Judge Hears Dismissal Arguments in Muslim Advocates’ Consumer Protection Complaint

After a hearing on Thursday, Judge Anthony C. Epstein of the D.C. Superior Court denied Facebook Inc.’s motion to dismiss an Anti-SLAPP Act case as moot, while hearing arguments as to a still-pending motions to dismiss an amended complaint. The oral ruling issued in court comes after the parties engaged in motion practice and after  D.C.’s attorney general and consumer groups offered their support to the plaintiff.

The lawsuit concerns the social media platform’s safety. Muslim Advocates, a non-profit civil rights organization working “to halt bigotry in its tracks,” filed the case arguing that Facebook exaggerated, to the public and in testimony before Congress, the degree of its efforts to curb hateful anti-Muslim posts. The state court complaint pleaded claims under the D.C. Consumer Protection Procedures Act and asked the court to enjoin Facebook’s purportedly unlawful conduct and order corrective advertising, among other things.

Facebook opposed the lawsuit, arguing that because it does not charge users for its services, the platform is shielded from liability under the consumer protection law. In addition, Facebook contended that the executive defendants have immunity pursuant to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. 

Commenting on the defense in a press release, Muslim Advocates said that “Section 230 shouldn’t bar claims like ours that challenge Facebook executives’ real life statements about their business practices.” Likewise, in his friend-of-the-court submission, Attorney General Karl Racine argued that Section 230 does not protect businesses from their own misrepresentations about services they provide.

Finally, the non-profit argued that Facebook was misusing the anti-SLAPP defense, a law “intended to prevent lawsuits from silencing grassroots activism.” The press release said, “[i]t is outrageous that Facebook is trying to turn a law designed to protect the little guy into a shield for a corporate behemoth.”

Next on the court calendar is a status hearing scheduled for April 8.

Muslim Advocates is represented by Gupta Wessler PLLC, its own counsel, and University of Chicago Law Professor Aziz Huq. Facebook is represented by Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP.