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Florida federal judge moves Trump lawsuit against Facebook to California court

The former president had argued that he was exempt from a clause in Facebook’s terms of service which requires all litigation against the company to be filed in California court.

(CN) — Donald Trump’s status as a former president does not mean he can dodge a binding clause in Facebook’s terms of service requiring lawsuits against the company to be filed in California court, a Florida federal judge ruled Friday. The decision is the latest in a series of legal setbacks in Trump’s attempt to restore his social media accounts after he was largely de-platformed earlier this year.

U.S. District Judge Kathleen Williams granted Facebook’s motion to transfer a putative class action filed by Trump against the tech giant out of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida and into the Northern District of California.

In a 22-page order, Williams ruled that the transfer is required by a forum selection clause in the company’s terms of service which must be agreed to by all Facebook users. The judge rejected arguments from Trump’s attorneys that he is exempt from the provision because he was president of the United States when Facebook banned him.

The judge found that Trump failed to cite any case law or statute “that nullifies a forum-selection clause in an agreement between a private corporation and a private individual, once that private individual becomes a federal governmental official.”

The clause in Facebook’s terms of service requires any disputes against the tech giant to be filed in San Francisco federal court or a state court located in San Mateo County.

Williams was also unconvinced that keeping the case in Florida would be in the public interest, noting that although Trump is a Florida resident, the case claims to represent a nationwide class.

In October, two Miami-based federal judges reached the same decision in Trump’s lawsuits against Twitter and YouTube.

Claiming that his Facebook account is a “communication tool of his presidency” and a “digital town hall," Trump’s attorneys also filed a motion demanding that a judge order the restoration of his account while the case plays out in court. The motion has not yet been ruled on.

The former president was indefinitely suspended by Facebook and YouTube and received a permanent ban from Twitter following the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol that led to five deaths. The social media websites cited fears that Trump would use their platforms to incite further violence.

Trump responded by filing three class actions against the tech giants in July, accusing them of violating his First Amendment rights. The lawsuits, which legal experts say have little chance of success, also seek a declaratory judgment that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act is unconstitutional.

The federal law shields internet companies from legal liability for moderating their services, allowing them to remove posts that are obscene or violate their terms of service as long as they are acting in “good faith.”

The Department of Justice on Thursday announced its intention to intervene in the lawsuit against Twitter to defend the constitutionality of Section 230.

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