Maryland Court Transfers Instagram Copyright and Biz Tort Case to N.D. Cal.

A dispute initially brought in state court and removed to federal court in Maryland has now been shifted to the home district of defendant Meta Platforms Inc., the Northern District of California. The case concerns the Instagram account of a user who successfully used the platform to sell “adult toys and products” before losing control of her account. 

In a seven-page decision, Judge Richard D. Bennett said, without reaching Instagram’s merits arguments in favor of dismissal, that its terms of use dictate transfer to Instagram’s choice forum.

The opinion explained that plaintiff Tiara Johnson sued after her verified account, which since 2011 had accrued 2.8 million followers, was disabled by Instagram in July 2021. The complainant alleged that an unknown actor was paid to “bring her account down.” 

Reportedly, the person demanded and received the $3,000 ransom in exchange for the promise to reactivate her account. However, the plaintiff claimed that once she paid, she never heard from the person again.

Despite her attempts to resolve the situation through Instagram’s Help Center, the plaintiff claims that Meta failed to timely and adequately respond to her request for account restoration. The company’s action disrupted her ability to transact business while allegedly committing breach of its obligations under its terms of use. Further, Johnson contends that Meta has permitted “false and imitation accounts” to crop up, thereby violating her trademark.

The defendant challenged both the sufficiency of the complaint and its jurisdictional basis. Alternatively, Meta moved to transfer the suit based on the forum selection provision in terms of use the plaintiff purportedly agreed to.

In upholding the forum selection clause, Judge Bennett reasoned that the plaintiff pointed to no reason for its invalidity, and instead requested that the court compel arbitration. However, the opinion said that because Johnson initiated a case related to intellectual property, the terms permitted to litigate her claim and she exercised that option. Seeing as the terms stipulate that if a party chooses the litigation option, the case must proceed in the Northern District of California, Judge Bennett said it belongs in that district.

The question of arbitrability is a matter of state law that will ultimately be decided by the California court, the opinion added.

The plaintiff is represented by Kolawole Law Firm LLC  and Meta Platforms by Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP.