Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart says he is reviewing his options in the wake of a judge's ruling dismissing his lawsuit claiming the online classified advertising service Craigslist promotes prostitution.
U.S. District Judge John F. Grady in Chicago found that the site was only a conduit for others to publish the ads and wasn't legally responsible for their content.
"Sheriff Dart may continue to use Craigslist's Web site to identify and pursue individuals who post allegedly unlawful content," Grady said in a 20-page decision posted on the court's electronic docket. "But he cannot sue Craigslist for their conduct."
In May, Craigslist agreed to remove an erotic services category from its Internet site, replacing it with more closely monitored adult listings after Dart and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan criticized the company.
Madigan had called it an "Internet brothel."
Dart, citing an opinion by the Polaris Project, which tracks human sexual trafficking, said in his federal court complaint filed in Chicago in March that Craigslist was the biggest source for prostitution in the U.S.
Dart spokesman Steve Patterson said the sheriff is considering what other options he may have.
"We realize that Craigslist has a green light to allow criminal activity to take place on its Web site," Patterson said.
Susan Best, a Craiglist spokeswoman, said in an e-mail: "We welcome the outcome of Judge Grady's ruling."
Grady's ruling cited for support a 2008 U.S. Appeals Court ruling that exonerated the company from liability for the posting of discriminatory ads for the sale or rental of houses and apartments.
That three-judge panel, also based in Chicago, held that Craigslist is more akin to a telephone company than a newspaper, because it exercised no editorial control over its content, exempting it from U.S. laws banning the publication of ads expressing racial, religious or sex bias when offering housing.
Referring to that U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals case, Grady said, "We cannot treat Craigslist as if it did create those ads."