November 04, 2011
Stebbins' Lawsuit Against Google Dismissed as "Frivolous"--Stebbins v. Google
By Eric Goldman
Stebbins v. Google, Inc., 2011 WL 5150879 (N.D. Cal. Oct. 27, 2011). Stebbins' motion to confirm arbitration award (the equivalent of his complaint in this case).
Arkansas resident David Stebbins appears to be cranking up a one-man pro se/pro per litigation machine based on mockably tendentious legal arguments and outrageous damages claims ($500B in this and other cases). Last Spring, I blogged about his unsuccessful lawsuit against Walmart, which tried some too-clever legal arguments that ended up failing resoundingly.
In a separate set of actions, Stebbins sued Microsoft and Google based on an almost-too-bizarre-to-explain legal theory. It goes something like this: YouTube's contract allows unilateral modification (which, crucially, only lets YouTube unilaterally modify the contract, a point Stebbins didn't internalize), so Stebbins emailed a modification of the contract terms to YouTube that included an arbitration clause and an "I automatically win the arbitration if you don't respond" clause. He then disputed YouTube's handling of his account, sent them a proposal to arbitrate the dispute for $500B, and declared himself the arbitration winner (without an actual arbitration) when YouTube didn't respond in time. He then filed a federal claim to enforce the arbitration judgment even though there wasn't a judgment since there was no arbitration proceeding.
The magistrate judge recommended dismissing the claim as frivolous, but Stebbins didn't consent to proceeding before a magistrate. So the case goes to Judge Koh and, in a straight-laced opinion, she reaches the same result. She says:
there was no actual arbitration. That is to say, no arbitrator or arbitration panel actually awarded a judgment. Thus, there has been no arbitration proceeding and no award "made pursuant to [an] arbitration."
The court goes on to label Stebbins' filings "frivolous," "indisputably meritless" and "clearly baseless," concluding:
Plaintiff's claim is based on an indisputably meritless legal theory. Additionally...[i]t is fundamentally contradictory for Plaintiff to assert the existence of an arbitration award on the basis of a contract clause that states that no arbitration proceeding is to take place, and no award need be entered.
As I've suggested before, tendentious online contract formation claims do not fare well in courts. Even if the plaintiff can stitch together a theory of contract formation, judges quickly cut through any hyper-formalism to reach sensible results. If your contract formation theory depends on overly formalistic interpretations of contract law, don't be surprised if it will fail in court.
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