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9th Circuit Revives Bogus Casting Call Model Mayhem Suit

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. | Last updated on

Owing to a recent reversal of a lower federal court decision by the Ninth Circuit, the model networking site Model Mayhem and its parent company Internet Brands must face a previously dismissed case arising out of a casting couch scam. According to the lawsuit, the scam left the plaintiff drugged, raped, and cast as an unwilling member in an illicitly published porno.

The plaintiff's lawyer has celebrated the decision as a "landmark" victory for victims who were similarly scouted by unscrupulous scammers and it clarifies the proper application of the Communications Decency Act.

Model Mayhem

The plaintiff alleged that she was scammed by two men who used the model networking site Model Mayhem to lure her to a claimed casting call down in Florida, but it turned out to be a horrible farce. The plaintiff claimed that the men approached her with fake IDs, passed themselves off as talent scouts, drugged her, raped her, and distributed recordings of the crime as pornography.

Though the site and the rapists were not the same entity, the plaintiff sued the site and the defendant company, alleging that it was placed on notice of the pair's activities and its use of the site to target young women as early on as 2010 and that they were facing criminal charges.

Communications Decency Act

At the district court level, Internet Brands successfully moved for dismissal under the Communications Decency Act which holds providers of interactive computer services harmless for the published material of third parties. In this case, Internet Brands was arguing that it should not be held liable for the illicit material of the victim that was put into the public.

But the Ninth Circuit reversed the lower court decision and found that the decision turned on the wrong issue. The victim was not bringing a CDA claim on the grounds that Internet Brands was a publisher, but on the theory that it failed to take adequate steps to warn her of the potential dangers of using the site. This was a negligence matter, not a privacy matter.

"Congress has not provided an all purpose get-out-of-jail-free card for businesses that publish user content on the Internet," authoring judge Clifton wrote.

The case will be remanded back to the lower court for a ruling consistent with the Circuit's reasoning.

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