Corporate Employer Was Immune From Liability For “Cyberthreats” Made By Its Employee

Delfino v. Agilent Technologies, Inc., 2006 WL 3635399 (Cal. Ct. App. Dec. 14, 2006)

Michelangelo Delfino and Mary E. Day sued Agilent Technologies after a series of threatening e-mails and Yahoo! Message Board postings about them were created by one of Agilent’s former employees (who used the pseudonym “crack_smoking_jesus”). Agilent moved for summary judgment pursuant to the Communications Decency Act of 1996 (CDA), which grants immunity to “interactive computer service providers.” Plaintiffs alleged causes of action for intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress. The Court of Appeal affirmed summary judgment in favor of Agilent, holding that an employer that provides its employees with Internet access through the company’s internal computer system is an “interactive service provider” immune from liability under the CDA. The Court further held that Agilent was a “publisher or speaker of information” that came from “another information content provider” (the former employee) and was entitled to immunity under the CDA on that ground as well. Finally, the Court held that irrespective of the immunity provided by the CDA, plaintiffs had failed to show that Agilent should be held responsible for its former employee’s acts under theories of ratification, respondeat superior, negligent supervision or negligent infliction of emotional distress. Compare Hawkins v. Wilton, 144 Cal. App. 4th 936 (2006) (triable issues of fact existed concerning apartment complex manager/security guard’s actions being within course and scope of his employment when he shot plaintiff); Sababin v. Superior Court, 144 Cal. App. 4th 81 (2006) (triable issues regarding injuries allegedly suffered by hospital patient due to employees’ failure to follow patient’s care plan for maintaining the health of her skin).