A federal judge on Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit against Netflix brought by the family of a teenager who allegedly committed suicide while watching the show 13 reasons why. The judge based the decision on protections for freedom of expression.
U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers, pointing to a law allowing the dismissal of cases that violate protected speech, ruled that Netflix cannot be prosecuted for recommending the show to viewers. “It’s a tragic case,” Gonzalez Rogers said. “But ultimately, I don’t think he survives.”
The lawsuit, which was brought in August by John Herndon and his daughter’s estate, alleged viewers were not sufficiently warned or protected from the suggestive content in 13 reasons why. The show depicts the events that precipitate the suicide of a teenager.
Netflix has warned in court files that restrictions on content will lead to censorship of creative works, noting films depicting teenage suicide such as Charlie’s world, Circle of Missing Poets and Dear Evan Hansen. The streaming giant has decided to dismiss the lawsuit under California’s anti-SLAPP law, which requires the rejection of claims challenging speech that could be protected.
“Creators forced to protect certain viewers of expressive works depicting suicide would inevitably censor themselves to avoid the threat of liability,” Netflix lawyers wrote. “It would dampen vigor and limit the variety of public debate. “
During the hearing on the motion to dismiss, Ryan Hamilton, a Hamilton Law partner representing the plaintiff, objected to claims that the lawsuit concerns the content of the show. He centered his arguments on Netflix’s algorithm, which he called a dangerous feature of the product.
“What is at stake in this case is the private targeting of vulnerable children and the consequences which were not only foreseeable and foreseen, but against which Netflix has been warned,” he said.
Responding to Hamilton’s arguments that the case fell under the state’s anti-SLAPP exclusions, Gonzalez Rogers said they likely did not apply because it is impossible to “separate and unravel the content of this show ‘of the allegations of the complaint. She said: “If you tried to sue on the grounds that you didn’t want the content of the show to air, you would lose.”
While plaintiffs in business usually have the option of settling their claims, Gonzalez Rogers said it might be in their best interest for her not to allow permission to change because it would allow them to appeal immediately. She ordered Hamilton to respond by Jan. 18 to see if he wanted to file an amended complaint.
Netflix deleted the original nearly three-minute suicide scene in the season one finale.
Netflix declined to comment.