DALLAS (CN) - Federal law bars a babysitter from suing Care.com for matching her with a family containing a sex offender who allegedly flashed her, the website claims in a motion to dismiss.
Brianna Williams, 21, sued the website and Sherry Fawley, of Corinth, in Dallas County Court in August.
Williams claimed Care.com tells caregivers its customers have undergone rigorous criminal screening and background checks and that the customers pay for the checks to be performed on themselves.
Williams claimed Fawley's husband is a convicted sex offender and that Farley posted the job listing on the website "despite having personal knowledge" that he "has a compulsion to engage in inappropriate sexual behavior."
Williams claimed that when she was alone with Fawley's infant on March 18, 2013, Fawley's husband exposed himself to her.
She said the website failed to disclose that no checks were performed on Fawley's household members and that a "cursory" criminal screening of Fawley's husband would have informed her of his criminal history.
Care.com filed a motion to dismiss on Friday, urging the court to toss the lawsuit because it is "barred by well-established federal law" under the Communications Decency Act of 1996.
Congress enacted the law to promote "the continued development of the Internet" and to preserve "the vibrant and competitive free market" that existed "unfettered by federal and state regulation," Care.com said.
The law "achieves those purposes by providing broad immunity to every 'interactive computer service,' like Care.com, from claims flowing from their publication of user-generated content," according to the 15-page motion to dismiss. "The statute provides this immunity by mandating that 'no 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.'"
Care.com cited Doe v. Myspace, a 5th Circuit ruling that held the law barred a young woman from suing the social network for a sexual assault based on its alleged lack of adequate safety measures.
Care.com further argued that even if federal law allowed her negligence claims, Texas law does not.
"Williams's negligence claim is premised on the erroneous assumption that Care.com owed her a legal duty to screen the members of the Fawley household for potential criminal history or to warn her that it did not perform such screening," the motion states. "But Williams cannot point to any statutory or common law authority for such a duty."
Care.com said "no special relationship exists" that would justify the creation of such a duty under the circumstances.
"In fact, as courts have recognized, the obligation to investigate and disclose the criminal background history of a website's millions of users (not to mention their households, too) would effectively drive social networking, e-commerce, and other online services out of business," the motion states. "Accordingly, because Williams's allegations do not entitle her to relief against Care.com, her claim should be dismissed under Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 91, and Care.com should be awarded its reasonable attorney's fees."
Care.com spokeswoman Meridith Robertson said the company is "deeply troubled by the incident."
"Our thoughts are with Ms. Williams and we have proactively reached out to local authorities to be of whatever help we can in this matter," Robertson said in August.