Conroe ISD teen loses court battle against Snapchat over alleged grooming, eyes SCOTUS next

Thursday, December 21, 2023
Conroe ISD teen loses court battle against Snapchat, eyes SCOTUS next
A Conroe family's lawsuit against Snapchat could go to the U.S. Supreme Court after the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals denied an en banc rehearing.

CONROE, Texas (KTRK) -- The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has denied an en banc rehearing of a lawsuit alleging that Snap Inc., otherwise known as Snapchat, failed to monitor its social media platform for child sexual predators.

This comes after Bonnie Rose Guess-Mazock, a former Oak Ridge High School science teacher, pleaded guilty to sexual assault of a child.

Court documents showed the victim's family discovered the inappropriate student-teacher relationship after he overdosed on prescription drugs.

The child's lawyers now plan to appeal this decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"It's a monumental undertaking. It's undertaking no less than trying to change the interpretation of the law at the highest level at the Supreme Court, but we think the profoundness of the task is justified by the need," attorney Derek Merman said.

The teenager sued Guess-Mazock, the school district, and Snap Inc., and brought claims under Texas law for negligent undertaking, negligent design, and gross negligence.

An en banc rehearing would have allowed the court to review Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA). This act precludes providers and users from being held liable for information provided by a third party.

The lower court dismissed these claims against Snap Inc., ruling that the other courts have held that the CDA provides "immunity ... to Web-based service providers for all claims stemming from their publication of information created by third parties."

The lower court determined that because the anonymous victim's claims against Snap Inc. were based on Mazock's messages, the company was immune from liability.

In the opinion issued by the Fifth Circuit Court earlier in the summer, the court found that they were "bound by the decisions of prior panels until such times as they are overruled either by an en banc panel of our court or by the Supreme Court."

The Fifth Circuit Court then affirmed the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas decision to dismiss the case against Snap Inc.

Lawyers appealed for the en banc panel hearing, which was denied.

"These internet platforms have become so pervasive, and they're so widely used by minors and communities that there need to be some protections," Merman said.

Seven judges on the Fifth Circuit Court dissented from this decision and claimed that it will leave a sweeping immunity in place for social media companies that Section 230 was not intended to bear.

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