Google Street View Case Dismissed–Boring v. Google

By Eric Goldman

Boring v. Google, Inc., 2:08-cv-00694-ARH (W.D. Pa. Feb. 17, 2009)

You may recall the Boring case from last Spring. A Pennsylvania couple sued because Google’s camera car drove up their private driveway and the resulting pictures were posted to Google’s Street View. I thought the whole lawsuit was such a silly publicity stunt that I didn’t think it was blog-worthy at the time. Apparently I’m not the only person who wasn’t impressed with the suit, because the court didn’t give the plaintiffs any benefit of the doubt and dismissed the lawsuit handily (without leave to amend).

Some highlights from the discussion:

Intrusion Into Seclusion. The court says that the plaintiffs did not allege facts supporting that the intrusion was substantial and highly offensive. To reinforce the point that perhaps the plaintiffs didn’t experience much harm, the court points out that the plaintiffs didn’t take advantage of Google’s opt out procedure, plus they drew public attention to themselves by suing and by not redacting or suppressing their contact info in the court filings. I was a little troubled by the latter point, which seemed circular to me–plaintiffs bringing intrusion into seclusion lawsuits unavoidably thrust themselves into the public eye, whether they want to do so or not. This is especially true for anyone suing Google. As a result, it’s not fair to hold that consequence against plaintiffs. (As an example of the unwanted publicity faced by privacy rights plaintiffs, consider Robert Steinbuch’s experience as a plaintiff against Jessica Cutler). The court also skips over the legal nuances regarding why Google should get a free legal pass when it offers an opt out.

Public Disclosure of Private Facts. As with the intrusion into seclusion claim, the court says that the plaintiffs have not shown the disclosures were highly offensive to reasonable people, as evidenced by the fact that other people haven’t opted out of Google’s Street View. (An interesting argument on a 12b6).

Common Law Negligence. The court says Google didn’t have a duty to the Borings, and it isn’t willing to manufacture one.

Trespass. The court says that the plaintiffs’ emotional damages were not proximately caused by the trespass.

Unjust Enrichment. The court (correctly, IMO) says that this is not an independent cause of action but is just a quasi-contract remedy.

Injunctive Relief. The court says that the plaintiffs failed to plead “a plausible claim for entitlement to injunctive relief.” Which, I think, is one way of saying “not interested.”

A clean sweep for Google, and the end (absent an appeal) of a silly lawsuit.