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Facebook Loses Jurisdictional Ruling in Texas Sex Trafficking Lawsuit–Facebook v. Doe

Apr 25, 2022

After Facebook ill-advisedly helped FOSTA pass, in 2018 it was sued using FOSTA for facilitating sex trafficking in Texas state court. Facebook tried to end the lawsuit using Section 230. This resulted in a Texas Supreme Court opinion reluctantly granting Facebook’s Section 230 dismissal for many of the claims, but not for the state anti-sex trafficking claims. The US Supreme Court denied certiorari over that ruling (which triggered yet another unhinged Justice Thomas anti-230 screed). In parallel, Facebook had objected to personal jurisdiction in Texas, and the lower court denied the objection. Facebook also appealed that ruling. The appellate court put the jurisdiction question on hold to await the Texas Supreme Court ruling. In light of the Texas Supreme Court’s resolution, the appeals court came back to this open item.

(These procedural wranglings made my head hurt. The Texas court system is weird).

The appeals court says that Texas has specific jurisdiction over Facebook. The court says the plaintiff properly alleged purposeful availment with these allegations:

Doe’s unchallenged allegations establish that Facebook does substantial business in Texas; serves the market for its social-networking website in Texas through its employees and offices in Texas; markets its social-networking website in Texas; seeks new users in Texas; accesses and generates substantial profits from Texans’ data; and purposefully directs tailored advertisements to each Texas user, of which there are millions.

Facebook argued that it made all of the relevant decisions outside of Texas. The court says that’s irrelevant. “Doe’s cause of action for violation of § 98.002 is based on her use of Facebook’s social-networking platform and Facebook’s actions related to the operation of its social-networking platform….Texas is where the alleged sex trafficking occurred, where Doe resides, and where the majority of the witnesses are located.”

Jurisdictional dismissals are hard to win, and the appeals court seemed completely unimpressed with Facebook’s attempt to overcome that presumption. More generally, this ruling highlights the continued problems this case poses for Facebook after four years of vigorous litigation in Texas courts. The ruling also reinforces the possibility Facebook may have overestimated its cleverness by flipping on FOSTA and encouraging plaintiffs to sue it.

Case citation: Facebook, Inc. v. Doe, 2022 WL 1087826 (Tex. Ct. App. April 12, 2022)

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