Matot v. Does 1-5
ORDER: Judge Coffin's Findings and Recommendation 27 and 29 are Adopted. Defendant Gary Hall's Motion to Dismiss Case for Lack of Jurisdiction 14 is Granted and defendant S.A.'s Motion for Entry of a Limited Judgment and Injunction 25 is Denied. Signed on 9/26/2013 by Judge Michael J. McShane. (cp)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF OREGON
Civ. No. 6:13-cv-153-MC
OPINION AND ORDER
CH et al.,
Plaintiff brings this action seeking damages and equitable relief for alleged violation of
the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), 18 U.S.C. § 1030, defamation, negligent
supervision, and parental liability pursuant to Oregon Revised Statute § 30.765. Defendant, Gary
Hill, filed this motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction (#14). Defendant, S.A.,
filed this motion for entry of a limited judgment and injunction (#25). Magistrate Judge Thomas
M. Coffin filed two Findings and Recommendations (F & R) in response to defendants’ motions
(#14) and (#25), and these matters are now before this court. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B)
(2012); Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b).
Because no objections to either F & R were filed, this court reviews only the legal
principles de novo. United States v. Reyna-Tapia, 328 F.3d 1114, 1121 (9th Cir. 2003) (en banc);
see also United States v. Bernhardt, 840 F.2d 1441, 1445 (9th Cir. 1988). Upon review, this
court finds find no error in F & R (#27) or F & R (#29) and ADOPTs both in full. Defendant
Gary Hall’s motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction (#14) is GRANTED and
1 – OPINION AND ORDER
defendant S.A.’s motion for entry of a limited judgment and injunction (#25) is DENIED
consistent with this opinion.
Plaintiff’s CFAA claim rests on defendants’ alleged use “without authorization” of social
media services (e.g., Facebook and Twitter) and defendants’ alleged use “exceed[ing] authorized
social media service. As indicated by Judge Coffin in F & R (#27), a mere violation of a use
restriction, i.e., “exceed[ing] authorized access,” is not actionable under the CFAA in the Ninth
Circuit. U.S. v. Nosal, 676 F.3d 854, 863 (9th Cir. 2012) (“[W]e hold that the phrase ‘exceeds
authorized access’ in the CFAA does not extend to violations of use restrictions.”). Thus, the
crux of plaintiff’s argument is that defendants accessed social media services “without
authorization” under 18 U.S.C. § 1030. 1
Plaintiff’s “without authorization” argument focuses on defendants’ alleged use of
plaintiff’s name and image in creating “forged” social media accounts (e.g. Facebook and
Twitter). Plaintiff attempts to cast defendants’ behavior as analogous to that of hacking2
proscribed by the CFAA. Plaintiff’s argument is unpersuasive in light of (1) LVRC Holdings
LLC v. Brekka, (2) United States v. Nosal, and (3) the rule of lenity.
I. LVRC Holdings LLC v. Brekka
In LVRC Holdings LLC v. Brekka,3 the Ninth Circuit held that “a person uses a computer
‘without authorization’ under [the CFAA] when the person has not received permission to use
Plaintiff does not articulate a particular provision under the CFAA. However, for purposes of this analysis, this
Court will assume that plaintiff seeks recovery under 18 U.S.C. § 1030(a)(2)(C), (a)(4), and/or (a)(5)(B) & (C).
Plaintiff also casts defendants’ conduct as trespass under false pretenses.
In Brekka, defendant, as an employee of plaintiff, was given an administrative log-in to access company
documents and information. During his employment, Brekka emailed company documents to his personal
2 – OPINION AND ORDER
the computer for any purpose (such as when a hacker accesses someone’s computer without any
permission), or when the employer has rescinded permission to access the computer and the
defendant uses the computer anyway.” 581 F.3d at 1135 (emphasis added). The Court further
provided that “a person who uses a computer ‘without authorization’ has no rights, limited or
otherwise, to access the computer in question.” Brekka, 581 F.3d at 1133. Despite this relatively
bright-line rule, this Court is reluctant to use it as an absolute bar to plaintiff’s claim. To begin,
unlike in Brekka, defendants are not employees of Twitter or Facebook who initially used the
service for purposes of employment. Rather, as plaintiff alleges, defendants’ relationship with
the social media websites was “forged . . . from the ground up,” i.e., the defendants, as social
relationship. Likewise, this court doubts that even the Brekka Court would enforce its “without
authorization” language to the extent implicated. 4 For example, if a hacker 5 targeted a United
States governmental website for malicious purposes, such a hacker may be “authorized” to
computer. The Court found that Brekka was still employed by plaintiff when “he emailed the documents to
himself” and thus, Brekka “had authorization to use the computer.” 581 F.3d 1127, 1133 (9th Cir. 2009).
First, in Brekka, the Court stated “[t]here is no dispute that if Brekka accessed LVRC’s information on the LOAD
website after he left the company . . . Brekka would have accessed a protected computer ‘without authorization’ for
purposes of the CFAA.” In so stating, the Court focused on Brekka’s alleged use of the “cbrekka” log-in (i.e., use of
cbrekka username and password), and not Brekka’s alleged access of the website itself. Thus, the Court’s own
analysis ignored possible permissible website access and instead focused on impermissible use of log-in
information. Second, the Brekka Court cited an earlier Ninth Circuit opinion, Theofel v. Farey-Jones, to support its
finding that “there is no dispute that Brekka had permission to access the computer.” 581 F.3d at 1133 (citing
Theofel v. Farey-Jones, 359 F.3d 1066, 1072-73 (9th Cir. 2003). In Theofel, the Court discussed plaintiff’s claim
under the Stored Communications Act, 18 USC 2701 et seq. in terms of common law trespass. Theofel, 359 F.3d at
1072. The Theofel Court provided multiple examples of unauthorized access, e.g., a “busybody who gets permission
to come inside by posing as a meter reader” and a “police officer who, invited into a home, conceals a recording
device for the media.” 359 F.3d at 1073. To the extent that Brekka relies on Theofel, the court appears receptive to a
trespass scenario analogous to that alleged in plaintiff’s complaint (i.e., defendants’ posed as plaintiff to gain access
to social media websites).
In this example, the term “hacker” refers to “a person who uses his skill with computers to try to gain unauthorized
access to computer files or networks.” THE OXFORD-ENGLISH DICTIONARY Vol. VI, 1000 (2d ed. 2001); see also
A MERICAN HERITAGE DICTIONARY OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE 787 (4th ed. 2000) (defining hacker as “one who
uses programming skills to gain illegal access to a computer network or file.”).
3 – OPINION AND ORDER
access the website under Brekka because many governmental websites are open to the public. 6 In
other words, if interpreted strictly, Brekka could preclude CFAA application of “without
authorization” to hackers who breach governmental websites that are open to the public. 7 For the
same reason, strict adherence to Brekka’s bright-line rule outside of the employment context
appears to be in conflict with the underlying legislative purpose. 8
II. United States v. Nosal
In United States v. Nosal,9 the Court in dicta,10 found that “without authorization would
apply to outside hackers (individuals who have no authorized access to the computer at all).” 676
See, e.g., United States Central Intelligence Agency, https://www.cia.gov/about-cia/site-policies/ (last visited Sep.
18, 2013) (“information presented on this Web site is considered public information and may be distributed or
copied freely . . . .”); United States National Security Agency, http://www.nsa.gov/terms_of_use.shtml#security (last
visited Sep. 18, 2013) (“The National Security Agency Web site (NSA.gov) is provided as a public service by the
National Security Agency.”); United States Department of Defense, http://www.defense.gov/landing/privacy.aspx
(last visited Sep. 18, 2013) (“Information presented on this website is considered public . . . .”).
See. e.g., Southwest Airlines Co. v. BoardFirst, L.L.C., 2007 WL 4823761, at *14 (N.D. Tex. 2004) (“[I]t is at least
arguable here that [defendant’s] access of the Southwest website is not at odds with the site’s intended function;
after all, the site is designed to allow users to obtain boarding passes for Southwest flights via the computer. In no
sense can [defendant] be considered an ‘outside hacker [ ] who break[s] into a computer’ given that southwest.com
is a publicly available website that anyone can access and use.”).
In Senate Report 104-357, the Senate Judiciary Committee stated that the purpose of the Leahy-Kyl-Grassley
amendment was to “strengthen [the CFAA], by closing gaps in the law . . . .” S. REP . NO. 104-357, at 3 (1996),
reprinted in 1996 WL 492169. This Report, in discussing coverage omissions, referenced the 1994 intrusion into the
Griffiss Air Force Base in New York by a 16-year-old hacker based out of the United Kingdom and the 1996 Justice
Department investigation of an Argentinian man who had broken into Harvard University’s computers from Buenos
Aires and used those computers as a staging ground to hack into other computer sites. Id. at 4-5. At least as to the
Harvard example, it is plausible that the hacker’s initial access could have been permitted under Brekka in modern
times through Harvard’s public website. See Harvard University, www.harvard.edu/ (last visited Sep. 18, 2013). In
Senate Report 99-432, the Senate Judiciary Committee, in emphasizing the risk of computer crime, discussed the
“414 Gang” who broke into the computer system at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York and
gained access to the radiation treatment records of 6,000 past and present cancer patients. S. REP . NO. 99-432, at 2-3
(1986), reprinted in 1986 U.S.C.C.A.N. 2479, 2481. Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center now has a public
website with a patient login portal. See Memorial Sloanj-Kettering Cancer Center, http://www.mskcc.org/ (last
visited Sep. 18, 2013). Thus, under both Senate Reports, strict adherence to Brekka outside of the employment
context appears to be in conflict with legislative intent.
In Nosal, defendant, a former employee of Korn/Ferry, encouraged some of his former colleagues to transfer
company documents and information to him. At the time, defendant’s former colleagues were authorized to access
the database, but were prohibited from disclosing the confidential information. 676 F.3d at 856. Defendant was
charged with aiding and abetting his former colleagues in exceeding their authorized access with intent to defraud.
In Nosal, the Ninth Circuit reviewed Nosal’s conviction under 18 U.S.C. 1030(a)(4) for aiding and abetting the
Korn/Ferry employees in “exceed[ing their] authorized access” with intent to defraud. 676 F.3d at 856. Thus, the
Ninth Circuit’s discussion beyond “exceeding authorized access” was not essential to the decision. See Black’s Law
4 – OPINION AND ORDER
F.3d at 858 (internal quotation marks omitted) (emphasis added). In contrast, the Court found
that “exceeds authorized access would apply to inside hackers (individuals whose initial access
to a computer is authorized but who access unauthorized information or files).” Id. (internal
quotation marks omitted). The Court further provided that “hacking” colloquially refers to
“someone who’s authorized to access only certain data or files but accesses unauthorized data or
files.” Id. at 856-57. Unfortunately, the Court’s colloquial definition provides little insight as to
“outside hackers” because “hackers,” by definition, lack authorized access. 11 However, the
Court, in affirming the district court’s dismissal of the claim, discussed numerous forms of
relevant online conduct that it was unwilling to criminalize. Of these examples, many dealt with
plaintiff’s “trespass under false pretenses” scenario. The Court found that “lying on social media
websites is common: People shave years off their age, add inches to their height and drop pounds
from their weight.” 676 F.3d at 862. The Court referenced United States v. Drew, to combat the
notion that the government could be trusted to not “prosecute minor violations.” Id. (citing 259
F.R.D. 449 (C.D. Cal. 2009). In Drew, a mother posed as a 16-year old boy (“Josh Evans”) and
cyber-bullied her daughter’s classmate who ultimately committed suicide. 259 F.R.D. at 452.
Although Drew’s “Josh Evans” profile was fictitious, it did include “a photograph of a boy
Dictionary 519 (9th ed. 2009) (defining judicial dictum as “[a]n opinion by a court on a question that is directly
involved, briefed, and argued by counsel, and even passed on by the court, but that is not essential to the decision”);
see also Weingand v. Harland Financial Solutions, Inc., 2012 WL 2327660, at *3 (June 19, 2012) (“[A]lthough
Nosal clearly precluded applying the CFAA to violating restrictions on use, it did not preclude applying the CFAA
to rules regarding access.”).
The term “authorization” is potentially subject to varying degrees of technical interpretation. For example, in
United States v. Morris, the Second Circuit affirmed the criminal conviction of a defendant graduate student who
used his access to a university’s computer system to upload malware. 928 F.2d 504, 511 (2d Cir. 1991). Defendant
Morris argued that his access was “authorized” because his worm only gained access to the other computers by
virtue of their configurations and to the extent that defendant’s worm circumvented passwords, it still only accessed
the other computers in the manner to which they had been configured to be accessed. The Court rejected this
argument, finding “Morris did not use either of those features in any way related to their intended function.” 928
F.2d at 510; cf. EF Cultural Travel BV v. Explorica, Inc., 274 F.3d 577, 582 n. 10 (1st Cir. 2001) (“Congress did not
define the phrase ‘without authorization,’ perhaps assuming that the words speak for themselves. The meaning,
however, has proven elusive.”). The Ninth Circuit cited Morris for the proposition that “authorization” is of
common usage. Brekka, 581 F.3d at 1132 (citing Morris, 928 F.2d at 511).
5 – OPINION AND ORDER
without that boy’s knowledge or consent.” Id. Nosal’s extensive discussion of “lying on social
media websites” and its subsequent disapproval of prosecution under Drew, indicate that the
Ninth Circuit is unwilling to recognize plaintiff’s claim under the CFAA.
III. The Rule of Lenity
The term “authorization” is not defined in the CFAA. Brekka, 581 F.3d at 1132. In
Brekka, the Ninth Circuit interpreted “authorization” narrowly and found the CFAA inapplicable
to employee breach of loyalty scenarios. 581 F.3d at 1133; but see International Airport Centers,
LLC v. Citrin, 440 F.3d 418, 419 (7th Cir. 2006) (interpreting the CFAA to recognize employee
breach of loyalty as “without authorization”). In adhering to its narrow interpretation, the Ninth
Circuit stated “ambiguity concerning the ambit of criminal statutes should be resolved in favor of
lenity.” Brekka, 581 F.3d at 1134 (internal quotation marks omitted) (internal citations omitted);
cf. Nosal, 676 F.3d at 863 (finding that a “narrower interpretation” of “exceeding authorized
access” was “a more sensible reading of the text and legislative history”).
As in both Brekka and Nosal, the rule of lenity precludes CFAA application as to
defendants’ alleged conduct. Under the rule of lenity, “penal laws [are] . . . to be construed
strictly.” Nosal, 676 F.3d at 863 (quoting United States v. Wiltberger, 18 U.S. 76, 88 (1820))
(internal quotation marks omitted). As stated in Nosal:
We construe criminal statutes narrowly so that Congress will not unintentionally turn
ordinary citizens into criminals. [B]ecause of the seriousness of criminal penalties, and
because criminal punishment usually represents the moral condemnation of the
community, legislatures and not courts should define criminal activity. If there is any
doubt about whether Congress intended [the CFAA] to prohibit the conduct in which
[defendants] engaged, then we must choose the interpretation least likely to impose
penalties unintended by Congress.
6 – OPINION AND ORDER
Id. (internal citations omitted) (internal quotation marks omitted). The CFAA’s focus is “on
hacking” rather than the creation of a “sweeping internet-policing mandate.” Nosal, 676 F.3d at
859. This court cannot fail “to consider the effect on millions of ordinary citizens caused by”
recognizing plaintiff’s claim. Id. at 863. Plaintiff alleges that defendants created false social
media profiles in his name and likeness. Yet, as indicated in Nosal, “lying on social media
websites is common.” Id. at 862. For example, in June 2011, Facebook predicted that
approximately 83 million of 855 million active users were duplicates, false or undesirable. 12
Twitter is also thought to have a large number of “fake” accounts. 13 More recently, police
departments have taken to creating false profiles for the purpose of law enforcement. 14 Were this
court to “adopt the [plaintiff’s] proposed [argument], millions of unsuspecting individuals would
find that they are engaging in criminal conduct,” in addition to any civil liability. Nosal, 676 F.3d
at 859. This Court “must choose the interpretation [of “authorization”] least likely to impose
penalties unintended by Congress.” Id. (quoting United States v. Cabaccang, 332 F.3d 622, 635
n. 22 (9th Cir. 2003) (internal quotations omitted)). Accordingly, this Court finds that the rule of
lenity precludes application of the CFAA (“access without authorization”) to defendants’ alleged
Somini Sengupta, Facebook’s False Faces Undermine its Credibility, N.Y. Times, Nov. 12, 2012,
See, e.g., Nicole Perlroth, Researchers Call Out Twitter Celebrities with Suspicious Followings, N.Y. Times, Apr.
25, 2013, http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/04/25/researchers-call-out-twitter-celebrities-with-suspiciousfollowings/?_r=0 (“fake Twitter followers offer potential for a $40 million to $360 million business.”); Caitlin
Moore, Fake Twitter: The parody accounts to lighten up your news stream, W ASH. POST , Mar. 6, 2012,
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/arts-post/post/fake-twitter-the-parody-accounts-to-lighten-up-your-newsstream/2012/03/01/gIQALpiptR_blog.html (“Twitter allows untruths and parody to flourish with fake accounts . . .
.”); Ashley Parker, Fake Twitter Accounts Get Real Laughs, N.Y. Times, Feb. 9, 2011,
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/10/us/politics/10fake-twitter.html (“Fake Twitter personalities mock actors like
Chuck Norris and world leaders like President Hosni Mubarak . . . .”).
See, e.g., Heather Kelly, Police embrace social media as crime-fighting tool, CNN, Aug. 20, 2012,
http://www.cnn.com/2012/08/30/tech/social-media/fighting-crime-social-media/index.html (“A more controversial
approach to getting information . . . creating fake profiles to befriend suspects.”).
7 – OPINION AND ORDER
For these reasons, Judge Coffin’s F & R (#27) and (#29) are ADOPTED. Defendant Gary
Hall’s motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction (#14) is GRANTED and
defendant S.A.’s motion for entry of a limited judgment and injunction (#25) is DENIED.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
DATED this 26th day of September, 2013.
__________s/ Michael J. McShane_____________
Michael J. McShane
United States District Judge
8 – OPINION AND ORDER
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?