Opinion and Order
ANN AIKEN, District Judge.
Defendant Yahoo!, Inc. filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed. R. Civ, P. 12(b)(6), alleging plaintiff's complaint failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. For the reasons stated below, defendant's motion is denied.
On May 24, 2005, plaintiff Cecilia L. Barnes filed a complaint against defendant in Oregon state court. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441, defendant removed the action to this Court. On November 8, 2005, this court found defendant was immune from liability pursuant to 47 U.S.C. § 230(c) (1) and granted defendant's motion to dismiss.
On May 7, 2009, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part my order dismissing the case.
On August 10, 2009, plaintiff filed an amended complaint. The amended complaint seeks damages for personal injuries sustained by plaintiff as a result of defendant's breach of contract. On August 31, 2009, defendant filed the motion at bar.
STATEMENT OF THE FACTS
In December 2004, an ex-boyfriend of plaintiff's began posting unauthorized "profiles" of plaintiff on websites provided by defendant. Profiles are publicly available web pages on which a person typically displays personal information about oneself. The ex-boyfriend posted nude pictures of plaintiff and made it appear as though plaintiff had created the profiles. The profiles led viewers to believe plaintiff was seeking men with whom to engage in casual sexual relations. The profiles also contained plaintiff's work contact information.
Plaintiff first learned about the profiles when strangers began contacting plaintiff through her work email and telephone. In addition, unknown men began showing up at plaintiff's workplace, expecting to engage in sexual relations with her. Plaintiff attempted to remove the unauthorized profiles from the websites.
Beginning in January 2005, plaintiff mailed defendant a signed statement denying any involvement with the profiles. Per defendant's instructions, plaintiff included a copy of her photo identification and requested that defendant remove the profiles. Defendant failed to respond to plaintiff's request and the profiles remained online. Additionally, the unsolicited emails, calls, and visits to plaintiff's workplace continued.
In February and again in March 2005, plaintiff made similar requests to defendant, requesting that defendant remove all unauthorized profiles. Defendant again failed to respond to plaintiff's requests and the unsolicited emails, calls, and visits continued.
In March 2005, a local television reporter learned about plaintiff's situation and began to prepare a news story on the matter. On March 29, 2005, the reporter contacted defendant, seeking a comment for the story. Shortly after receiving this phone call, Mary Osako ("Osako"), defendant's Director of Communication, contacted plaintiff. Osako asked plaintiff to fax her the documents plaintiff had previously mailed to defendant. Relevant to the matter at hand, Osako then told plaintiff she would personally walk the statements over to the division responsible for removing unauthorized profiles and that these profiles would in fact be removed. (Pl.'s Am. Compl. ¶ 7.)
After the conversation with Osako, plaintiff telephoned the reporter, informing him that defendant had promised to remove the profiles.
Despite Osako's promise to remove the profiles, defendant failed to promptly do so.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
For the purpose of a motion to dismiss, the complaint is liberally construed in favor of the plaintiffs, and its allegations are taken as true.
Defendant argues plaintiff's allegations "fail to present facts that would allow the court to reasonably infer a valid claim of promissory estoppel." (Def.'s Reply, p. 4.) Under Oregon law, promissory estoppel requires: 1) a promise; 2) which the promisor could reasonably foresee inducing the sort of conduct which occurred; 3) actual reliance on the promise; 4) resulting in a substantial change in the promisee's position.
The Ninth Circuit's Decision
Plaintiff states the Ninth Circuit found "that the promise alleged by Plaintiff's complaint adequately stated an enforceable promise." (Pl.'s Resp., p. 2.) Continuing, plaintiff argues the "Ninth Circuit opinion found a facial claim of promissory estoppel..."
I disagree and find the Ninth Circuit decided only one issue: whether 47 U.S.C. § 230(c) (1) barred plaintiff's claim(s).
After thoroughly discussing § 230(c) (1), the Ninth Circuit found that because plaintiff's claim of negligent undertaking was premised on treating defendant as a "publisher" of the unauthorized profiles, the claim was in fact barred by § 230(c)(1).
The Ninth Circuit, however, then construed plaintiff's complaint to allege a second claim, basing liability on the theory of promissory estoppel.
Plaintiff argues the Ninth Circuit's analysis of a promissory estoppel claim identified certain issues which "remain to be decided at trial, or at best by summary judgment after the close of discovery."
Rather than commenting on the merits of plaintiff's pleadings, the Ninth Circuit's discussion of the elements of promissory estoppel was necessary only to determine if plaintiff's "theory of recovery under promissory estoppel would treat Yahoo as a `publisher or speaker' under [§ 230(c) (1)]."
Finally, the Ninth Circuit explicitly stated its holding was limited to one question: whether § 230(c) (1) precludes plaintiff's claims.
Plaintiff's amended complaint alleges defendant made a promise to remove, and put a stop to, the unauthorized profiles. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 7, 8.) As stated above, to succeed in a claim based on promissory estoppel, plaintiff must show she actually relied on defendant's promise.
The amended complaint alleges plaintiff attempted, unsuccessfully, to convince defendant to remove the unauthorized profiles.
The amended complaint alleges that Osako asked plaintiff to fax her the documents plaintiff had previously mailed to defendant.
Although plaintiff does not specifically use the term "reliance," one can infer that plaintiff called the reporter, informing him defendant was indeed going to remove the profiles, in reliance on defendant's promise to plaintiff that it would remove the profiles. For the purpose of this motion, it is reasonable to conclude Osako's intention in calling the plaintiff was ultimately to have plaintiff call the reporter and, in effect, diffuse the story before it aired.
These allegations are not merely legal conclusions, but specific, factual allegations.
Substantial Change in Plaintiff's Position
Defendant also argues the amended complaint fails to allege sufficient facts to allow the court to reasonably infer that plaintiff's position substantially changed for the worse. Defendant argues plaintiff's claim of detrimental reliance depends on "an extended chain of factual suppositions,... each of which is utterly speculative." (Def.'s Reply, p. 6.) While this question is closer, I nevertheless disagree with defendant's arguments.
Defendant is correct in stating the amended complaint does not state whether the potential news story ever aired, or even if plaintiff's call to the reporter had any effect on the story. As stated above, however, a reasonable inference from plaintiff's amended complaint is that defendant was concerned about the potential for negative attention from a television news story focusing on defendant's indifference to plaintiff's plight. A further reasonable inference is that defendant was focused on removing the unauthorized profiles solely in relation to diffusing the potential news story. After plaintiff's phone call to the reporter, defendant realized the story was not going to air — or that it would portray defendant in a better light — and thus plaintiff's profiles no longer presented a pressing issue requiring defendant's immediate attention. Indeed, the amended complaint specifically alleges that defendant only removed the profiles after plaintiff filed this action. (Pl.'s Am. Compl. ¶ 10.)
Therefore, even though plaintiff's experience was the same in that the public could view the profiles both before and after the alleged promise and any resulting reliance, plaintiff's position could have nonetheless substantially changed in that the profiles remained on the web longer than they would have absent plaintiff's reliance. Additionally, it is reasonable to assume that strangers viewed the profiles and subsequently contacted plaintiff after the profiles would have been removed by defendant (had plaintiff not called the reporter). In short, I find the chain of events leading to the inference that plaintiff's position substantially and detrimentally changed is less speculative than argued by defendant. I find plaintiff alleged sufficient facts to suggest her position substantially and detrimentally changed in reliance on defendant's promise.
Defendant's motion to dismiss (doc. 38) is denied. Plaintiff's request for oral argument is denied as unnecessary.
IT IS SO ORDERED.