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Being 'muted' in a game does not violate your civil rights, US federal court declares

(Image credit: Jagex)

Sometime during March and April 2019, Amro Elansari found himself muted in an online game run by Jagex—specifically, according to Pennlive, the MMO Runescape. His appeal of the muting was denied, and so he took the next natural, perfectly reasonable step and filed a DIY lawsuit, available via VICE, alleging that Jagex had engaged in discrimination against him, and violated his rights to free speech and "due process."

In a not-exactly-shocking development, the lawsuit was quickly dismissed. In a ruling posted to brian.carnell.com, District Judge Mark Kearney declared that his federal constitutional claims over being muted in a videogame "are implausible."

Kerney's restraint is audible as he educates the plaintiff on the basics of constitutional law. "The First Amendment and its constitutional free speech guarantees restrict government actors, not private entities. Defendants, who are not alleged to be state actors, are not subject to constitutional free speech guarantees," Kearney wrote. Likewise, "The Fifth Amendment's Due Process Clause 'appl[ies] to and restrict[s] only the Federal Government and not private persons,' and does not act against a private company."

That seems pretty straightforward to me—the First Amendment literally begins with the words "Congress shall make no law"—but Elansari quickly appealed anyway, and the non-shocking outcomes continued: Earlier this month, the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit shot him down again. His first claim, based on the 14th Amendment, was invalid, the court ruled, because, again, "state action is a prerequisite for bringing a 14th Amendment claim, and Elansari has made no allegations indication that any named defendant is a state actor."

The second claim is even more interesting. "Next, citing Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Elansari maintains that the District Court should have identified and considered a claim of public accommodations discrimination in Elansari's complaint. Elansari insists that defendant Jagex should be liable for 'unequal treatment' because Elansari's account was 'muted … compared to all other players who were not muted,'" the ruling, available on Justia, states.

"Title II prohibits 'discrimination … on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin.' Even generously construing Elansari's complaint to raise a claim of public accommodations discrimination and assuming that Elansari can bring such a claim in this context, at no point either in the District Court or on appeal has Elansari alleged losing access to Jagex's online game to due discrimination based on any grounds protected by Title II."

With no error shown in the decision to dismiss the complaint, the appeals court upheld the original ruling: Getting muted in a videogame does not constitute a violation of your constitutional rights.

The Pennlive report says that Ansari has filed ten lawsuits in the US Eastern District Court over the last year and a half, including four in July 2019, including the Jagex suit. In November 2019, a federal appeals court rejected his effort to bring a class action suit against Tinder, noting that he was ineligible to represent other plaintiffs because he's not a lawyer, and that the damages he could reasonably seek were nowhere near the $75,000 minimum required.

Andy covers the day-to-day happenings in the big, wide world of PC gaming—the stuff we call "news." In his off hours, he wishes he had time to play the 80-hour RPGs and immersive sims he used to love so much.