United States District Court Decided that Facebook is not a “Place of Public Accommodation” within meaning of the Americans with Disabilities Act

Civil Rights – Social networking website was not “place of public accommodation” within meaning of Title III of Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”).

Plaintiff Karen Beth Young brings this action against Defendant Facebook, Inc., alleging violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq., the Unruh Civil Rights Act, Ca. Civ. Code § 51, et seq., the California Disabled Persons Act, Cal Civ. Code § 54, et seq., and state-law contract and negligence claims. Although Young’s amended complaint describes vividly her personal experience of losing access to her online social community and the challenges she faced attempting to obtain redress through Facebook’s automated customer care systems, it does not state a legal claim upon which relief may be granted. Accordingly, Facebook’s motion to dismiss will be granted.

Young opened a personal account with Facebook in February 2010.[1] She subsequently created additional Facebook pages for the “Cancer Forum,” “Cartesian Plane For The Cure,” “Karen Beth Young ,— Public Figure,” and “Join Karen Petition Facebook Say No to 5000 Friends.” Young sent “friendvites” to others she believed were interested in cancer-related issues and developed “genuine and heartfelt” relationships with those she met online. Young’s personal page grew to include approximately 4,300 “friends.”

In June 2010, Young’s Facebook account was deactivated for the first time. According to an email from Facebook, Young’s account was disabled for behavior identified as potentially harassing or threatening to other Facebook users, including sending “friend” requests to people she did not know, regularly contacting strangers, and soliciting others for dating or business purposes. Resp. Ex. A-1. She was told that the decision was final and could not be appealed. Id. Young, who states that she suffers from bipolar disorder, was upset by having the ties to her online social network severed. She made numerous email and telephone inquiries regarding the deactivation of her account, but Facebook’s response did not include any “human interaction.” Compl. -d 7. She then drove from her home in Maryland to Facebook’s headquarters in Santa Clara, California. There, Young was told by a receptionist that she could not meet with anyone in person or by telephone. However, she was allowed to fill out a written form requesting assistance.

Two days later, in response to that written request, Young received an email stating that her account had been disabled because Facebook’s security systems had determined that she had been sending “friend” requests too quickly or that her “friend” requests were being ignored at a high rate. Compl. Ex. D-4. She was told that her account would be reactivated, but she was warned that sending “friend” requests to people she did not know,—or other violations of Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities,—would result in her account being disabled permanently. Id. Young responded to the email requesting clarification and a personal meeting. Receiving no response, she returned to Maryland, where after two days her account was deactivated again. She received another email informing her that her account had been disabled permanently because she had violated the Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, that it would not be reactivated for any reason, and that she would not be provided further information about her violation or an opportunity to appeal. Id. Young then drove to California a second time and commenced the instant proceedings.

The Court was not without sympathy for Young’s plight. Young was understandably frustrated that she could not discuss the termination of her account with a live person, and both this frustration and the loss of her access to Facebook’s social network had a particularly acute impact on Young because of her bipolar condition. The Court stated that “as customer service functions increasingly are handed over to automated systems, it is important that service providers, such as Facebook, understand the implications that such practices can have for the less sophisticated and more vulnerable. However, because Young’s amended complaint [did] not state a cognizable legal basis upon which relief may be granted, it must be dismissed. Because the amended complaint fail[ed] to address many of the issues identified by the Court in its previous order, and because it appears that there is no realistic possibility that further amendment could cure the deficiencies in Young’s pleadings, leave to amend will be denied.”