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Shiamili v The Real Estate Group Appellate Ruling

Shiamili v The Real Estate Group Appellate Ruling

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Published by Eric Goldman

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Published by: Eric Goldman on Jun 15, 2011
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06/15/2011

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=================================================================This opinion is uncorrected and subject to revision beforepublication in the New York Reports.-----------------------------------------------------------------No. 105Christakis Shiamili, &c.,Appellant,v.The Real Estate Group of NewYork, Inc., et al.,Respondents.Jonathan S. Shapiro, for appellant.Joseph D'Ambrosio, for respondents.CIPARICK, J.:On this appeal, we consider for the first time whethera plaintiff's claim against a website operator arising out ofallegedly defamatory comments posted to the website is barred bythe Communications Decency Act (CDA), codified as 47 USC § 230.We conclude that it is, and that the defendants' motion todismiss the complaint was properly granted.- 1 -
 
- 2 -No. 105As stated in the complaint, plaintiff ChristakisShiamili is the founder and CEO of Ardor Realty Corp. (Ardor), aNew York apartment rental and sales company. In March 2008,Shiamili filed this action for defamation and unfair competitionby disparagement against defendants the Real Estate Group of NewYork, Inc. (TREGNY), Daniel Baum, and Ryan McCann. TREGNY is acompetitor of Ardor's, also engaged in selling and renting NewYork City apartments; Baum is TREGNY's principal and ChiefOperating Officer; and McCann is Baum's assistant.These defendants allegedly "administer and choosecontent for" a publicly accessible website -- a "blog" --dedicated to the New York City real estate industry.
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InFebruary 2008, defendants allegedly published defamatorystatements about Shiamili on the website. Specifically, alengthy comment was added to a discussion thread by a useroperating under the pseudonym "Ardor Realty Sucks." The commentmade several allegedly defamatory statements suggesting thatShiamili mistreated his employees and was racist and anti-Semetic, referring to one of the company's agents as "his tokenJew." McCann, in his role as website administrator, moved thecomment to a stand-alone post, prefacing it with the statementthat, "the following story came to us as a . . . comment, and we
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Defendants maintain that only McCann administers thewebsite. On this motion to dismiss, we accept plaintiff'sallegation that "all McCann's actions . . . were taken with theknowledge of or acquiescence by" the other defendants.- 2 -
 
- 3 -No. 105promoted it to a post." The post was given the heading, "ArdorRealty and Those People," and the sub-heading, "and now it's timefor your weekly dose of hate, brought to you unedited, onceagain, by 'Ardor Realty Sucks'. and for the record, we are so.not. afraid." The post was accompanied by a traditional image ofJesus Christ with Shiamili's face and the words, "Chris Shiamili:King of the Token Jews."Several of the comments posted by anonymous users inthe ensuing discussion thread contained further allegedlydefamatory statements, including suggestions that Ardor was infinancial trouble and that Shiamili abused and cheated on hiswife. One of the commentators ended by saying "call me a liarand I'll come back here and get REALLY specific." The complaintalleges that McCann, under a pseudonym, responded, "liar" in anattempt to encourage the user to say more, but that commentatordid not post further. Shiamili responded by drafting a lengthycomment, which was added to the discussion thread. Shiamili alsocontacted McCann and requested that he remove the defamatorystatements, but McCann refused to do so.Shiamili brought this action, alleging in his complaintthat the defamatory statements were made with the intent toinjure his reputation, and that defendants either "made" orpublished the statements. In addition to damages, the complaintrequests injunctive relief requiring defendants to stop"publication of any and all defamatory statements concerning- 3 -

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