Plaintiff Turo operates an online and mobile peer-to-peer car sharing marketplace. It allows car owners to rent their cars to other Turo users. It filed a declaratory judgment action against the City of Los Angeles, asking the court to determine the service was not being run in violation of applicable law.

Section 230

The city filed counterclaims against Turo alleging (1) violation of local airport commerce regulations; (2) trespass; (3) aiding and abetting trespass; (4) unjust enrichment; and (5) unlawful and unfair business practices under California statute.

Should Section 230 apply?

Turo moved to dismiss. It argued that the City’s counterclaims sought to hold Turo liable for content published by users on Turo’s platform. In Turo’s mind, that should make it immune under Section 230. 

Section 230(c) provides, in relevant part, that “[n]o provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”

Turo argued that the city’s claims were barred by Section 230 because they sought to hold Turo liable for its users’ actions. Those users published rental listings and selected LAX as the designated pickup point for car rentals. According to Turo, because the content of the rental listings were provided by third-party users, and because the city’s claims sought to hold Turo liable as an interactive computer service responsible for that content, Section 230 should apply.

No immunity, based on what the platform did

The court rejected Turo’s arguments that Section 230 immunized Turo from liability arising from the city’s counterclaims.

It held that Section 230 did not provide immunity because the city sought to hold Turo liable for its role facilitating online rental car transactions, not as the publisher or speaker of its users’ listings.

Citing to Force v. Facebook, Inc., 934 F.3d 53 (2d Cir. 2019), the court observed that “Section 230(c)(1) limits liability based on the function the defendant performs, not its identity.”

And the court compared the situation to the one in HomeAway.com, Inc. v. City of Santa Monica, 918 F.3d 676 (9th Cir. 2019). In that case, Section 230 did not immunize companies providing peer-to-peer home rental platform services from a government ordinance that required homeowners to register their properties with the city before listing them on a home sharing platform.

The court explained that Section 230 immunity did not apply because the government plaintiff did not seek to hold the platform companies liable for the content of the bookings posted by their users, but only for their actions of processing transactions for unregistered properties.

Turo v. City of Los Angeles, 2020 WL 3422262 (C.D. Cal., June 19, 2020)

Evan Brown is an intellectual property and technology attorney advising companies on issues relating to the internet and new technologies.

Have a question? Email Evan to set up a time to talk: ebrown@internetcases.com. Or call (630) 362-7237.