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Saponaro v. Grindr, LLC

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

March 13, 2015

WILLIAM F. SAPONARO, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
GRINDR, LLC, Defendant

Page 320

For Plaintiff: J. Michael Farrell, Esq., Wenonah, NJ.

For Defendant: Frederick Benno Polak, Esq., POST, POLAK, GOODSELL, MACNEILL, & STRAUCHLER, P.A., Roseland, NJ.

OPINION

Page 321

HONORABLE JEROME B. SIMANDLE, Chief United States District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

After Plaintiff William F. Saponaro, Jr. was arrested for engaging in a sexual encounter with a minor who used Defendant Grindr, LLC's online social networking service to arrange the encounter, he sued Defendant for negligence for allowing a minor child to access and utilize its social networking site. This matter comes before the Court upon Defendant's motion to dismiss [Docket Item 5] under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim for which relief can be granted.

Because Plaintiff's claim is barred by the Communications Decency Act, 47 U.S.C. § 230, the Court will grant Defendant's motion and will dismiss this action.

II. BACKGROUND

The facts of this case are drawn from the Complaint and are accepted as true for purposes of this motion.[1]

Plaintiff is an adult male who owns a construction and restoration company in the Cape May community. (Compl. ¶ ¶ 1, 14.) Defendant is a Limited Liability Company, organized in the State of California, which owns and operates two all-male online geo-social networking applications " Grindr" and " GrindrX." (Id. at ¶ ¶ 2--4.)

Plaintiff claims that on June 21, 2012, a 13 year old minor (the " minor" ) used Defendant's GrindrX service to solicit a sexual encounter with Mark LeMunyon (" LeMunyon" ), a 24 year old man who subscribes to Defendant's online services. (Id. at ¶ ¶ 4, 5.) Upon receiving the minor's solicitation, LeMunyon contacted Plaintiff and arranged a sexual encounter between himself, the minor, and Plaintiff.[2] ( Id. at ¶ ¶ 6, 7.) The arranged " three party sexual liason" came to fruition at Plaintiff's home in Cape May some time during the following week. (Id. at ¶ ¶ 6, 7.) On June 28, 2012, Plaintiff was arrested in Cape May County, New Jersey and charged with sexual assault and endangering the welfare of a child in connection with the aforementioned sexual encounter. (Id. at ¶ 8.) He currently faces charges in excess of 20 years in prison. (Id.)

On June 20, 2014, Plaintiff filed the instant action against Defendant in the Superior

Page 322

Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Cape May County. [Docket Item 1.] In Count One, Plaintiff claims that Defendant was negligent by allowing the minor to hold himself out as an adult of consenting age on its online service. (Id. at ¶ 11.) Specifically, Plaintiff asserts that he reasonably relied upon Defendant's age-restriction (a minimum of 18 years of age, 21 years in places where 21 years is the age of majority) found in the Grindr Terms of Service, and that Defendant's negligent failure to enforce its age-restriction directly resulted in Plaintiff's arrest and corresponding financial expenditures. (Id. at ¶ ¶ 4, 11, 14--17; Pl.'s Br. Ex. D. at 1.) Count Two of Plaintiff's Complaint asserts a cause of action against Defendant for negligent infliction of emotional distress. (Compl. ¶ ¶ 18--25.)

Defendant removed the action to this Court and filed a motion to dismiss [Docket Items 1, 5.] Defendant argues that it is immune from liability in its capacity as an " interactive computer service" provider under the Communications Decency Act, 47 U.S.C. § 230 (" CDA" ). (Def.'s Br. 1.) Defendant further argues that it did not owe any duty to Plaintiff under traditional negligence principles and did not proximately cause Plaintiff's damages. (Id. at 1, 2.)

For the reasons set forth below, the Court holds that Plaintiff's claim is barred by the Communications Decency Act. Furthermore, the Court finds that Plaintiff's claims of negligence and negligent infliction of emotional distress fail as a ...


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