Facebook’s Terms of Service set jurisdiction for litigation – We Are the People, Inc. v. Facebook, Inc.

A common mistake, and arguably a waste of time, is to attempt to bring a breach of contract litigation in a jurisdiction other than the jurisdiction that the contract states. Years ago I wrote an article about the importance of boilerplate terms. One of the very first points I discuss is choice of law/choice of forum clauses.

Most people who are entering into a contract read the contract before they sign their name. Curiously, this doesn’t seem to translate when people are signing up for a website or app. I actually wrote about this too, warning people that they are responsible for their own actions when it comes to website Terms of Service and that they should read them before they sign up. Alas, we’re all human and the only real time people tend to look at the Terms of Service (i.e., the use contract) is when the poo has hit the fan. Even then, the first thing most people look at (or should look at if they are considering litigation) is the choice of law provisions.

In this instance, Plaintiff’s brought a lawsuit against Facebook in the Southern District of New York alleging that Facebook’s removal of content from Facebook’s pages violated Facebook’s “contractual and quasi-contractual obligations to keep Plaintiffs’ content posted indefinitely.” Anyone who has ever used Facebook would likely realize that the “contract” being discussed would stem from their Terms of Service. Facebook filed a motion to dismiss based upon Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act or, alternatively, to transfer venue.

Why would Facebook want to transfer venue? Because arguably California has better law for them. California has a strong anti-SLAPP law codified at Cal. Civ. Proc. § 425.16 (which applies to many cases that Facebook is likely to be named in) and many Section 230 cases have been ruled upon favorably to platforms. As such, Facebook’s Terms of Service contains a forum selection clause that requires any disputes over the contract be heard by a court in California; more specifically, exclusively in the Northern District of California (or a state court located in San Mateo County).

As I see it, these Plaintiffs either didn’t bother to read that part of the Terms of Service or they wanted to roll the dice and see if Facebook wouldn’t notice (Pro-tip: fat chance of that working). Regardless of the rationale, on June 3, 2020 the court quickly sided with Facebook ruling that the Terms of Service forum selection clause was “plainly mandatory” absent some showing that such clause was unenforceable (which Plaintiffs failed to do and, according to the Court, could not do in this particular circumstance (given Defendants’ memorandum of law) and Facebook’s Motion to Transfer was granted.

Citation: We Are the People, Inc. v. Facebook, Inc., Case No. 19-CV-8871 (JMF) (S.D. N.Y. 2020)

Disclaimer: This is for general information purposes only and none of this is meant to be legal advice and should not be relied upon as legal advice.

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