Appeals court rules that actress’ deceased lawyer didn’t commit gross negligence and that any error in jury instructions was harmless.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed IMDb’s trial win against Junie Hoang, neé Huong Hoang, an actress who sued the entertainment site for revealing her age.
In April 2013, a jury came back with nothing for Hoang.
That led to an appeal which explored interesting issues including whether she got competent counsel — her lawyer died in the middle of the dispute — and the ramifications of giving false information to a website that collects and publishes data about the entertainment industry.
Despite the showy issues, ultimately the appellate court’s job was to figure out whether there were any errors by the district court to warrant a reversal.
On the issue of the lawyer dying, today’s opinion reads, “Hoang’s counsel did not commit gross negligence in the conduct of discovery. His conduct reflects strategic decisions, not gross negligence. Hoang may regret those decisions now, but that is not a basis to redo them.”
The Ninth Circuit decides other issue on appeal also didn’t amount to any damage. That part of the appeal raised the question of whether jury instructions were in error by putting the burden on Hoang to prove that she did not breach the IMDb Pro user agreement by submitting documents like a fake passport image and fake ID to fool IMDb into thinking she was younger than she really was.
Today’s opinion explains why any error was harmless:
“First, the jury more likely than not concluded that the Subscriber Agreement permits and contemplates exactly what IMDb did, i.e., use the name Hoang provided to IMDb to improve the accuracy of the information on the site and to respond to her requests. Second, the jury more likely than not concluded that running Hoang’s legal name through a public records database did not constitute “sharing” Hoang’s confidential information in a manner prohibited by the Subscriber Agreement. Third, the jury more likely than not concluded that IMDb’s publication of Hoang’s true birthdate, which it obtained from a public records database, did not breach the Subscriber Agreement.”
The opinion appears crafted to be a modest one that won’t set any precedent for other digital privacy disputes. It will likely disappoint many including SAG-AFTRA, which had submitted an amicus brief in support of Hoang. Nevertheless, barring a rehearing en banc or an unlikely intervention by the U.S. Supreme Court, the dispute appears over.