Appeals Court Gives MySpace Celebrity-Spotter Lawsuit New Life

Julie Riggs was on her way to becoming a social-networking star a few years ago by setting up a MySpace page that verified whether celebrity accounts were real or not. But after a fake celebrity complained about her service, Riggs' own account was deleted. Incensed, she filed a lawsuit, which caused her to be ridiculed in the legal and tech community for claiming emotional harm from being kicked off MySpace.

Now, Riggs may be enjoying a laugh at her detractors. On Monday, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower court's decision and revived her claim that News Corp., the previous owner of MySpace, breached an implied promise to pay her for an idea to set up a celebrity verification service on the network.

From the moment that Riggs filed the lawsuit in 2008, she wasn't taken very seriously. Representing herself in court, Riggs struggled to figure out a way to get a California federal court to buy her allegations that MySpace committed negligence, a breach of contract, fraud, and caused her emotional distress in her dispute.

Riggs set up her MySpace page that would verify whether celebrity accounts were real in 2006. Her service was called "Celebrity Guardian Angel" and she offered badges for celebrities to show they were who they said they were. (Other social networking sites like Twitter soon did the same.) According to her original complaint, among the bold-faced names who used Riggs' digital verification badges were Heather Locklear, Val Kilmer, Michael Bay and Samuel L. Jackson.

Riggs got in trouble, though, after flagging a guy who was pretending to be Johnny Depp on MySpace. The fake Depp complained to MySpace that Riggs was harassing and bullying him, and in reaction, MySpace deleted her account.

Riggs "was literally seething with anger to the point that she was now consumed by it," she stated in her complaint.

She took her fury to a judge, who had no empathy for her, dismissing the lawsuit on summary judgment. Riggs didn't go easily, though, as she soon appealed the decision.

Now, the Ninth Circuit has weighed in. A panel of justices has affirmed the decision to throw out her claims of negligence, but rather unexpectedly, has reversed the dismissal of a claim that MySpace breached an implied contract.

Riggs' allegation that MySpace had stolen her idea for a celebrity verification service is now headed back to a lower court, which could move it to trial. The basis for Riggs' claim is that she told a News Corp. executive's assistant that she wanted to "sell" her ideas before she disclosed them. The Ninth Circuit sees this as possible evidence that the conveyance of her idea was conditioned on payment.

There's been a lot of recent discussion here on the topic of how implied contract claims can or can't be used by those annoyed by having their ideas stolen, and here's a case that gives this type of allegation wide room to get past the initial phase. A woman, representing herself, has just beaten one of the biggest media companies at the Ninth Circuit by bringing up a conversation she had with an executive assistant.

News Corp. might be thankful it sold MySpace earlier this month.


Twitter: @eriqgardner