Cohen v. Facebook, Inc., 16-CV-4453 (NGG) (LB) 16-CV-5158 (NGG) (LB).

CourtUnited States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of New York)
Writing for the CourtNICHOLAS G. GARAUFIS, United States District Judge.
Citation252 F.Supp.3d 140
Docket Number16-CV-4453 (NGG) (LB) 16-CV-5158 (NGG) (LB).
Decision Date18 May 2017
Parties Racheli COHEN, et al., Plaintiffs, v. FACEBOOK, INC., Defendant. Stuart Force, Individually and as Administrator on Behalf of the Estate of Taylor Force, et al., Plaintiffs, v. Facebook, Inc., Defendant.

252 F.Supp.3d 140

Racheli COHEN, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
FACEBOOK, INC., Defendant.


Stuart Force, Individually and as Administrator on Behalf of the Estate of Taylor Force, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
Facebook, Inc., Defendant.

16-CV-4453 (NGG) (LB) 16-CV-5158 (NGG) (LB).

United States District Court, E.D. New York.

Signed May 18, 2017


252 F.Supp.3d 145

Robert Joseph Tolchin, The Berkman Law Office, LLC, Brooklyn, NY, for Plaintiff.

Craig S. Primis, Jennifer M. Bandy, Kenneth W. Allen, Kirkland & Ellis LLP, Washington, DC, Paul S. Grewal, Facebook, Inc., Menlo Park, CA, Shireen Anneke Barday, Thomas Aulden Burcher–DuPont, Kirkland & Ellis LLP, New York, NY, for Defendant.

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

NICHOLAS G. GARAUFIS, United States District Judge.

Plaintiffs in the above-captioned related actions assert various claims against Facebook, Inc. ("Facebook") based on their contention that Facebook has supported terrorist organizations by allowing those groups and their members to use its social media platform to further their aims. The plaintiffs in the first action (the "Cohen Action") are roughly 20,000 Israeli citizens (the "Cohen Plaintiffs"). (Cohen Am. Compl. ("Cohen FAC") (Dkt. 17), No. 16–CV–4453.) The second action (the "Force Action") is brought by victims, estates, and family members of victims of terrorist attacks in Israel (the "Force Plaintiffs" and, together with the Cohen Plaintiffs, "Plaintiffs"). (Force Am. Compl. ("Force FAC") (Dkt. 28), No. 16–CV–5158.)

Before the court are Facebook's motions to dismiss the operative complaints in both actions pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), (2), and (6) (as to the Cohen Action) and 12(b)(2) and (6) (as to the Force Action). (Cohen Def. Mot. to Dismiss ("Cohen MTD") (Dkt. 23), No. 16–CV–4453; Force Def. Mot. to Dismiss ("Force MTD") (Dkt. 34), No. 16–CV–5158.) Because of the substantial similarity in facts and the legal issues raised, the court addresses these motions together in this Memorandum and Order.

For the following reasons, the court GRANTS Facebook's motions to dismiss the operative complaints in both the Cohen Action and the Force Action.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Facebook's Social Media Platform

Facebook's eponymous social media website allows users to create personalized webpages that contain information about themselves, including identifying information, photographs, videos, interests, recent activities, and links to content from other websites. (Cohen FAC ¶ 42; see also Force FAC ¶¶ 94–95, 522.) Once a user joins the website, they can engage with other Facebook users in a number of ways, including by adding those users as "friends" and providing feedback to content provided by other users by "sharing," "liking" (i.e. applying a tag that is shared with other users), or commenting on that content. (Cohen FAC ¶ 42; Force FAC ¶ 523.) Additionally, users are able to view their contacts' activities on the website, including both information posted by those contacts as well as their contacts' interactions

252 F.Supp.3d 146

with other users and content. (See Cohen FAC ¶ 42; Force FAC ¶¶ 524, 527.)

Facebook users are also able to create "groups" with other users, which allows multiple users to join a shared website which has its own profile and information. (Cohen FAC ¶ 43; Force FAC ¶ 525–26.) Members of a group can view, interact with, and share content posted in these group forums. (Cohen FAC ¶ 43.)

Facebook collects data as to its users' activities through the website, including but not limited to information regarding contacts and group associations, content that users post and interact with, and use of third party websites. (Cohen FAC ¶ 44; Force Compl ¶ 528.) Using proprietary algorithms, Facebook generates targeted recommendations for each user, promoting content, websites, advertisements, users, groups, and events that may appeal to a user based on their usage history. (Cohen FAC ¶¶ 45–48; Force FAC ¶¶ 529–41.) In this way, Facebook connects users with other individuals and groups based on projected common interests, activities, contacts, and patterns of usage. (Cohen FAC ¶ 48; Force FAC ¶¶ 530–33.) Facebook also presents users with content posted by other users, groups, and third parties (e.g., advertisers) that is likely to be of interest to them, again based on prior usage history. (Cohen FAC ¶¶ 53–55; Force FAC ¶¶ 534–41.)

B. The Plaintiffs

The Cohen Plaintiffs are 20,000 individuals residing in Israel who state that they "have been and continue to be targeted by" attacks by Palestinian terrorist organizations. (Cohen FAC ¶ 4.) The Cohen Plaintiffs claim that they are "presently threatened with imminent violent attacks that are planned, coordinated, directed, and/or incited by terrorist users of Facebook." (Id.¶ 5.) In particular, they claim to be threatened by an outbreak of violence by Palestinian groups—which they sometimes refer to as the "Facebook Intifada"—and their Complaint recounts 54 separate attacks by Palestinian terrorists and terror groups in Israel since October 1, 2015. (Id.¶¶ 11–16.)

Unlike the Cohen Plaintiffs, who claim to be threatened only by potential future attacks, the Force Plaintiffs are the estates of victims (and, in one case, the surviving victim) of past attacks by the Palestinian terrorist organization Hamas and the family members of those victims. (Force FAC ¶¶ 5–18). The victims were U.S. citizens, most of whom were domiciled in Israel at the time of the attacks. (See id. ) In their Complaint, the Force Plaintiffs describe the attacks that harmed them, providing a detailed timeline of the events and Hamas's particular involvement in the attacks. (See generally id.¶¶ 156–499.)

C. Allegations Against Facebook

Plaintiffs in the two actions make substantially similar allegations as to Facebook's role in their alleged harms. Plaintiffs claim that Palestinian terrorists1 "use Facebook's social media platform and Communications services to incite, enlist, organize, and dispatch would-be killers to ‘slaughter Jews.’ " (Cohen FAC ¶ 18; see also Force FAC ¶ 362.) They further aver that Palestinian terrorist groups and associated individuals use their Facebook pages for general and specific incitements to violence and to praise past terrorist attacks. (See Cohen Compl ¶¶ 23–36; Force FAC ¶¶ 111–15.) Plaintiffs allege that Facebook's algorithms, used to connect

252 F.Supp.3d 147

users with other users, groups, and content that may be of interest to them, play a vital role in spreading this content, as Palestinian terrorist organizations are able to "more effectively disseminate [incitements to violence], including commands to murder Israelis and Jews, to those most susceptible to that message, and who most desire to act on that incitement." (Cohen FAC ¶ 56; see also Force FAC ¶¶ 530–41.)

Plaintiffs allege that Facebook is aware of the use of its platform by Palestinian terrorist organizations and their members but has failed to take action to deactivate their accounts or prevent them from inciting violence. (Cohen FAC ¶ 40; Force FAC ¶ 502–04.) In the case of Hamas, the Force Complaint alleges that Facebook allows that organization, its members, and affiliated organizations to operate Facebook accounts in their own names, despite knowledge that many of them have been officially named as terrorists and sanctioned by various governments. (See Force FAC ¶¶ 118–25.) Plaintiffs claim that Facebook's approach to addressing this use of the platform has been piecemeal (intermittently deleting individual postings or banning users) and inconsistent (e.g., deleting offending posts from one individual without removing identical messages or banning users without taking steps to ensure that the same person does not subsequently rejoin the website under a different moniker). (Id.¶¶ 549–55; see also Cohen FAC ¶¶ 40, 61–62.)

II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

The Cohen Plaintiffs originally filed their action in the Supreme Court of New York, Kings County, and it was removed to this court by Facebook on August 10, 2016, on the basis of diversity of citizenship. (Not. of Removal (Dkt. 1), No. 16–CV–4453.) The operative complaint in this action is the First Amended Complaint, filed on October 10, 2016. (See generally Cohen FAC.) The Cohen Plaintiffs bring Israeli law claims of negligence, breach of statutory duty, and vicarious liability (id.¶¶ 67–106), as well as New York law claims for prima facie tort, intentional infliction of emotional distress, aiding and abetting a tort, and civil conspiracy (id.¶¶ 107–34). The Cohen Plaintiffs seek only declaratory and injunctive relief. (Id.¶¶ 149–55.) Separate from their substantive claims for relief, the Cohen Complaint requests a judicial declaration that the causes of action noted above are not barred by Section 230(c)(1) of the Communications Decency Act, 47 U.S.C. § 230. (Id.¶¶ 135–48)

The Force Plaintiffs filed their action in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York on July 10, 2016. (See generally Force Compl. (Dkt. 1), No. 16–CV–5158.) The case was subsequently transferred to this court as...

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32 practice notes
  • Franklin v. X Gear 101, LLC, 17 Civ. 6452 (GBD) (GWG)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • 23 Julio 2018
    ...similar platforms have been held to be providers of an interactive computer service, including Facebook, see Cohen v. Facebook, Inc., 252 F. Supp. 3d 140, 156 (E.D.N.Y. 2017), as well as AOL, Craigslist, and Ask.com, see LeadClick Media, LLC, 838 F.3d at 174 (citing cases). Because the Comp......
  • Force v. Facebook, Inc., No. 18-397
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (2nd Circuit)
    • 31 Julio 2019
    ...involved "treat[ing]" Facebook "as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by" Hamas. Cohen v. Facebook, Inc. , 252 F.Supp.3d 140, 155–58 (E.D.N.Y. 2017) (quoting 47 U.S.C. § 230(c)(1) ).11 On May 18, 2017, the district court granted the motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) an......
  • Gonzalez v. Google, Inc., Case No. 16-cv-03282-DMR
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Northern District of California
    • 15 Agosto 2018
    ...230(e)(1)"excludes civil suits," citing Jane Doe 1 v. Backpage.com , LLC , 817 F.3d 12, 23 (1st Cir. 2016), and Cohen v. Facebook , 252 F.Supp.3d 140, 157 n.11 (E.D.N.Y. 2017). As with their argument regarding extraterritoriality, Plaintiffs make a late attempt to flesh out their position o......
  • Gonzalez v. Google, Inc., Case No. 16–cv–03282–DMR
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Northern District of California
    • 23 Octubre 2017
    ...whether the conduct relevant to the statute's focus occurred in the United States or abroad. Id.The court in Cohen v. Facebook, Inc. , 252 F.Supp.3d 140, 157-61, Nos. 16–CV–4453 (NGG) (LB), 16–CV–5158 (NGG) (LB), 2017 WL 2192621, at *13–15 (E.D.N.Y. May 18, 2017), recently examined the exac......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
30 cases
  • Franklin v. X Gear 101, LLC, 17 Civ. 6452 (GBD) (GWG)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • 23 Julio 2018
    ...similar platforms have been held to be providers of an interactive computer service, including Facebook, see Cohen v. Facebook, Inc., 252 F. Supp. 3d 140, 156 (E.D.N.Y. 2017), as well as AOL, Craigslist, and Ask.com, see LeadClick Media, LLC, 838 F.3d at 174 (citing cases). Because the Comp......
  • Force v. Facebook, Inc., No. 18-397
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (2nd Circuit)
    • 31 Julio 2019
    ...involved "treat[ing]" Facebook "as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by" Hamas. Cohen v. Facebook, Inc. , 252 F.Supp.3d 140, 155–58 (E.D.N.Y. 2017) (quoting 47 U.S.C. § 230(c)(1) ).11 On May 18, 2017, the district court granted the motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) an......
  • Gonzalez v. Google, Inc., Case No. 16-cv-03282-DMR
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Northern District of California
    • 15 Agosto 2018
    ...230(e)(1)"excludes civil suits," citing Jane Doe 1 v. Backpage.com , LLC , 817 F.3d 12, 23 (1st Cir. 2016), and Cohen v. Facebook , 252 F.Supp.3d 140, 157 n.11 (E.D.N.Y. 2017). As with their argument regarding extraterritoriality, Plaintiffs make a late attempt to flesh out their position o......
  • Gonzalez v. Google, Inc., Case No. 16–cv–03282–DMR
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Northern District of California
    • 23 Octubre 2017
    ...whether the conduct relevant to the statute's focus occurred in the United States or abroad. Id.The court in Cohen v. Facebook, Inc. , 252 F.Supp.3d 140, 157-61, Nos. 16–CV–4453 (NGG) (LB), 16–CV–5158 (NGG) (LB), 2017 WL 2192621, at *13–15 (E.D.N.Y. May 18, 2017), recently examined the exac......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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