Gun Rights Group’s Account Closure Complaint Against Facebook Heads to Federal Court

Before the holiday weekend, two individuals and the businesses Armlist LLC and Torquelist LLC had their case removed to the Western District of Pennsylvania by Facebook Inc. The suit concerns Facebook and Instagram’s alleged deletion, removal, or restriction of the litigants’ accounts, including Armlist’s business page, and asks that the court order the social media platforms to reinstate them.

According to the Pennsylvania state court complaint, Armlist is an online platform that facilitates discussion about the sale and trading of firearms while Torquelist is an online forum for those who wish to buy, sell, or trade cars and trucks, automotive parts, and accessories. Both are allegedly controlled by a single individual, one of the plaintiffs in the case.

The filing says that the plaintiffs did not use Facebook or Instagram as a vector to sell or exchange firearms, but that Armlist used the platforms to express its “strongly held opinions on firearms and related issues.”

Facebook purportedly took action against the plaintiffs beginning in January 2020, alleging “nonspecific violations of its terms and conditions.” Instagram reportedly took similar action several months later, resulting in either the deletion or limitation of the plaintiffs’ accounts. As for Torquelist specifically, the complaint alleges that Instagram limited the page’s visibility simply for the reason that both it and Armlist are controlled by the same person. 

The plaintiffs’ requests for more information from the platforms reportedly went unanswered.

The complaint asks for declaratory and injunctive relief under the Pennsylvania Constitution and ultimately seeks the reinstatement of their social media accounts. Their second amended complaint also states claims for breach of contract, and in the alternative, unjust enrichment and promissory estoppel for damages not to exceed $74,999.99.

Last week’s notice of removal argues that the case belongs in federal court. Facebook says that diversity jurisdiction exists because the parties are from different states, and the amount in controversy requirement of more than $75,000 is satisfied.  

“Plaintiffs’ claim for equitable relief has value that far exceeds the two-cent difference between the stipulated damages of $74,999.99 and the jurisdictional requirement that the amount in controversy exceed $75,000.00,” Facebook contends.

Facebook’s filing explains that in the Third Circuit, equitable claims have monetary value that courts consider when determining the amount in controversy. Because the plaintiffs specifically allege that Armslist’s website sells advertisements and premium memberships, the reinstatement of their Facebook and Instagram accounts is worth both the value of their alleged exercise of free speech and the value of driving users to their websites, Facebook contends.

Finally, the social media platform argues that the plaintiffs’ attempts to stipulate that the amount in controversy is no greater than $74,999.99 does not bar removal because it excludes the value of the equitable relief cause of action.

The plaintiffs are represented by Wegman Hessler and Facebook by Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott LLC and Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP.