NDCA Court Grants Dismissal in YouTube Account Censorship Suit

On Tuesday, Judge Beth Labson Freeman dismissed a lawsuit brought by more than a dozen “conservative content creators” for breach of contract and constitutional right violations. The case lodged against Google LLC and YouTube LLC (together, YouTube) in October 2020 chiefly contended that suspension of the plaintiffs’ YouTube accounts violated their right to freedom of speech.

The opinion pointed to the court’s November 2020 order denying the plaintiffs’ motion for a temporary restraining order for explanation of the case’s factual background. According that order, the plaintiffs are “‘journalists, videographers, advocates, commentators and other individuals’” that post extremely conservative content on topics described as the “Hunter Biden and the Ukraine scandal,” “social media censorship,” “race relations or protests in America,” and “anonymous posts on political issues by someone identifying themselves as ‘Q.’” 

The court noted, however, that the plaintiffs only provided scant detail of the particular type of content they posted. According to YouTube, by contrast, the plaintiffs’ channels contained “harmful conspiracy theories” and featured videos with “‘horrifying and unsubstantiated accusations of violent and criminal conduct supposedly committed by specific individuals.’”

In October 2020, the United States House of Representatives passed a resolution condemning the QAnon conspiracy theory due to its purportedly discriminatory views and promotion of crime and violence. Shortly thereafter, YouTube removed a host of accounts which the complaint described as conservative, including those operated by the plaintiffs based on the platform’s hate and harassment policies.

In this week’s 13-page opinion, Judge Freeman sided with YouTube in finding that the plaintiffs failed to plausibly allege a First Amendment claim. The court concluded that each of the four proffered theories was insufficient to show that the defendants’ conduct constituted state action.

Judge Freeman considered evidence that federal lawmakers commanded YouTube to act through their Congressional condemnation of QAnon-related speech. The court found the comments insufficient to show that the government “‘commanded the suspension of Plaintiffs’ accounts.” The court noted that even if YouTube complied with lawmakers’ statements, it still had the ultimate discretion to determine which content violated its policies.

After dismissing the plaintiffs’ First Amendment claims with prejudice, the court considered whether to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state law claims. The court declined, writing that it “has only preliminarily considered the merits of Plaintiffs’ state law claims in considering Plaintiffs’ application for a temporary restraining order … so there is little judicial economy that would be hindered by dismissing these claims.” 

The plaintiffs are represented by Armenta & Sol PC, and YouTube by Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati.