“But her profile said she was 18” == jail cell, judge rules

“But her profile said she was 18” == jail cell, judge rules

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Be careful when hooking up with other «adults» online-even if they say they’re 18, you’ll be the one in hot water if they turn out to be 14 instead. That’s the opinion of a federal judge in Ohio, who dismissed a suit last week against SexSearch, a web site that hosts personals ads by people who are looking for sex. The plaintiff, who went by John Doe due to the very personal nature of the suit, accused the site and its owners of negligent misrepresentation, fraud, and breach of warranty, but Judge Jack Zouhary ruled that the site and its alleged transgressions were protected under the 1996 Communications Decency Act.

It all goes back to 2005, when Doe became a paying member of SexSearch in order to find. well, you know. He eventually met another paying member on the site, a woman named in the court documents as Jane Roe. Roe had completed her profile on the site with a recent and authentic picture, a birth date that indicated that she was over 18, and a statement that she was looking for someone «who could last for a long time.» The two eventually decided to meet, with Doe going over to Roe’s abode in to engage in. well, you know.

Things were all well and good, and the two had even lost contact after a short period of time. Until one night a month later, that is, when Doe found his house surrounded by police-it turned out that Roe was merely 14. Doe was arrested and charged with three separate accounts of unlawful sexual conduct with a minor, and he currently faces up to 15 years in prison as well as a lifetime registration as a sexual offender. Doe was publicly named for engaging in sexual relations with a minor, which he said ruined his reputation as a law-abiding citizen and caused him to lose his job. All in all, Doe’s case sounds like the worst nightmare of almost anyone who has searched www luckycrush com for a «casual» relationship with someone online.

Doe’s complaint places blame for the entire series of events on the shoulders of SexSearch, which he says misrepresented itself by displaying the phrase «all persons within this site are 18+.» Since SexSearch also reserved the right to modify member profiles that it believed to be misleading or underage, Doe said that it was negligent and deceptive since it allowed Roe’s profile and photo to remain on the site. Basically, if the site had discovered Roe’s real age and subsequently prevented her from posting on the site, none of this would have ever happened.

While that may be true, Judge Zouhary didn’t feel that that Doe should have placed that much trust in the site. In his 29-page ruling, the judge wrote that there was nothing deceptive about the site’s warning language stating that all persons were over 18. «Plaintiff was not an unsuspecting customer,» wrote Zouhary in his opinion. «He was aware the SexSearch membership registration process did not include an age-verification procedure. As noted above, Plaintiff specifically agreed to Terms and Conditions which stated that SexSearch did not guarantee or verify any information provided by users of the website, and nothing outside of the Terms and Conditions creates warranties.»

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Ultimately, Zouhary said, SexSearch was protected under section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which states that «interactive computer services» cannot be held responsible for publishing information provided to them by members. Judge Zouhary also cited a 2007 lawsuit involving MySpace, which asserted that MySpace should be held responsible for minors participating in communications with adults-another case dismissed as a result of section 230. Since Doe never attempted to argue that the site had modified Roe’s profile, Zouhary said that the service was otherwise protected by section 230.

Zouhary ruled that even without the section 230 protections, Doe’s case was not a strong one. He wrote that Doe had plenty of opportunity to verify Roe’s age when he met her in person at what we all presume to be her parents’ house, but failed to do so. «Plaintiff employed a double-barreled shotgun approach to this case, but failed to hit a claim upon which relief may be granted,» reads the opinion. Unfortunately for John Doe, it looks like 14 will get him 15 in the slammer.

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