’s website.
On November 5, 2014, Plaintiff ordered two (2) rechargeable cell phone batteries on Amazon’s website. Amazon itself did not sell the batteries. Instead, a third party seller advertised, sold, and shipped the batteries to Plaintiff. Approximately one (1) year later, one (1) of the batteries Plaintiff had purchased exploded in his pocket, causing him burns and other injuries. Plaintiff subsequently filed this lawsuit against the battery manufacturer and Amazon. Pertinently, Plaintiff set forth causes of action against Amazon for negligent failure to warn, negligence, and breach of the implied warranty of merchantability. Amazon subsequently moved to dismiss Plaintiff’s claims against it, arguing: (1) that Section 230 of the CDA barred Plaintiff’s claims; and (2) in any event, Plaintiff failed to state a claim for negligence or breach of the implied warranty.
Judge Richard D. Bennett, writing for the Court, granted Amazon’s motion to dismiss. Section 230 provides, in pertinent part, that, “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” 47 U.S.C. § 230(c)(1). Amazon argued that Section 230 flatly immunizes websites from claims arising out of information posted on the website by third parties. Plaintiff, on the other hand, contended that Section 230 applied only where the claims arose out of “content” published by third parties and had no application where Plaintiff asserted claims based on the sale of defective products on a website.
The Court noted that there is a three (3) part test to determine whether a particular defendant is immune from suit under Section 230: “(1) whether Defendant is a provider of an interactive computer service; (2) if the postings at issue are information provided by another information content provider; and (3) whether Plaintiff’s claims seek to treat Defendant as a publisher or speaker of third party content.” Nemet Chevrolet, Ltd. v. Consumeraffairs.com, Inc., 5 564 F. Supp. 2d 544, 548 (E.D. Va. 2008), aff’d, 591 F.3d 250 (4th Cir. 2009). Here, it was undisputed that the first two (2) elements of the test were met, and thus the Court’s decision hinged on whether Plaintiff sought to hold Amazon as a publisher or speaker of the third party’s sale on Amazon’s website.
With regard to Plaintiff’s claims for negligence and breach of the implied warranty, the Court concluded that Plaintiff did not seek to hold Amazon liable as a publisher or speaker. Instead, in these claims Plaintiff sought to hold Amazon liable for its own actions, i.e., its own alleged failure to preclude the sale of dangerous products and its own alleged representations that the products on its website were merchantable. Amazon was therefore not immune to these claims under Section 230.
With regard to Plaintiff’s claim for negligent failure to warn, however, the Court concluded that Plaintiff sought “to impose upon Amazon either (1) a duty to edit and filter content posted by third parties on Amazon’s website or (2) a duty to speak alongside content posted by third parties.” As to the first of these duties, courts across the United States were in agreement that no such duty existed for entities protected by Section 230, such as Amazon. As to the second duty, the Court acknowledged that courts in some other jurisdictions had concluded that the owners of an interactive website may have a duty to speak alongside content posted on their websites. Nevertheless, because the Fourth Circuit had not addressed that issue, and because the Fourth Circuit has held that Section 230 should be interpreted broadly, the Court rejected such authority as nonbinding and unpersuasive. It concluded that Section 230 granted Amazon immunity from Plaintiff’s failure to warn claim, as Plaintiff sought to impose liability on Amazon due to its publication of the third party’s advertisement.
Turning to Amazon’s argument that Plaintiff failed to state a claim for negligence or breach of the implied warranty, the Court concluded that Plaintiff had failed to allege that the alleged defect in the batteries was attributable to Amazon. In fact, Plaintiff specifically alleged that the batteries were designed and manufactured by a different entity, and sold by a third party. As such, Plaintiff failed to sufficiently allege that Amazon had placed the batteries into the stream of commerce. Accordingly, Plaintiff had failed to state claims for each of these causes of action, and the Court granted Amazon’s motion to dismiss.
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