Houlihan Smith & Co. v. Julia Forte
Liability of Web Site Operators – Houlihan Smith & Company, an investment bank based in Chicago, filed suit against Julia Forte over two message boards – 800Notes.com and whocallsme.com – where members of the public had posted statements criticizing Houlihan’s telemarketing practices as well as other aspects of Houlihan’s business. On less than 90 minutes notice to Forte, a North Carolina resident, Houlihan went to state court in Illinois and got a temporary restraining order compelling Forte to remove “all statements of a factual nature” about Houlihan and to prevent future postings by those who had posted such statements. Representing Forte, Public Citizen removed the case to federal court and opposes continuation of the TRO. We argued that the TRO was an impermissible prior restraint, especially in Illinois which does not allow injunctions against libel, and that in any event Forte, as the host of a message board, was immune from liability under 47 U.S.C. § 230. Although Houlihan tried to evade section 230 immunity by relabeling its defamation claims under the trademark laws as well as the right of publicity, such relabeling did not defeat Forte’s statutory immunity. Forte moved for an award of attorney fees.