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Fair Housing Council v. Roommates.com, LLC

521 F.3d 1157 (2008)

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Fair Housing Council v. Roommates.com, LLC

United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

521 F.3d 1157 (2008)

Facts

Roommates.com, LLC (Roommates) (defendant) operated a popular website that allowed users to create profiles to find and offer rooms for rent. The Fair Housing Councils of the San Fernando Valley and San Diego (the housing councils) (plaintiffs) sued Roommates in federal court, alleging three aspects of its content violated the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA). First, the housing councils challenged Roommates’ registration questions that required a subscriber to disclose sex, family status, and sexual orientation. Subscribers had to choose from listed responses and could not register without answering. Second, the housing councils challenged Roommates’ development and display of subscribers’ discriminatory preferences. Subscriber profile pages were populated by answers from the registration process, which included categories of people with whom users were not willing to live based on sex, family status, or sexual orientation. These discriminatory preferences were used to filter searches and send email notifications of housing opportunities constrained by the discriminatory answers. Third, the housing councils challenged the discriminatory statements of users shown in the additional-comments section of profiles. This section provided a blank box, and users were encouraged to write something but were not directed to include any particular information. Roommates published these comments as written. The district court found that Roommates was immune under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (Section 230) and dismissed the case without considering whether the FHA was violated. The housing councils appealed the dismissal.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Kozinski, C.J.)

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