|The website Backpage.com may not be immune from state liability law and a lawsuit filed by three young girls who said they were sold as prostitutes on the website can proceed to trial, the Washington Supreme Court ruled Thursday.
In a 6-3 decision, the justices said the federal Communications Decency Act does not protect Backpage from state lawsuits because of allegations that the company didn't just host the ads, but helped develop the content.
"The plaintiffs before us have been the repeated victims of horrific acts committed in the shadows of the law," said Justice Steven Gonzalez, writing for the majority. "They brought this suit in part to bring light to some of those shadows: to show how children are bought and sold for sexual services online on Backpage.com in advertisements that, they allege, the defendants help develop."
The case should proceed because the girls have alleged facts that, if proved, would show that Backpage helped produce illegal content, the justices said.
Erik Bauer, the girls' lawyer, praised the decision.
"It says it's not legal to help pimps sell kids, even if you're a website operator," Bauer told The Associated Press.
Jim Grant, a Seattle lawyer representing Village Voice Media Holdings LLC and Backpage.com, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.