CURRENT MONTH (March 2020)
Law Firm Must Face Cyberattack Claim from Client
By Sara Beth A.R. Kohut, Young Conaway Stargatt & Taylor, LLP
A law firm that allegedly made promises regarding its cybersecurity in agreeing to represent a prominent Chinese political dissident now faces malpractice claims from the client, after his information was published by hackers. Wengui v. Clark Hill, PLC, C.A. No. 19-3195 (JEB) (D. D.C. Feb. 20, 2020). Law firm Clark Hill, PLC, agreed to represent businessman Guo Wengui in connection with his application for asylum and allegedly represented to Wengui that the firm had adequate cybersecurity in place to withstand hacking that Wengui warned would target the firm, presumably from persons associated with the Chinese government. After hackers breached the firm’s computer systems and published Wengui’s confidential information on the internet, Clark Hill withdrew from the representation on the grounds that it may be called as a witness in connection with the asylum application.
Wengui sued the firm for legal malpractice, among other claims. The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia granted the law firm’s motion to dismiss as to the firm’s withdrawal, finding that Wengui failed to allege it caused injury. But the court denied the firm’s dismissal motion with respect to the cyberattack, finding that Wengui had sufficiently pleaded the firm misrepresented its security precautions and mishandled Wengui’s confidential information. Additionally, Wengui had sufficiently pleaded harm from the disclosure based on the publication of his information by the hackers.
Redbox Watches Online Agreement Process Fail
By John Ottaviani
Redbox attempted to enforce its online terms and conditions, containing an arbitration clause, against a user who filed a lawsuit alleging that Redbox had sent unauthorized text messages. But in Wilson v. Redbox Automated Retail, LLC, No. 19-cv-01993 (N.D. Ill. March 25, 2020), Redbox watched the court dismantle Redbox’s agreement procedure and refuse to enforce the arbitration provision.
The decision is consistent with decisions of the First Circuit in Cullinane v. Uber Technologies, Inc., and the Second Circuit in Meyer v. Uber Technologies, Inc. The case also follows the recent trend of including screenshots in the opinion to demonstrate how the user engages with the website. Finally, the case illustrates that courts are continuing to raise the bar and refusing to enforce many online contract formation processes that do not provide a clear and conspicuous notice of terms and do not require a clear manifestation of assent.
Second Circuit Denies En Banc Review of 2019 Ruling on Donald Trump’s Twitter Activity
By Emily Bryant-Álvarez, Morris Nichols Arsht & Tunnell, LLP
The Second Circuit denied rehearing en banc its 2019 decision which held that President Donald Trump violated the First Amendment by blocking the Knight First Amendment Institute, among others, from interacting with his Twitter account. Knight First Amendment Inst., et al. v. Donald J Trump, et al., C.A. No. 18-1691 (2d Cir. Mar. 23, 2020). In its earlier ruling, the Court found that the dialogue on Twitter resulting from President Trump’s tweets constitutes a public forum, and that his blocking of Twitter followers, a form of state action, results in viewpoint exclusion. The dissent argued that the President’s Twitter account is personal and therefore not a public forum.
The Court affirmed that the First Amendment does not permit a government official who uses a social media platform for official purposes to exclude persons from an otherwise open dialogue because they expressed views disfavored by an official. For First Amendment purposes, the Court noted, the critical question is how President Trump uses his personal account, created six years before he took office, in his capacity as president. Pointing to numerous examples, as well as statements from his own administration, the Court concluded that President Trump’s Twitter account is his primary vehicle for official communications. As such, blocking responses to such communications constitutes state action. Further, the Second Circuit affirmed that the distinction between the President’s tweets, categorized as government speech, and the interactive space on Twitter in which the public engages with such tweets, categorized as a public forum, was appropriate. It analogized Twitter dialogue to the portion of a town hall meeting in which public comment is permitted, and noted that a public forum need not be spatial or geographic, consistent with other Second Circuit decisions.