TOPEKA – (October 5, 2016) – Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt has joined a bipartisan group of 20 other state attorneys general in filing a friend-of-the-court brief in support of three young victims of human trafficking who have filed suit against Backpage, a website that includes advertising for prostitution.
The issue in the case is whether a website owner and operator may be civilly sued based on its own conduct when online content created by a third party contributed to the plaintiff’s injuries. Earlier this year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit ruled that the federal Communications Decency Act (CDA) precludes such lawsuits from being filed. The amicus brief urges the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case and reverse the 1st Circuit’s decision. The victims contend that their case is not based on the third-party content, for which Backpage is protected by the CDA, but on the conduct of Backpage itself in making tools available on its site that expressly facilitate the posting of online prostitution ads.
“The sweeping expansion of the law by the 1st Circuit has the untenable effect of preempting state laws that provide victims of sex trafficking with a private cause of action for damages,” Schmidt said. “The decision leaves states and victims without recourse against websites that knowingly engage in the alteration of content, meta-data and payment practices to evade detection by law enforcement. This unfounded immunity ultimately protects traffickers and interferes with support for victims.”
The states filing the amicus brief in the Backpage case are Kansas, Washington, Colorado, Hawaii, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah and Vermont.
The case is Doe, et al. v. Backpage.com, LLC, et al., in the U.S. Supreme Court, Case No. 16-276. A copy of the brief can be found at http://bit.ly/2dxN6Gn.