A federal judge in Chicago has dismissed a lawsuit charging that Craigslist supports prostitution, ruling that Craigslist is not the publisher of any ads on its site that offer prostitutes’ services.

            In a 20-page opinion issued without a hearing or trial, U.S. District Court Judge John F. Grady ruled against Sheriff Thomas Dart of Cook County, Ill., who filed suit in March to eliminate “erotic services” ads on Craigslist because they facilitate prostitution and constitute a “public nuisance.”

          Grady’s opinion relied heavily on a federal appeals court ruling last year that dismissed a complaint against Craigslist by the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law. The lawyers’ group had sued Craigslist for publishing discriminatory housing ads. The appellate court ruled that Craigslist was not a publisher, and was protected by the federal Communications Decency Act that requires “an online information system must not ‘be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by’ someone else.” Since housing ads were posted on Craigslist by others, rather than Craigslist itself, the appeals court rejected a complaint that Craigslist was liable.

            Grady followed similar logic.

            “Sheriff Dart’s lengthy complaint relies heavily on a few conclusory allegations to support the contention that Craigslist induces users to post ads for illegal services. … We are not required to accept those allegations at face value, and they are not meaningfully different from the allegations that our Court of Appeals rejected just last year,” Grady ruled. “The complaint’s remaining allegations plainly treat Craigslist as the publisher or speaker of information created by its users.

             “Like the plaintiff in [the] ‘Chicago Lawyers’ [case], Sheriff Dart may continue to use Craigslist’s Web site to identify and pursue individuals who post allegedly unlawful content. … But he cannot sue Craigslist for their conduct.”

            Grady noted that Craigslist had replaced its erotic services section with adult services, and claimed to be manually monitoring posts to the adult-services ads. He said Craigslist makes clear in its terms of use that illegal ads are prohibited, and that not all adult-services ads are for prostitution or illegal services.

            “The phrase ‘adult,’ even in conjunction with ‘services,’ is not unlawful in itself nor does it necessarily call for unlawful conduct. … Plaintiff is simply wrong when he insists that these terms are all synonyms for illegal sexual services. … A woman advertising erotic dancing for male clients is offering an ‘adult service,’ yet this is not prostitution,” Grady’s opinion noted. “Plaintiff’s argument that Craigslist causes or induces illegal content is further undercut by the fact that Craigslist repeatedly warns users not to post such content. …

            “While we accept as true for the purposes of this motion plaintiff’s allegation that users routinely flout Craigslist’s guidelines, it is not because Craigslist has caused them to do so.”

             Bloomberg news service quoted Steve Patterson, a spokesman for the sheriff, as saying his office was reviewing its options following the ruling.

             “We realize that Craigslist has a green light to allow criminal activity to take place on its Web site,” Patterson said.

             Craigslist spokeswoman Susan MacTavish Best told Bloomberg: “We welcome the outcome of Judge Grady’s ruling.”