On January 12, 2022, a California federal Judge dismissed a would-be class action lawsuit against Netflix. The Plaintiffs alleged that Netflix promoted their show “13 Reasons Why”, featuring a young woman who committed suicide, to the detriment of numerous teenagers who followed suit. Plaintiffs further alleged that Netflix had been given warnings from experts in the field that the series could pose a health risk to younger audiences, and ignored these warnings.
John Herndon, the primary plaintiff, claimed that Netflix’s algorithm intentionally promoted the show to children and teenagers and that as a result, the child suicide rate increased by almost 30% in the month after the show’s release. Herndon lost his own daughter to suicide after watching the first season of the show. Herndon argued that Netflix should face consequences for not warning parents of younger audiences that the show could be dangerous for vulnerable individuals; moreover, Plaintiffs alleged that the series specifically targeted those younger audiences.
Netflix filed an “Anti-SLAPP special motion to strike” the lawsuit. Anti-SLAPP laws are intended to protect people from being punished for exercising their right to free speech. U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzales Rogers granted the Anti-SLAPP motion. In her order, Judge Gonzales Rogers said that Herndon’s claims do fall under Anti-SLAPP laws (an exercise of free speech about youth suicide and mental health, which is a matter of public concern). The Judge further said that Herndon has not stated a legal claim for negligence or strict liability in terms of the death of his daughter, because the statute of limitations had run, and the claim was brought too late.
The Herndon family is represented by Gregory Keenan, Andrew Grimm, James D. Banker of the Digital Justice Foundation, Ryan Hamilton of Hamilton Law LLC, Megan Verrips of Information Dignity Alliance, and Rory Stevens.
Netflix is represented by Blanca F. Young, Jennifer L. Bryant, and Cory M. Bat an of Monger Tolles & Olson LLP.
The case is the Estate of B.H. et al. v. Netflix Inc., case number 4:21-cv-06561, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.
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