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Judge dismisses Godwin family lawsuit against Facebook

(Photo Credit: Debbie Godwin/Facebook)

CLEVELAND– The murder of an elderly Cleveland man was videotaped and posted on social media.

Now, 18 months later, a lawsuit filed by the family of Robert Godwin Sr. against Facebook has been dismissed.

Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Timothy McCormick granted Facebook’s motion to dismiss on Oct. 5.

Atty. Andy Kabat, who represents the Godwin family, says they are considering all options, including possibly filing an appeal.

An attorney for Facebook could not be reached by deadline to discuss the matter.

Police said Steve Stephens, 37, shot and killed Godwin on East 93rd Street in Cleveland on Easter Sunday 2017. Stephens recorded the crime and posted video of it on his Facebook page. In a series of other live videos, he claimed to kill more people, but Cleveland police said Godwin was the only victim.

Stephens was found dead in Erie, Pennsylvania, from a self-inflicted gunshot wound days after the homicide.

On Jan. 19, 2018, Godwin’s family filed a suit against Facebook and Stephens’ estate in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court. The lawsuit accuses the social media giant of negligence, failure to warn and wrongful death.

Court documents claim Facebook has a unique relationship with each of its users, knowing behaviors, intentions and likes. The suit also states the company had an obligation to notify law enforcement when Stephens started making violent threats, but decided not to act.

According to the lawsuit, Facebook “was intentional, willful, malicious, in bad faith and in reckless disregard for the right of Mr. Godwin.”

Stephens posted a video at 11:09 a.m. on April 16, 2017, stating he planned to kill. At 1:22 p.m. his account was disabled.

However, according to the judge’s written opinion and order, the plaintiff “made no allegations” that Facebook “had knowledge of any violent acts prior to the murder of Robert Godwin Sr. Moreover, there are no allegations that Stephens committed any prior violent acts that the Facebook Defendants could have known about.”

The judge further stated that the plaintiff alleges that “Facebook defendants also have the unique ability to control every aspect of the relationship while the use engages in services offered by Facebook and third-party partners. Control of the relationship is not equivalent to control of the person themselves. This merely means that the Facebook Defendant gets to control how users like Stephens use their platforms. It does not mean they have the ability to control Stephens’ actions offline.”

The lawsuit against Stephens’ estate is still pending.

Continuing coverage.