Almost Famous…on a Social Networking Site with a Forum Selection Clause

The ease of creating a MySpace profile (or Twitter) that impersonates a celebrity has to be nerve racking for actors, rock stars, and anyone else who is “famous.”


Riggs v. Myspace, Inc., 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 37109 (W.D. Pa. May 5, 2009) is the story of a Plaintiff who created a “Celebrity Guardian Angel” profile to protect celebrities from online impersonators. The Plaintiff’s “Celebrity Guardian Angel” profile would confirm whether a celebrity’s profile was legitimate as a means to reduce the number of celebrity impostures.

MySpace deleted the Plaintiff’s account for violation of the MySpace account’s terms of use, after a celebrity imposture accused the Plaintiff of harassment and bullying.  Several months after deleting the Plaintiff’s profile, MySpace started their own website for celebrities, which the Plaintiff claimed was her concept. Riggs, 2-3.

The Plaintiff sued MySpace in Pennsylvania for negligence, breach of implied contract, fraud and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Riggs, 2.

MySpace brought a motion to dismiss for improper venue or in the alternative, a motion to transfer to the United States District Court for the Central District of California, pursuant to MySpace’s terms of use agreement. Riggs, 2.

The Terms of Use provision was a click wrap agreement, which stated:

Disputes. If there is any dispute about or involving the MySpace Services, you agree that the dispute shall be governed by the laws of the State of California, USA, without regard to conflict of law provisions and you agree to exclusive personal jurisdiction and venue in the state and federal courts of the United States located in the State of California, City of Los Angeles. Either or you may demand that any dispute between and you about or involving the MySpace Services must be settled by arbitration utilizing the dispute resolution procedures of the American  [*4] Arbitration Association (AAA) in Los Angeles, California, USA, provided that the foregoing shall not prevent from seeking injunctive relief in a court of competent jurisdiction. Riggs, 4.

The Plaintiff argued that MySpace breached the “Terms of Use” provision by failing to enter arbitration, thusly allowing the Plaintiff to sue MySpace in Pennsylvania, instead of California.  Riggs, 4.

The Court stated MySpace “breaching” the contract by terminating the Plaintiff’s profile was immaterial.  Additionally, arbitration was not a condition of performance and had no effect on the other stated remedies.  Riggs, 5.  Therefore, any breach of the arbitration clause did not invalidate the forum selection or choice of law provisions.  Riggs, 5-6.

In language that would make the Supreme Court in Carnival Cruise Lines, Inc. v. Shute 499 U.S. 585, (U.S.Wash.,1991.) proud, the Court effectively stated that the purpose of adhesion contracts with forum selection clauses is to simplify the question of personal jurisdiction for MySpace.   Riggs, 9. Moreover, there was no reason (or argument) that the forum selection clause establishing “exclusive personal jurisdiction” in Los Angeles, California, was in anyway unfair or unreasonable.  Riggs, 9-10.

On the bright side, at least the Plaintiff can at least meet real celebrities while in Los Angeles.

  1. The “bright side” of this lawsuit is that CA law actually works in the favor of the Plaintiff in this case. PA law requires the novelty element for a claim of breach of implied contract, whereas CA law does not. I think it was a little more convenient to file in PA initially knowing all along it wouldn’t matter if it was transferred to CA. The breach of the arbitration clause would get it transferred and not dismissed in the Judge’s eyes 😉

    So many people miss the underlying message of this lawsuit. The goal was to eliminate or reduce the impostors on MySpace, as well as the fake profiles. It appears this case has a better chance of accomplishing that feat then any other lawsuit that has come along against social networking sites because the Communications Decency Act doesn’t apply.