South-Western Legal Studies in Business

ISP Could Close E-mail Account It Thought Was Used for Spamming
Description An ISP closed down an e-mail account and temporarily reported it as a spammer before it learned that the heavy use of the account was proper. Appeals court held that the subscriber had no cause of action for the problems he suffered, as the ISP's actions were in good faith in the ordinary course of business.
Topic Cyberlaw
Key Words ISP; Contract; ECPA; Liability; E-mail; Spam
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Hall, an indie movie producer, had an EarthLink e-mail account under the username lot99. California law governed the contract. When Hall was premiering a movie in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, he sent an announcement to all his contracts. The ISP identified the mass mailing as spam and shut down lot99. Learning later that the mailing was legitimate, EarthLink removed lot99 from the "Net Abuse Report" that lists abusers, and sent Hall his e-mails to a non-EarthLink address. Hall sued, claiming violation of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), breach of contract, and other charges, claiming that EarthLink illegally intercepted his e-mail. The district court dismissed the suit; Hall appealed.
Decision

Affirmed. The ECPA was not violated, as the ISP did not intercept the e-mails. The service provider handled Hall's emails. It terminated his service when it appeared that he was sending spam. That action was in the ordinary course of business and is protected by the ECPA. The claim for damages for breach of contract fails because the damages asserted, based on his claim of damage to his career and business opportunities, were too speculative to be reasonably reliable.

Citation Hall v. EarthLink Network, Inc., 396 F.3d 500 (2nd Cir., 2005)

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