An executive in Pennsylvania who filed suit against her former employer over control of her LinkedIn account under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (“CFAA” or “Act”) had her CFAA claim dismissed as her lawsuit survived under alternative theories. The decision granting partial summary judgment in Eagle v. Morgan, Civil Action No. 11-4303, (E.D. Pa. Oct. 4, 2012) is noteworthy for a couple of reasons: First, it is a rare instance of a former employee attempting to wield the CFAA against an employer, instead of the other way around as is typical in non-compete and trade secrets cases. (The Act is currently at the center of a circuit split as to whether unauthorized use of a computer by an otherwise authorized employee is actionable.) In this case, however, the former executive invoked the Act where her successor as president of the company used her password to appropriate the profile for herself. Second, the case may portend more employment-related litigation over the ownership and control of social media accounts.
The plaintiff in this case, Dr. Linda Eagle, co-founded a company, Edcomm, and created a LinkedIn account indicating her title and position as President of the company. Her assistant maintained the password to the account. Dr. Eagle then sold Edcomm and ended her employment. The new interim CEO of Edcomm place her own name and photograph on the LinkedIn profile and changed the password. All of Dr. Eagle’s awards, honors, recommendations and connections remained on the profile, however, and Dr. Eagle could no longer access the account or retrieve messages.
The Court dismissed the CFAA claim on the grounds that unsupported assertions of harm to ongoing business ventures, speculative lost business, legal fees associated with drafting the complaint, and the alleged harm to Dr. Eagle’s reputation and claimed devaluation of her LinkedIn account were not sufficient to sustain a damages claim. A Lanham Act claim was also dismissed. The court declined to dismiss a number of state law claims, however, so the lawsuit will move on and we are likely to see similar disputes in the future.