Deciding body (English)
Type of body
Type of Court (material scope)
Type of jurisdiction
Type of Court (territorial scope)
Outcome of the decision
The Plaintiffs were three Twitter users who used their respective platform profiles to criticize conventional government responses to the Covid-19 pandemic. The Plaintiffs claimed that Twitter provided a free environment for users like themselves, "rarely suspending" individuals who questioned the "wisdom, efficacy, and morality" of public "lockdowns and mask and vaccine mandates." By March 2021, however, the website allegedly changed its policy, and began suspending users for violations of its policy against "demonstrably false or misleading Covid-19 information" at a faster pace. The Plaintiffs claimed that Twitter's actions were being orchestrated by the federal government and alleged that members of the administration had used the pretense of an ostensible war on the spread of Covid-19 "misinformation" when it was their true intention to silence individuals who, like them, expressed "opinions that diverged from the White House's messaging on Covid-19." The Plaintiffs thus accused the Defendants – the Department of Health and Human Services and the respective Surgeon General and Secretary - of "instrumentalizing" or "commandeering" Twitter to both censor and "chill" online criticism of the government's pandemic response, thus violating (1) their rights under the First and Fourth Amendments of the United States Constitution, (2) the Administrative Procedure Act (the "APA"), and (3) 42 U.S.C. § 264(a). The Plaintiffs sought a range of declaratory and injunctive relief, including a preliminary injunction against Defendants to both retract the RFI and abstain "from enforcing coercive policies or conditions that exert pressure upon Twitter and other technology companies to censor users." The Court analyzed the arguments of the Plaintiffs and Defendants and: (1) granted the Defendant’s motion to dismiss, and (2) denied the Plaintiffs’ preliminary injunction as moot and motion to compel.
Facts of the case
The Plaintiffs claimed that Twitter more or less provided a free environment for users like themselves, "rarely suspending" individuals who questioned the "wisdom, efficacy, and morality" of public "lockdowns and mask and vaccine mandates." By March of 2021, however, the website allegedly changed its policy, and began suspending users who violated its policy against "demonstrably false or misleading Covid-19 information" at a faster pace. The Plaintiffs stated they were ensnared in this crackdown. They claimed they were "heavily censored" or entirely banned from the platform. The Plaintiffs specifically relied on the days following March 3, 2022, to illustrate their point. On that date, the Surgeon General issued a Request for Information which asked platforms like Twitter to voluntarily provide the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) with information concerning "major sources" of "Covid-19 misinformation. “The Plaintiffs claimed that Twitter's actions were being orchestrated by the federal government and alleged that members of the administration had used the pretense of an ostensible war against the spread of Covid-19 "misinformation" when it was their true intention to silence individuals who expressed "opinions that diverged from the White House's messaging on Covid-19."
Type of measure challenged
Measures, actions, remedies claimed
Individual / collective enforcement
Nature of the parties
Type of procedure
Reasoning of the deciding body
The Court analyzed the arguments of the plaintiffs and defendants and reasoned that:
- With regard to the Defendants’ motion to dismiss, the Court stated that it lacked subject-matter jurisdiction to adjudicate the Plaintiffs' claims because they did not have standing to bring them in the first place. It also reasoned that the Plaintiffs did not sufficiently establish that they were entitled to the relief they sought. The Court also stated that the Plaintiffs had failed to sufficiently demonstrate (1) a "fairly traceable" causal connection between any past, present, or future disciplinary action taken by Twitter and the harm allegedly suffered; and (2) that their injuries were sufficiently "redressable."
- Regarding the motion to compel, the Court reasoned that even if Plaintiffs had established enough facts to establish their standing, none of their claims passed muster under Rule 12(b)(6). The Court analyzed the Plaintiffs claims grounded on the First and Fourth Amendment, as well as the A dministrative Procedure Act and concluded that the Plaintiffs lack standing, and even were that not the case, the content of their claims did not plausibly suggest they were entitled to the relief they sought.
- Finally, with regard to the preliminary injunction inquiry, the Court had to consider (1) whether the movant was likely to succeed on the merits; (2) whether the movant's requested relief was necessary to prevent irreparable injury; (3) whether the balance of equities tipped in the movant's favor; and (4) whether a preliminary injunction would not be adverse to the public interest. The Court, however, argued that it need not engage in this inquiry, given the Defendants’ successful motion to dismiss.
Conclusions of the deciding body
The Court concluded that the Plaintiffs lacked standing and granted the Defendants’ motion to dismiss and denied the Plaintiffs’ preliminary injunction and motion to compel as moot.
Fundamental Right(s) involved
- Freedom of expression
- Freedom of information
Fundamental Right(s) instruments (constitutional provisions, international conventions and treaties)
- First and Fourth Amendments of the United States Constitution
- Administrative Procedure Act
Rights and freedoms specifically identified as (possibly) conflicting with the right to health
Balancing techniques and principles (proportionality, reasonableness, others)
The Court applied the general principle of reasonableness in two points of analysis:
- The Court agreed with the HHS department that its efforts to confront Covid-19 misinformation, as alleged, did not “reasonably” constitute an exercise of “coercive power” over Twitter. Blum, 457 U.S. at 1004. Therefore, because the Plaintiffs’ allegations did not pass muster under the “state compulsion” framework, and because they did not make any colorable argument that any other exception to the state-action doctrine applied, the Plaintiffs’ First Amendment claim failed.
- The Plaintiffs’ stated bases for the “unreasonableness” of the requested information by the General Surgeon, as discussed, did not survive the scrutiny of Rule 12(b)(6). They also did not persuade the Court otherwise that the RFI was “unreasonable.” As mentioned, the RFI, by virtue of its non-binding status, was not a “demand” and thus did not constitute a “legislative” or “substantive” rule that required congressional authorization. While the language of the RFI was broad, the Court was not persuaded that it was “too indefinite,” insofar as it (1) specified “sources of misinformation” to a sufficient degree; (2) stated its general purpose; and (3) elaborated the specific topics upon which it wished respondents to offer comment. Likewise, the spread of misinformation related to Covid-19 was at least “reasonably relevant” to the Surgeon General’s efforts to combat the disease.