A “kids will be kids” mindset could get parents into legal trouble in Arizona

I am fortunate enough to live in a fairly close knit community full of beautiful families and a lot of kids.  However, no matter how amazing of a community I might live in, the truth is, we, like most communities, still have the occasional chaos that neighbors will complain about.  Indeed, we hear about it all – from minor situations like barking dogs, rules of an HOA, or kids making too much dust playing in the dirt to increasingly more problematic issues like speeders, theft of packages from people’s doorsteps, and vandalism of facilities on occasion.  Our community even has a Facebook page wherein people will, in addition to posting good things going on in the community, also discuss these kinds of issues and/or put people on blast for perceived transgressions.

In this mix of issues that people will talk about includes rambunctious kids, often teenagers, that make poor decisions and choose to do things like break little kids playground equipment in the community because the equipment isn’t being utilized properly or perhaps steal items from people’s property – probably because they think it is funny and don’t really consider the consequences. Today, many people have camera phones and/or camera systems set up on their homes that catch the perpetrators in action.  The community response to these kinds of issues are as mixed as the members of the community.  Some people demand that the local police/sheriff is called.  Others will post the images, if they have them, onto Facebook as a form of public shaming.  Some will hold onto the images and complain about it on the community Facebook page hoping that the parents of children will take some responsibility and have discussions with their kids.  Even yet, some will do a combination of any or all of the above…hoping to deter future bad conduct.

In one recent example that I can think of one homeowner caught on tape what appeared to be a teenager stealing an item from his property.  The homeowner wrote on the Facebook community page about the transgression, advised that they had video of the act, and requested that the item be returned.  Of course, there was a community uproar and all kinds of advice (good and bad in my opinion) was handed out on how the homeowner should handle the situation.  Further review of the comments to the thread suggest that the homeowner spoke to the perpetrating teen’s parents and allegedly received a “kids will be kids” mentality response.    Ah…maybe “kids will be kids” but when it comes to property damage and/or theft, at least here in Arizona, that could be problematic for the parents and is something that should be taken a little more seriously.

PARENTS CAN BE LIABLE FOR THEIR “KIDS BEING KIDS”

Now if something happens that is purely accidental a parent probably won’t be found to be liable.  However, if your little Pumpkin, Prince/Princess, or Snowflake does it on purpose – well, you could have a legal battle ahead of you.  Your kid may have only taken a $5.00 Dollar Store troll doll from someone’s front sidewalk and/or smashed it in the road because it seemed funny, however, in the eyes of the person whose property was stolen or damaged…it’s not so funny.  What’s the harm?  It’s only $5.00 right?  Well, let’s look at how this can escalate into a mess that could cost you well over $5.00 to deal with.

CIVIL LIABILITIES IMPUTIMPUTEDED TO THE PARENTS

Arizona Revised Statute § 12-661 covers liabilities of parents or legal guardians for malicious or willful misconduct of minors.  As of this writing, Section 12-661(A) states “Any act of malicious or wilful misconduct of a minor which results in any injury to the person or property of another, to include theft or shoplifting, shall be imputed to the parents or legal guardian having custody or control of the minor whether or not such parents or guardian could have anticipated the misconduct for all purposes of civil damages, and such parents or guardian having custody or control shall be jointly and severally liable with such minor for any actual damages resulting from such malicious or wilful misconduct.”  Section 12-661(B) states “The joint and several liability of one or both parents or legal guardian having custody or control of a minor under this section shall not exceed ten thousand dollars for each tort of the minor. The liability imposed by this section is in addition to any liability otherwise imposed by law.”  Emphasis of bold, italics, and underlining added.

HOW THINGS CAN GET EXPENSIVE FOR UNSUSPECTING PARENTS

Depending on how important the issue is to the homeowner, and how much damage was done, the homeowner very well file a complaint against you for the actual damages utilizing A.R.S. § 12-661 AND any other related civil causes of action including legal theories like negligence and the duty of care (especially if parents had notice of the misconduct and failed to do anything to try and deter such behavior) which may provide for monetary remedies beyond actual damages.  More than one child involved?  You may have to multiply those damages per child involved.  Further, most insurance companies will not agree to pay out claims caused by an intentional act so one shouldn’t rely on that either.

Depending on the damage amount claimed or estimated in a compliant will determine which court (Small Claims Court – up to $3,500, Justice Court – up to $10,000, or Superior Court – over $10,000) your matter will be heard in.  The general rule of thumb, the bigger the court, the more expensive the filings fees and other costs may be.  For example, a response to a complaint filed in the Maricopa County Superior Court currently costs $237.00.   Need to hire an attorney to defend you in the civil matter?   A recent State Bar of Arizona magazine article has suggested that the billing rate for many attorneys in Arizona is $275.00/hr.  I have colleagues that bill upwards of $465 an hour and some have a minimum bill of .2 – that’s 12 minutes or $55.00 if your attorney bills the $275/hr.  Send a text message asking about your case.  That’s $55.00 done and gone – just like that. I can advise from experience that many attorneys will expect an upfront retainer of $5,000 – $25,000 depending on the complexity of the matter and your Answer to a Complaint alone can run $2,500 or more.  Then you add in the legal research fees, the copy fees, mailing fees and anything else that might be required for your case.  What about your time?  Your time is valuable right?  What about the time you will have to devote to tending to legal matters?  Time is the one thing you can’t get back…

FAILURE TO CORRECT ACTIONS ON LITTLE THINGS CAN LEAD TO BIGGER PROBLEMS

As adults we are all likely aware of the big Bernie Madoff situation where he stole $18 billion (yes, billion with a B) from investors.  No one starts out with big things. No one sets out to have a career of misdeeds that can land them into legal trouble just as an addict doesn’t take their first hit or sip anticipating becoming an addict.  Apparently Madoff told Vanity Fair “Well, you know what happens is, it starts out with you taking a little bit, maybe a few hundred, a few thousand…You get comfortable with that, and before you know it, it snowballs into something big.”  Now it’s a stretch to compare kids to Bernie Madoff, however, you get the point – and the psychology on it is pretty much the same.

According to the Association for Psychological Science, “[a] new study finds that getting away with minor infractions ends up making it easier for people to justify bigger, more serious ethical violations.   Over time, small ethical transgressions – like stealing pens from work – can put employees on the ‘slippery slope’ of increasingly bad behavior.”  You can review the full article here.  This is why it is imperative that parents take action with even the smallest of issues – which includes figuring out why your child is misbehaving (which might include seeking assistance from a family counselor, doctor, support group, etc.), determining appropriate consequences and sticking with those consequences.  It’s also important to monitor your kids behavior and keep him/her away from situations in which there is temptation to continue with poor choices.

 

Until next time friends…

All information contained in this blog (www.beebelawpllc.blog.com) is meant to be for general informational purposes only and should not be misconstrued as legal advice or relied upon.  All legal questions should be directed to a licensed attorney in your jurisdiction.

 

 

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Website Terms of Service: You Are Responsible for Your Own Actions

In my practice I write and review website terms of service with some regularity.  Most website Terms of Service have sections that relate to a users online conduct; that is, the rules that the website expects you follow when using their website.  If you don’t read anything else (because let’s fact it, unless you LOVE fine print, you probably aren’t going to read it) you absolutely should review the section that discusses what conduct is expected of you.  If you aren’t going to follow the rules don’t use the website.

Yes, this sounds like a no-brainer, right?  You’d think so, however, you would be fascinated to learn how many people don’t pay attention to these things and then, when they get busted breaking a Terms of Service rule, they come back and try to blame the website for the rule!  Um, no.  How about you try taking some responsibility for your own actions?  Yeah, let’s try that.

WHAT DO THE TERMS OF SERVICE SAY ABOUT MODIFICATION OR REMOVAL OF CONTENT?

Many websites will allow users to post content and then edit or remove the postings at a later date.  Consider sites like Facebook for example.  Other websites will give you only the ability to delete postings, but not edit, as seen with sites like Twitter.  At the same time many websites will not allow a user to edit or remove information once it is posted, regardless of the circumstances.

I typically see these no-removal rules often with complaint/review styled websites and this information is usually spelled out in the Terms of Service and, in some cases, elsewhere on the website.  Why would a website make such a rule?  Some websites claim that the reason they have a no removal policy, especially on a review/complaint type website, is because those websites believe that people will be bullied into taking truthful content down when the public really should be warned about bad actors or bad businesses.  I suppose the websites figure that if they have a rule against removing content, it doesn’t do the bad actors or bad businesses any good to harass the poster because the information is going to remain up anyway.  Yes, I know this opens Pandora’s Box for the “but what if…” statements and I know well the arguments against such non-removal rules, but I will not engage in that here because I’d be writing a dissertation and I’m trying to keep on topic and make this relatively short.

TERMS OF SERVICE:  WHY YOU SHOULD CARE.

Unfortunately, from my perspective, most people don’t care about these kinds of things and go on there merry way using a website, posting content, etc, – until they are threatened with litigation over something they posted.  Defamation is against the law and is actionable.  Most websites will make you agree, per their terms of service, that you will not do anything illegal.  They might even spell out that you have to tell the truth if you are posting a complaint or review.  Unfortunately, people either can’t read, don’t know what “truth” means, or otherwise don’t give a crap because they write stupid stuff anyway.  If you say something mean and untruthful online about someone else or someone else’s business – there is a possibility that you will see a defamation action against you.  Heck, even if what you say is truthful, you still could see a defamation action against you.  It’s the way the world these days – people sue over the most ridiculous stuff! Yes there are defenses to such claims, like the truth, however, if you use an attorney, it’s going to be legal battle that you will have to fund.

Typically a person considering litigation is going to go the easiest route and ask the person who posted the information to simply remove it.  If the person posted the information to websites like Facebook or Twitter, chances are one can just log into their account, edit or delete the content at issue, and be done with it.  HOWEVER, what happens when you posted the content to a website that specifies, right in their terms of service, that you can’t remove the posting?  If that is the case, chances are, that content isn’t coming down – even if you ask and regardless of the situation.

DON’T BLAME THE WEBSITE FOR YOUR MISTAKE.

Now we are getting to the ironic part.  A person will use a website, knowingly break the rules (such as posting false and defamatory stuff) and then, when they get a letter from a lawyer or a lawsuit against them, all of the sudden get concerned about what they wrote and will try to figure out how to take it down.  It’s like when you’ve been speeding, know you were speeding, and act all surprised when you get pulled over by a cop and quickly try to make an excuse for why you were speeding – as if that is going to somehow change the fact that you broke the law by speeding.  When an author gets a letter from a lawyer about a posting online the first thing they do is try to take it down.  In some instances they can remove the content…but that doesn’t always work as I explained above.  It amazes me how many people will write to a website asking for their stuff to be removed even when the terms of service, and the fact that someone can’t remove something after it was posted, was made abundantly clear before they made the posting.  When they get told “no” somehow that comes as a shock.  What happens next, in my experience, is one or any combination of the following:

  1. Excuses of why they wrote what they did.  The whole I was mad/sad/hurt shouldn’t have done it story.  This is what I call fools remorse.
  2. Allegations that “someone else” wrote it. People will literally allege that their “minor child” wrote the sophisticated well written posting about a business dealing. Uh huh, sure they did…and way to throw your kid under the bus.
  3. Stories of how the author/user of the website is “special.”  Most people that claim “special circumstances” aren’t all that unique when compared to anyone else.  I know your momma thinks you are special – but a website probably isn’t going to think so.
  4. Statements of “I wrote it.  It’s false…so you HAVE to take it down!”  No, actually the website doesn’t (at least under current federal law) and are you basically admitting that you breached the contract with the website that said you wouldn’t post something that is false?  Hmmm, that doesn’t seem like a very smart argument.
  5. I’m going to sue you if you don’t take it down!  Cool story – the current law doesn’t support your position and you are making yourself look like ass.  By the way, those terms of service that you agreed to by using the website or otherwise “checking the box” saying you agreed – yeah, that’s called a contract.

I wish I was making this stuff up but I have literally seen all of these kinds of excuses/stories made by people who are getting into trouble for what they posted online.  If you are one of THOSE people – you deserve to get into trouble.  The most ridiculous position that one can take is to be mad and blame a website for having known consequences to a rule THAT YOU BROKE.  That’s like being mad at the law makers who created the speed limit when you get into trouble because you broke the law by speeding!  No one made you speed.  Own the problems that you create.

Bottom line; read the Terms of Service before you use a website.  If you break the rules (especially if you are a harasser or defamer) don’t get mad at the websites for having the rules and consequences (that you failed to consider when you broke the rules) applied to you.  You have to own and accept responsibility for your actions – regardless of how hard of a pill that is to swallow. 

Until next time friends…

All information contained in this blog (www.beebelawpllc.blog.com) is meant to be for general informational purposes only and should not be misconstrued as legal advice or relied upon.  All legal questions should be directed to a licensed attorney in your jurisdiction.

Texas Court Paving the Highway for Abuse of Anonymous Authors’ Rights One Pre-Litigation Discovery Order at a Time: Glassdoor v. Andra Group

The United States has long held close to its heart the right for authors to speak anonymously.  However, protecting an anonymous author is getting more and more difficult these days.  The March 24, 2017 ruling by the Appellate Court for the Fifth District of Texas in Glassdoor, Inc., et al. v. Andra Group, LP certainly didn’t help either.

In my practice I see volumes of subpoenas sent to websites holding third-party anonymous content requesting the anonymous author’s identifying information.   Most of the time Plaintiffs file a John or Jane Doe defamation related litigation, which preserves the statute of limitations, and then they conduct limited discovery in order to ascertain who the proper defendants are and move forward from that point.  Typically, most states have some sort of notice requirement to the anonymous author that would provide them the opportunity to appear and defend their right to remain anonymous.  In the state of Arizona we have the controlling case of Mobilisa v. Doe, 217 Ariz. 103, 114-15, 170 P.3d 712, 723-24 (App. 2007).  It’s common for websites to raise objections on behalf of an anonymous author when the appropriate basic standards have not been met and, as I recently discussed in another article regarding Glassdoor, courts are ruling that websites like Glassdoor have the standing for the same.  This process, including giving author notice in a reasonable way, has always seemed fair to me.

Unfortunately, there seems to be a loophole that many Plaintiffs are taking advantage of, and it can be problematic for anonymous authors and websites alike.  I think that pre-litigation discovery tools (Illinois Rule 224, Texas Rule 202, etc.) are being abused in cases dealing with anonymous authors.   While I firmly believe that purposeful defamers and harassers should have the book thrown at them (i.e., fines, community service and/or educational requirements), often times the burdens on the plaintiff are not that high, it may not require notice to the author, and once an anonymous author’s information is revealed you can’t un-ring that bell.  I believe that pre-litigation discovery tools need either a very high threshold, have a notice requirements like that of Mobilisa or, alternatively, be barred in cases where a party is utilizing it to seek anonymous author information.

In this case Andra filed a Rule 202 petition against Glassdoor seeking to discover the anonymous reviewers’ identities relating to some ten (10) allegedly defamatory postings made about it.  Glassdoor, along with two (2) of the anonymous authors, filed an anti-SLAPP dismissal motion.  The trial court denied the motion and granted in part the Rule 202 petition which basically allowed Plaintiff to take the deposition of Glassdoor (even though claims against Glassdoor were not anticipated) regarding two (2) of the anonymous postings, not written by Glassdoor nor either Doe 1 or Doe 2, and was going to limit the deposition to five specific statements within those reviews.  Glassdoor and the anonymous authors understandably appealed the trial court’s ruling.

The Appellate court then skipped over the whole concept of anonymous free speech when it justified the trial court’s order by stating that “[k]nowing the reviews’ contents alone did not tell Andra [plaintiff] whether it had viable claims against the anonymous reviewers” and that “Andra also needed to know not only the reviewers’ relationships with Andra to evaluate potential defensive issues such as substantial truth.”  See Memorandum, p. 7.  Yeah, you read that right.  The balancing test on pages 8-10 are equally problematic and even through the trial court limited the deposition of Glassdoor to a handful of statements the author(s) of the selected statements still didn’t necessarily have notice nor necessarily the opportunity to appear and defend.  Even more troubling is the statement by the Court “[b]ut Rule 202 does not require a petitioner investigating a potential claim to show a probable right in relief on the merits.”  See Id, pg. 12.  Say what?  So a Rule 202 petition can be a BS fishing expedition, not give notice to an author of the BS fishing expedition, require a website to extend time and resources to sit for a BS fishing expedition and/or raise all defenses that may otherwise lie with the knowledge of an author, and that is all okay?  Who made up this batch of Koolaid?  How can the Court not see how this is paving the highway for abuse by plaintiffs?

You can review the entire Memorandum Opinion here: 

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Until next time friends…

All information contained in this blog (www.beebelawpllc.blog.com) is meant to be for general informational purposes only and should not be misconstrued as legal advice or relied upon.  All legal questions should be directed to a licensed attorney in your jurisdiction.