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Moretti v. The Hertz Corporation

United States District Court, D. Delaware

March 17, 2017

ENRICO MORETTI, individually and on behalf of the general public and those similarly situated, Plaintiff,
v.
THE HERTZ CORPORATION; DOLLAR THRIFTY AUTOMOTIVE GROUP, INC.; and HOTWIRE, INC. Defendants.

          Brian E. Farnan and Michael J. Farnan, FARNAN LLP, Adam J. Gutride, Seth A. Safier, and Marie A. McCrary, Attorneys for Plaintiff Enrico Moretti

          Kevin G. Abrams, John M. Seaman, and Sarah E. Hickie, Brendan T. Mangan and Zana Z. Bugaighis, Attorneys for Defendant Hotwire, Inc.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Stark, U.S. District Judge

         Pending before the Court is Defendant Hotwire, Inc.'s motion for judgment on the pleadings under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c). (See D.I. 105) For the reasons that follow, the motion will be denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On May 23, 2013, Plaintiff Enrico Moretti filed a putative class action complaint in California state court. (D.I. 1-1 Ex. A) The matter was removed to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California and later transferred to this District. (D.I. 1, D.I. 54, D.I. 55) The relevant pleadings before the Court are Plaintiffs Second Amended Class Action Complaint ("Complaint"), filed on April 10, 2015 (D.I. 83), and Hotwire's answer to the same, filed May 4, 2015(D.L86).

         Plaintiff sues under California's false advertising, consumer protection, and unfair and deceptive trade practices laws, and alleges common law fraud. Plaintiff accuses Defendants of carrying out a "currency exchange rate scam." (D.I. 83 at 1-2 ¶ 2) According to Plaintiff, prices for car rentals in Mexico were advertised in U.S. dollars but later converted into Mexican Pesos at an artificially inflated rate. (Id.) Plaintiff claims he and other consumers paid more than the advertised price for their rentals as a result. (Id.) Defendants also allegedly failed to inform consumers that the purchase of liability insurance was mandatory, disclosing terms and conditions stating the contrary. (See, e.g., Id. at 2 ¶ 3) Plaintiff claims that The Hertz Corporation and Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group, Inc. (together, the "Hertz Defendants") supplied this misleading information about car rental prices and terms to Hotwire, and Hotwire incorporated the content into listings on its website. (See, e.g., Id. at 9 ¶ 28) Plaintiff alleges that Hotwire continued to do so despite consumer complaints and Hotwire's knowledge of the information's fraudulent content. (See, e.g., Id. at 11 ¶ 31) Plaintiff characterizes Hotwire as a willing and ratifying participant in this arrangement, and alleges that Hotwire "directly profit[s]" from the scheme. (Id. at 15 ¶ 38(d))

         On May 13, 2016, Hotwire filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings. (D.I. 105) Hotwire contends that it is immune from suit under 47 U.S.C. § 230 ("Section 230"), which protects websites and other interactive computer service providers under certain circumstances. The motion was fully briefed (see D.I. 106, D.I. Ill. D.I. 112), and the Court heard oral argument on September 2, 2016 (see D.I. 118 ("Tr.")).

         II. LEGAL STANDARDS

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c), a party may move for judgment on the pleadings "[a]fter [the] pleadings are closed - but early enough not to delay trial." When evaluating a motion for judgment on the pleadings, the Court must accept all factual allegations in a complaint as true and view them in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See Rosenau v. Unifund Corp., 539 F.3d 218, 221 (3d Cir. 2008).

         A Rule 12(c) motion will not be granted "unless the movant clearly establishes that no material issue of fact remains to be resolved and that he is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). "The purpose of judgment on the pleadings is to dispose of claims where the material facts are undisputed and judgment can be entered on the competing pleadings and exhibits thereto, and documents incorporated by reference." Venetec Int'l, Inc. v. Nexus Med., LLC, 541 F.Supp.2d 612, 617 (D. Del. 2008). Thus, a court may grant a motion for judgment on the pleadings (like a motion to dismiss) only if, after "accepting all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true, and viewing them in the light most favorable to plaintiff, plaintiff is not entitled to relief." In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig, 114 F.3d 1410, 1420 (3d Cir. 1997). Judgment on the pleadings is appropriate "only if no relief could be afforded under any set of facts that could be proved." Turbe v. Gov't of Virgin Islands, 938 F.2d 427, 428 (3d Cir. 1991).

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Section 230 Immunity

         Hotwire contends that Section 230 requires judgment on the pleadings in its favor. Second 230 provides that "[n]o provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider." 47 U.S.C. § 230(c)(1). Federal courts have interpreted the statute as providing broad immunity from claims that would hold websites liable for dissemination of information originating from ...


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