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Estate of B.H. v. Netflix Inc.

District court grants motion to dismiss and anti-SLAPP motion after holding that plaintiffs' claims against Netflix arose from protected activity – creation and distribution of television series – and those claims lacked merit.

Plaintiff John Herndon, whose 15-year-old daughter, Bella, died by suicide in 2017 after reportedly watching the first season of Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why, brought a class action against Netflix alleging, among other claims, wrongful death and negligence. Herndon alleged Netflix recklessly marketed its series about a young girl’s suicide to vulnerable teenage viewers, which led to a spike in child suicides. Though the show provided advisories about its subject matter, plaintiffs alleged Netflix failed to provide sufficient warning of the risk that the show could cause suicide. On defendant’s motion, the district court dismissed plaintiffs’ case for failing to sufficiently state a legal claim.

The court first determined that plaintiffs’ claims were subject to California’s anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) statute, which allows a court to dismiss cases targeting a defendant’s right to free speech under the U.S. and California constitutions. Noting California precedent establishing that creating a television show is an exercise of free speech, the court also ruled that the topics of youth suicide, depression and sexual assault were matters of public interest.

The court also held that certain plaintiffs in the class lacked standing to bring the suit. Bella’s two siblings were included as class representatives, but in California, a sibling is barred from bringing a wrongful death action unless the decedent has no surviving issue or parents. Accordingly, the court determined they could not bring a legal claim against Netflix.

Additionally, the court held that the claims against Netflix were time-barred by the statute of limitations. Negligence and strict liability claims must be brought within two years of the alleged causal incident. The fact that Bella was a minor when she committed suicide was insufficient to delay the statute of limitations.

Negligence claims also require that the defendant have a duty to the plaintiff. Here, the court determined that Netflix did not have a duty to plaintiffs as a matter of law.

The district court granted the anti-SLAPP motion and also granted the motion to dismiss the complaint, after ruling that there was no legal merit to any of plaintiffs’ claims.

Summary prepared by David Grossman and Michael Segal