Court Denies Request for TRO Seeking to Enjoin Louisiana's Unlawful Use or Access of Social Media Law

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Ashok Chandra | Bloomberg Law Doe v. Jindal, No. 11-CV-00554, 2011 BL 216243 (M.D. La. Aug. 19, 2011) The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana denied a plaintiff's request for a temporary restraining order ("TRO") to enjoin the implementation of La. R.S. § 14:91.5, the Unlawful Use or Access of Social Media Law, a law that plaintiff alleged would curtail his ability to use the Internet. The court found that a successful action aimed at the defendants, the attorney general and the governor of Louisiana, would not provide plaintiff with the relief he sought.

Louisiana Passes Social Media Law

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal signed La. R.S. § 14:91.5 into law on June 14, 2011. Under the law, registered sex offenders, who have been convicted of crimes involving minors, are prevented from "using or accessing . . . social networking websites, chat rooms, and peer to peer networks." La. R.S. § 14:91.5(A)(1). The court noted that the Act fails to define "use" and "access." The law, however, bars sex offenders who have been convicted of crimes from accessing "social networking websites," which are websites with the capability to "[a]llow[] users to create web pages or profiles about themselves that are available to the general public or to other users" and "[o]ffer[] a mechanism for communication among users, such as a forum, chat room, electronic mail, or instant messaging." Jindal at 2 (citing La. R.S. § 14:91.5(c)(4)). Plaintiff, a registered sex offender, asserted that the statute "not only bans affected registrants from Facebook and MySpace, but also 'make[s] it a felony for registrants to browse the rest of the Internet.'" Id. at 3. Plaintiff alleged that he would not be able to access numerous popular websites because they "offer a mechanism for communication among users," offer content forwarding, and allow users to place comments. See La. R.S. § 14:91.5(C)(3)(b). Under the Act, plaintiff contended that he would lose his job because he would no longer be able to work as a computer repair technician, he would have to delete his Veterans Association online profile, he would no longer be able to communicate with friends and family through his Gmail account, and he would have to disable his blog. Plaintiff named Governor Jindal and the Louisiana Attorney General James D. Caldwell as defendants and filed a motion for a TRO, asserting that the Unlawful Use or Access of Social Media Law violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

Attorney General and Governor Do Not Enforce the Law

The court observed that injunctive relief "should only be granted when the movant has clearly carried the burden of persuasion." Anderson v. Jackson, 556 F.3d 351, 360 (5th Cir. 2009). To demonstrate that a TRO is necessary, a movant must show: (1) a likelihood that he will prevail on the merits; (2) that he will suffer irreparable injury if an injunction is not granted; (3) that the injury to him is greater than the harm the injunction may cause the defendant; and (4) granting the TRO would "not disserve the public interest." Jindal at 4 (citing Holland American Insurance Co. v. Succession of Roy, 777 F.2d 992, 997 (5th Cir. 1985)). The Fifth Circuit has noted that to demonstrate a case or controversy sufficient to give a federal court jurisdiction, a plaintiff must demonstrate that he suffered an "injury in fact" connected to the defendant's conduct, and that "the injury will be redressed by a favorable decision." Okpalobi v. Foster, 244 F.3d 405, 425 (5th Cir. 2001). The court observed that plaintiff named only the governor and attorney general of Louisiana as defendants. While plaintiff asserted that the governor of Louisiana was responsible for the law, the court noted that "plaintiff has not directed the Court to any provision of Louisiana law that empowers the governor to provide the relief plaintiff seeks through the present motion." Jindal at 5. Plaintiff also argued that the attorney general of Louisiana was responsible for the enforcement of the law in Louisiana. However, the court observed that the attorney general "does not have original jurisdiction to prosecute criminal cases," and "any involvement the Attorney General might have in prosecuting cases under the statute is indirect and remote." Entertainment Software Association v. Foti, 451 F. Supp. 2d 823, 828 (M.D. La. 2006). The court thus concluded that neither the governor nor the attorney general has the power to deprive the plaintiff of his constitutional rights, and consequently, that plaintiff failed to prove that the court could redress his alleged harm through a motion for a TRO.
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