Court Doubts Match.com Liability for Member’s Attempted Murder

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – A Ninth Circuit judge scoffed Tuesday at an attempt to hold Match.com liable to a woman nearly killed by her online date.
     “Everybody lies on this thing,” Judge Andrew D. Hurwitz said. “Anybody who thinks the guy on the other side is really that person is an idiot, but that’s a separate issue. You’re alleging they had some duty to investigate this guy, or they should have known. Should have known, you lose me. Knew, you might have me.”
     Mary Kay Beckman brought the case at hand in Nevada after Match.com told her she and another user, Wade Ridley, were a match.
     They had their first date on Sept. 26, 2010, but Ridley began harassing Beckman after she tried to break it off. On the night of Jan. 21, 2011, Ridley hid in Beckman’s garage, stabbed her 10 times, and then stomped on her head when the knife broke.
     Beckman had been left for dead and required several surgeries to repair her jaw, remove part of her skull, and preserve her eyesight and hearing.
     Ridley meanwhile was convicted of killing an ex-girlfriend in Phoenix. Sentenced to decades behind bars, he died in prison a year before Beckman sued Match.
     Prior to that conviction, Ridley’s lengthy criminal history included arrests in 1992, after he tried to commit suicide by police officer, in 1999 for domestic violence, and in 2001 for battery.
     “We would allege that in fact they had prior warning from other users and failed to act,” Beckman’s lawyer Marc Saggese told a three-judge panel of the federal appeals court Tuesday.
     Insisting that Match.com had a duty to report users’ criminal histories, Saggese argued that the website is not simply an unregulated forum where “everyone just throws their posting up on a wall and sees what sticks.”
     “Match goes a step further – they develop the information,” Saggese said. “By taking profiles and matching people, they’re implying that it’s safe. That’s the misrepresentation.”
     Judge Richard Paez seemed sympathetic but doubtful that Beckman has a case.
     “What happened to your client is terrible, but the CDA provides a form of immunity, basically,” Paez said, using the abbreviation for the Communications Decency Act.
     The CDA says providers of “interactive computer services” such as dating sites, cannot be held liable for information posted by third parties, in this case, people who submit dating profiles.
     But Saggese said the case isn’t about protecting free speech. “A profile is not free speech content,” the attorney said. “It really is a person being put with a person. It’s a little different than free speech, or hate speech, or whatever the CDA was designed to protect.”
     Beckman submitted herself to Match.com’s control by paying for a subscription for its services, triggering Match.com’s duty to ensure that the profiles sent to her would be legitimate, he argued.
     The claim drew derision from Judge Hurwitz. “Wow, your client was under the control of Match.com?” Hurwitz said. “She was required to meet with Mr. Ridley?”
     “Under my view of the world, your only cause of action is if these folks knew of Ridley’s dangerous propensities and nonetheless went ahead and matched them without warning,” the judge added.
     Pushing the panel to let Beckman amend her claims, Saggese said he can raise evidence that Match.com had actual knowledge of Ridley’s past when they matched him with Beckman.
     Their information was not “solid” at the time of the original filing in 2013, Saggese said.

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