Calif. appeals court won’t dismiss cyberbullying suit

Thursday, March 18, 2010

LOS ANGELES — A California appeals court ruled that Internet threats posted on a 15-year-old boy’s Web site are not protected free speech in what may be the state’s first case to examine the boundaries between free expression and cyberbullying.

The 2nd District Court of Appeal ruled March 15 in a 2-1 decision in D.C. v. R.R. that the boy can sue schoolmates over the messages, which included threats to “rip out your … heart and feed it to you” and to “pound your head in with an ice pick.”

The plaintiff, identified in court documents only as D.C., set up a Web site in 2005 to promote his music and film career.

Court filings said fellow students at his Los Angeles high school posted comments that mocked him, threatened violence and — believing inaccurately that he was gay — feigned sexual interest.

The boy’s father sued six students and their parents, claiming hate crimes, defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The case went to the appeals court after a judge rejected a motion by one of the defendants’ lawyers challenging the complaint as a violation of his client’s First Amendment right to free speech.

The appeals court majority, Judges Robert Mallano and Jeffrey Johnson, ruled that the case can return to a lower court for trial because the Internet postings revealed a harmful intent that is not protected by the right of free speech.

Judge Frances Rothschild dissented, saying the majority’s reasoning “alters the legal landscape to the severe detriment of First Amendment rights.”

Attorney Rex Beaber, who filed the motion challenging the complaint, said he would appeal to the state Supreme Court.

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