High Court Won’t Review Sheriff's Case Against Backpage.com

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By Michaela Ross

Oct. 3 —The U.S. Supreme Court Oct. 3 declined to review one of two cases involving Backpage.com LLC, an online classified ad site that has been linked to sex trafficking.

The high court denied Cook County, Ill. Sheriff Thomas Dart’s petition for review of a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit that letters Dart sent to credit card companies encouraging them to cease permitting the use of their cards on the site likely violated Backpage's free speech rights ( Dart v. Backpage.com LLC, U.S., No. 15-1321, cert. denied 10/3/16 ).

The case is one of two in which Backpage has been defending itself against claims related to allegations involving online sex trafficking. The site has relied on both Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act and the First Amendment in order to protect its classified ad business.

In Dart, the plaintiff had asked the court to decide whether the Seventh Circuit violated his own First Amendment right to speak out as a public official on a matter of public concern.

The Seventh Circuit said that, as a public official, Dart's attempts to coerce credit card companies to stop processing payments to the ad site went beyond expression of ideas and opinions to “actual or threatened imposition of government power or sanction.”

Dart's legal counsel didn’t immediately respond to a Bloomberg BNA request for comment.

Second Case Pending

The Supreme Court is still deciding whether it will review another other case against the online ad site, Doe v. Backpage.com LLC ( Doe v. Backpage LLC, U.S., No. 16-276, cert petition filed 8/31/16 ). The case was brought by three anonymous young women alleging they were victims of sex trafficking by Backpage.com users.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled in March that Backpage was protected from liability under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, 47 U.S.C. § 230, which has shielded numerous online ad sites and social networks that publish third-party content.

To contact the reporter on this story: Michaela Ross in Washington at mross@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Keith Perine at kperine@bna.com

For More Information

Dart's Supreme Court petition is available at http://src.bna.com/iNB.

Backpage's opposition brief in the Dart case is available at http://src.bna.com/iNC.

Doe's Supreme Court petition is available at http://src.bna.com/iNZ.

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