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Negligence Didn’t Lead to Man’s Grindr Arrest

(CN) - Grindr need not face negligence claims from a man arrested after a 13-year-old allegedly used the gay-dating app to solicit a threesome, a federal judge ruled.

William Saponaro Jr., a Cape May, N.J., contractor, sued Grindr last year in connection to his June 28, 2012, arrest.

Saponaro's complaint notes that the charges he faces - sexual assault and endangering the welfare of a child - could put him away for 20 years.

He says a 13-year-old used "GrindrX" - possibly a reference to the company's premium, ad-free version Grindr X(tra) - on June 21 to solicit a sexual encounter with 24-year-old mutual third party.

The 24-year-old allegedly arranged a threesome with the minor involving Saponaro to take place the following week at Saponaro's home.

Though Saponaro claims that Grindr was negligent for allowing a minor to hold himself out as an adult on its adult service, Grindr sought to have the case dismissed for failure to state a claim.

U.S. District Judge Jerome Simandle granted the motion on March 13, finding that Saponaro's claim is barred by the Communications Decency Act (CDA).

"Plaintiff repeatedly characterizes defendant's wrongdoing as 'failing to properly supervise its site,'" Simandle wrote. "Plaintiff argues that as a consequence, a 13-year-old was allowed to use its services and to hold himself out as an adult, which created the circumstance that ultimately led to plaintiff's arrest. Plaintiff therefore claims that defendant should be liable for the harm caused by publishing the minor's assertion that he was over 18 years of age. Because the 3rd Circuit has expressly interpreted the CDA to immunize interactive service providers from this type of liability, plaintiff's claims must be dismissed as a matter of law."

The judge tossed aside Saponaro's claim that Grindr is not merely a conduit, but rather an active developer, of information published on its site, based on the 9th Circuit's 2008 ruling in Fair Housing Council of San Fernando Valley v.

"The questions that defendant poses to its subscribers when creating a profile substantively differ from those posed by the defendant in Fair Housing in one significant respect: they do not develop content that facially violates a state or federal statute," Simandle wrote. "Defendant's online questionnaire asks users to enter information about themselves, but these questions are facially benign. Plaintiff does not allege - nor does the court find - that defendants' questionnaire solicits from users information that is illegal."

Grindr did not owe Saponaro any duty of care, the court found.

"The communications that occurred on defendant's website that ultimately led to the illegal sexual encounter were exclusively between LeMunyon and the minor, both of whom were registered subscribers to the website," Simandle wrote. "Plaintiff does not allege to be a subscriber to the website, nor does he allege to have participated in the communications with the minor on defendant's site. Indeed, there is no allegation that plaintiff ever used defendant's site at all. He was not a foreseeable plaintiff in this case, and therefore defendant did not owe a duty of care towards him. Plaintiff asserts that 'the defendants [sic] must clearly have foreseen the potential for use by minors.' This argument, although perhaps relevant to the question of whether harm to an underage user of Grindr was foreseeable, does not show that there was a foreseeable risk that a non-Grindr user would be injured by the online actions of a minor."

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