Daniels goes by the name “Young Pharaoh.” [An aside: how do you feel about the “pharaoh” invocation? Their empires relied upon slavery, so it seems troubling to me.] He claims YouTube shadowbanned and demonetized him because of MAGA-ish content. Represented by lawyers Maria Cristina Armenta and Credence Elizabeth Sol (who keep expanding their oeuvre of failed lawsuits against Internet services), Daniels claimed YouTube had to comply with 1983 because YouTube became a state actor. In 2021, the court quickly shut down that misguided argument. My blog post on that ruling.
Google requested attorneys’ fees for its 1983 victory. 1983 allows for fee-shifting in “exceptional” cases, including frivolous cases like this one. The court says it was “frivolous from the outset….Mr. Daniels purported to assert a First Amendment claim against private entities based on legal theories that were either expressly foreclosed by existing precedent or entirely meritless on their own terms.” The court awards YouTube a fee-shift of $38,576. Boom.
In our study of lawsuits over account terminations and content removals, Jess Miers and I documented how many of those lawsuits were pro se. Ordinarily, hiring an attorney should improve the success rate; but not in this litigation genre. Both pro se and attorney-represented litigants fail equally when it comes to suing services over their editorial discretion. Still, it’s extra-embarrassing when an attorney’s work is called frivolous. That’s a polite way for a judge to say “not even close” and “I can’t believe you tried this.”
I don’t think this is the first time an account termination/content removal plaintiff got hit with a fee-shift, but each time reinforces the answer to the standard plaintiff question, “what’s the worst that could happen?” It’s not just that plaintiffs can lose in court and waste their time and resources; they can also suffer the ignominy of putting their hard-earned cash into the bulging bank accounts of one of the wealthiest companies of all time. FAAFO.
Case citation: Daniels v. Alphabet Inc., 2023 WL 2414258 (N.D. Cal. March 8, 2023)