Premises Liability: Social Networking Websites
Posted in Internet Law on May 11, 2010
Melton v. Boustred, (Sixth District, March 12, 2010) — Cal.Rptr.3d —-, 2010 WL 881919
Three men who were attacked, beaten and stabbed by a group of unknown individuals while attending a party at a private residence filed suit against the homeowner on various theories including negligence, premises liability and public nuisance. The plaintiffs alleged that the defendant had advertised the party using an open invitation on the social networking website, MySpace.com, and that the use of the internet to promote his party had constituted an unlimited, unrestricted and widely broadcasted invitation to the general public to converge at his property. The plaintiffs further alleged that the defendant was negligent in actively creating an “out-of-control and dangerous public MySpace party” in that the unrestricted invitation exposed the plaintiffs and other guests to an unreasonable risk of bodily harm arising from an unregulated publically advertised event involving consumption of alcohol without restriction on the number or identity of persons attending.
The trial court sustained a demurrer to the first amended complaint without leave to amend, and the court of appeal affirmed, concluding that the defendant had no legal duty, since the facts involved neither misfeasance nor a special relationship with the plaintiffs:
“As a starting point, we accept as true plaintiffs’ factual allegation that that defendant issued “an unlimited, unrestricted and widely broadcast” invitation to a party at his home, which was “to include music and alcohol consumption.” As we now explain, however, defendant’s conduct in issuing that invitation did not create the peril that harmed plaintiffs.
. . .
The violence that harmed plaintiffs here was not “a necessary component” of defendant’s MySpace party. …Moreover, in our case, defendant took no action to stimulate the criminal conduct… Here, defendant merely invited people-including unknown individuals-to attend a party at his house. To paraphrase Sakiyama: “To impose ordinary negligence liability on [a property owner who] has done nothing more than allow [his home] to be used for [a] party … would expand the concept of duty far beyond any current models.” (Sakiyama, at p. 406, 1 Cal.Rptr.3d 762.)
Since defendant did not engage in active conduct that increased the risk of harm to plaintiffs, there is no basis for imposing a legal duty on him to prevent the harm inflicted by unknown third persons.
. . .
According to the complaint, the MySpace.com website has tools that permit users to limit invitations to “friends” only, which defendant did not use. Plaintiffs repeat that refrain in their opening brief, saying: “Defendant could have limited the scope and audience of the party invitation.”
. . .
We disagree with plaintiffs’ assessment of the burden of limiting the guest list. In our view, the proposed measure is objectionable on several grounds, including vagueness, lack of efficacy, and burdensomeness in terms of social cost.
. . .
Here, as defendant aptly observes, “plaintiffs would effectively prevent [him] from networking … both socially and professionally as well as promoting his latest endeavor.” The proposed precaution thus represents a weighty social burden.
. . .
Under all of the circumstances presented here, the foreseeability of the criminal conduct that injured plaintiffs “does not outweigh the high burden the proposed duty would place” on defendant and on other private hosts “to prevent such conduct.””