Today’s opinion, Doe v. Match.com, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 56567 (C.D. Cal. May 25, 2011), involves a plaintiff and a defendant who made the same mistake: prizing an immediate tactical move over the internal consistency of their positions. For the plaintiff, the inconsistency came from an attempt to turn an unquestionably horrific individual incident into a class action. For the defendant, it came from the desire to win each individual motion without considering the effect on its larger strategy.
The facts that the Jane Doe plaintiff alleged in her complaint are, without a doubt, horrific. Ms. Doe had subscribed to Match.com, a popular dating service. She met a man through the service who turned out to be a serial sexual predator (he had six prior convictions for sexual battery), who raped her. Doe pressed charges against her attacker and cancelled her subscription.
After canceling her account, Doe filed a lawsuit against Match.com. Instead of seeking damages for the horrible thing that happened to her, her lawyer made the case a class action that alleged Match.com’s failure to screen for sexual predators put its other subscribers at risk. To support this story of customers in imminent danger, Doe’s lawyer moved to enjoin Match.com from signing up any new subscribers until it implemented some kind of predator screening.
Match.com removed the case to federal court, where it defeated the plaintiff’s motion for a temporary restraining order. During the hearing, Doe informed the court that she had cancelled her subscription. Based on that information, the court expressed doubts that Doe had actually suffered a cognizable injury that could be cured by future screening. (If she was no longer using the service, she was not in danger of meeting future predators through it.)
So, to protect the class-action part of her complaint, Ms. Doe subscribed for another six months. When Match.com moved to dismiss the case for lack of Article III standing, she argued that, since she was again a subscriber, she was in danger of meeting future predators.
The court, however, was not convinced by the tactic:
Here, Plaintiff has presented no evidence that she plans to use Defendant’s services to meet other users. In fact, Plaintiff has stated that she only re-subscribed because "it came to my attention that I needed to be a member of Match to file a class action suit in Federal Court. . . ." Plaintiff’s counsel also represents that Plaintiff has not answered any e-mails inquiring of her availability for dates since the alleged assault. Thus, the undisputed facts of the case at bar show a more tenuous likelihood of future injury than those in Lyons or Lujan.
Plaintiff’s statements suggest that she does not intend to use Defendant’s services for future dates, diminishing the possibility that she could suffer any injury caused by Defendant’s failure to screen for sexual offenders.
(Emphasis added, internal citations omitted.) The opinion sounds like a win for Match.com, except for one thing: because the case had not originally been filed in federal court, moving to dismiss on jurisdictional grounds (and Article III standing is a jurisdictional doctrine) did not eliminate the case. Instead of dismissing the case with prejudice, the district court simply remanded it to the Los Angeles Superior Court.
What can defense counsel learn from this case? Consistency is important for every party in litigation. Just as a court is unlikely to believe that someone who tactically re-subscribes to a service with no intention of using it is in danger of further harm, it’s not likely to be sympathetic to a defendant who removes a case to federal court only to attack its right to be there once it arrives.