Man Sues Grindr for Negligence After Getting Caught With Boy, 13

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on March 18, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

We've all been there. One day you're casually browsing through your smartphone's hook-up app, looking for the next love of your life. The next you're being arrested for a "three party sexual liaison" with a minor. Who should be responsible?

According to William Sapanaro of New Jersey, the app should bear at least some blame. After being arrested for engaging in an app-assisted sexual encounter with a 13-year-old boy, Sapanaro sued Grindr, the hook-up app, for negligence in allowing the minor to utilize the app.

But Officer, He Accepted the Terms of Service!

Grindr, one of the first successful "hook-up apps," works similarly to apps such as Tinder. Using a smartphone's geolocation capabilities, Grindr allows users, particularly gay and bisexual men, to communicate with other users nearby. Given the adult nature of many of the conversations and encounters organized through Grindr, the company restricts use to those 18 and over. Sapanaro's victim was 13 at the time they met; Sapanaro was 52.

According to The Volokh Conspiracy, Sapanaro argued that Grindr was negligent in allowing the boy access to its services and that Sapanaro reasonably relied upon the app's age restrictions when arranging the encounter through a third user.

Grindr Not Negligent for Illegal Grinding: Court

The court quickly rejected Sapanaro's claims of negligence. Since Grindr owed him no "duty of care," it could not be liable to him under New Jersey law, the court held.

Sapanaro was owed no duty because he could not be foreseen as a victim of the app's alleged negligence. Since Sapanaro communicated a third member of the three-party tryst, and not directly with the boy, Grindr could have no way of foreseeing any potential wrong.

Hook-Up Apps Shielded by Communications Decency Act

The court also found that the Communications Decency Act barred Sapanaro's claim. The CDA's "Good Samaritan" clause prevents providers of interactive computer services from being treated as the publisher or the information disseminated on them. It's this clause that keeps your internet company from being liable for the content of your emails, for example. The CDA's "immunity provisions" cover Grindr, shielding it from liability for any misrepresentations the 13-year-old may have made and from claims that it failed to properly supervise its app.

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