An Alabama federal judge has denied MindGeek’s Motion to Dismiss the complaint brought on behalf of two sex trafficking survivors (Case 7:21-cv-00220-LSC). Lawyers for the Plaintiffs are also seeking injunctive relief for the class members, which would put in place additional verification and protective measures on the website.
“We are encouraged by the Court’s order,” says Levin Papantonio Rafferty (LPR) partner Kim Adams. Other firms co-counseling with LPR in the representation of Plaintiffs in the MindGeek case include ZarZaur Law; Laffey, Bucci & Kent; Conrad Obrien; National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE); and Price, Glover, Hayes.
The Allegations Against MindGeek
Plaintiffs identified as Jane Doe #1 and Jane Doe #2 accuse the Defendants of “violating federal sex trafficking and child pornography laws by owning, operating, controlling, and profiting from websites that provide public video platforms to share and view illegal child pornography.”
The Complaint alleges that Defendants own and operate multiple pornographic websites. One of the most popular of these sites, Pornhub, generated more traffic than Amazon and Netflix in 2019. The subjects of some videos involve children being raped or assaulted. The order cites the example of one case in which the mother of a 15-year-old girl who had been missing for a year spotted her daughter in 58 adult videos on the website.
Although in 2020, the Defendants handed over more than 4,000 videos to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Plaintiffs say the Defendants underreported instances of Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM).
Plaintiffs also allege the Defendants have catered to and profited from the demand for CSAM by using tags and search engine optimization strategies with keywords like “crying teen,” “abused teen,” and “middle school girls.” Not only do the Defendants profit from partnerships with sex traffickers, the Plaintiffs allege, but the companies also monetize user data, further boosting profits from the illicit trade.
The Court Cuts Through Defendants’ Claims
The Court’s reasons for denying the motion to dismiss are outlined in an 81-page order.
On the knowledge requirement that the Defendants were aware they were receiving Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM), the Order states that “…if Plaintiffs’ allegations are confirmed, Defendants, through their ownership and operation of Pornhub and other sites, are no different than the thousands of individuals who are convicted of non-production child pornography offenses in the United States each year.”
The order further states that “if true, the Court would not be surprised to see at least some of the defendants prosecuted for such offenses.”
The Defendants’ also claimed immunity from suit and liability based on Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects internet service providers from claims stemming from content published on their platforms by third parties. The Court established that such immunity does not apply in this case, as child pornography is illegal contraband and therefore not protected by the First Amendment, Section 230 or “any other protection or immunity.”
The order further noted that the Defendants not only received, possessed, distributed, and failed to remove CSAM, “but they also played a vital role in its creation by using keywords and tags to help users identify videos of children who were being sexually abused.”
The defendants finally sought dismissal on the grounds of personal jurisdiction, meaning they asserted that the Court did not have the power to make a decision on the case at hand because Jane Doe #2 resides in California, and this was an Alabama court.
However, the order states that because federal statutory claims are at issue, nationwide service of process is provided for under 18 U.S.C. § 2255, and district courts are granted personal jurisdiction over defendants who have minimum contacts with the U.S. The order also refers to the Defendants’ “complex structure” for developing, designing, producing, advertising, and distributing pornographic content across the U.S., including business contacts with Alabama.
The order also refers to U.S.C. § 2255, titled “Civil remedy for personal injuries,” which entitles individuals who, while minors, were trafficking victims and suffered personal injury as a result of the offense, can sue in a U.S. District Court and recover damages.