Pseudonymous plaintiff John Doe appeals the dismissal of his complaint against defendant, SexSearch (“SexSearch”), an online adult dating service that facilitates sexual encounters between its members. The two met and had sexual relations. Roe, it turned out, was actually fourteen years old, and Doe was consequently arrested and charged with three counts of unlawful sexual conduct with a minor. In an unusual case of first impression, Doe then filed suit against SexSearch, alleging an array of violations under Ohio law, most of which are variations on the claim that SexSearch is at fault for Doe’s sexual relationship with a minor and the harm that resulted from his arrest.
United States Court of Appeals,Sixth Circuit
The district court dismissed all fourteen causes of action under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim. In the alternative, the district court held that eight of the fourteen causes of action were also barred by the Communications Decency Act, 47 U.S.C. § 230. Because we agree with the district court that Doe’s complaint failed to state a claim, we do not reach the question of whether the Communications Decency Act provides SexSearch with immunity from suit. We do not adopt the district court’s discussion of the Act, which would read § 230 more broadly than any previous Court of Appeals decision has read it, potentially abrogating all state- or common-law causes of action brought against interactive Internet services. We do not have before us any issue concerning the criminal liability of the parties or the voidability of contracts for sexual services.
SexSearch is an “online adult dating service.” Its members use the website to meet one another for sexual encounters. In e a “Gold Member” of SexSearch, which required him to pay $ per month and agree to the site’s Terms and Conditions, including a promise on Doe’s behalf that he was at least eighteen years old. Using the service, Doe met Jane Roe, who likewise had become a “Gold Member” after agreeing to SexSearch’s Terms and Conditions and warranting that she was at least eighteen. In her profile, she stated that she was born June 15, 1987. After meeting online, Roe invited Doe to her home on , at which point they had sexual relations.
At some point thereafter, Roe, who was actually fourteen, told the police about her encounter with Doe. On , police surrounded Doe’s home, arrested him, and charged him with three counts of engaging in unlawful sexual conduct with a minor, a third-degree felony. For reasons that are unclear, the charges were later dismissed and Doe’s records were sealed. Doe claims, however, that the arrest and prosecution-and the publicity that accompanied them-caused lasting harm to his reputation, family life, and employment prospects.
Based on this harm, Doe filed suit against fifteen corporate and individual defendants, whom he believed were the owners of SexSearch. The complaint contained fourteen causes of action, which, as the district court noted, “boil down to either (a) Defendants failed to discover [that] Jane Roe lied about her age to join the website, or (b) the contract terms are unconscionable.” Doe v. SexSearch, 502 F.Supp.2d 719, 724 (N.D.Ohio 2007).
Defendants then filed motions to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim. For the sake of judicial economy, defendant/intervenor Cytek, Ltd., which claims to be the true owner of SexSearch, agreed to enter an appearance and waive all issues related to service of process and personal jurisdiction so that the court could consider the 12(b)(6) motion before undertaking the time-consuming task of evaluating personal jurisdiction for each remaining defendant.