Almost a year to the day that a lawsuit against real estate giant Zillow was first filed for allowing a “troll” to post inaccurate information about a multimillion-dollar property, a federal court has tossed the case.
The property, 924 Bel Air Road in Los Angeles, sold in October for $94 million, after nearly three years on the market. It was first listed for $250 million in 2017 and cut to $188 million in 2018 before coming back on the market at a $150 million price in January 2019.
Luxury home developer Bruce Makowsky built the 38,000-square-foot, 12-bedroom, 31-bathroom home, which he called “Billionaire” and declared to be his “greatest masterpiece.” The home features a helipad, bowling alley, movie theater, a candy wall, an 85-foot infinity pool, a massage studio and 270-degree unobstructed views of the Los Angeles skyline, among other amenities.
In a lawsuit filed on Feb. 24, 2019, the plaintiff, a company owned by Makowsky, alleged Zillow published false information about the property that was uploaded by someone claiming to be the listing’s owner.
This included claims that the home had sold on Feb. 9, 2019 for $110 million, that there was an open house for the property on Feb. 8, 2019 from 1-4 p.m., that the property sold on Feb. 9, 2019 for $90.54 million, and that the property sold on Feb. 9, 2019 for $93.4 million.
“Defendants were negligent in that they do not have safeguards in place to prevent internet trolls, criminals, or persons designed to commit illegal acts from logging into their system to post the false information,” the complaint alleged.
“They do not have safeguards to prevent fake accounts with fake emails and fake phone numbers from publishing false information on their website.”
But this week, a U.S. district court in California ruled in Zillow’s favor. Attorneys for Zillow had argued that the company was protected by the immunity provisions of the Communications Decency Act. Section 230(c) of the act reads, “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”
In his order, Judge Otis D. Wright II said the suit was “barred as a matter of law by section 230(c).”
“No matter how artfully Bel Air seeks to plead, its allegations make clear that Bel Air’s claims are merely another way of holding Zillow liable for publishing User X’s content, and are thus directed toward Zillow as a publisher, editor, or screener,” he wrote.
“Ultimately, Bel Air’s allegations boil down to a charge that Zillow must prevent users from falsely claiming a Residence Page or posting false content. Yet, reviewing each user’s activity and postings to ensure their accuracy is precisely the kind of activity for which Congress intended section 230 to provide immunity,” he added.
Wright dismissed the suit “with prejudice,” meaning the plaintiff cannot amend the complaint to have the allegations reconsidered. “Plaintiff shall recover nothing from from Defendant,” Wright wrote in his judgment.
In an emailed statement, Zillow spokesperson Viet Shelton said: “We are pleased the court dismissed the claims in this lawsuit. Zillow strives for accuracy in the data published on our site and that is why we encourage homeowners to contact us to update their home facts.”
Inman has reached out to an attorney for the plaintiff, Ronald Richards, for comment. We will update this story if and when we hear back.
Read the order: