Google Gets a Good Win in the MyTriggers Lawsuit

By Eric Goldman

BFS Finance v. My Triggers Co., 09CV-14836 (Franklin County Court of Common Pleas, Aug. 31, 2011)

This lawsuit started all so innocently. It was just a routine collections matter against MyTriggers, an AdWords advertiser, for a few hundred thousand dollars. Unexpectedly, Google found itself pinned down in a dangerous venue (Ohio state court) against lawyers with impressive resumes and apparently bottomless legal budgets raising issues that are central to Google’s business. My original blog post on MyTriggers’ counterclaims.

For the moment, Google is having the last laugh. Although it cost them lots of money in discovery and managerial focus, yesterday Google got a thoroughly satisfying win on its motion to dismiss MyTriggers’ counterclaims. I’m confident the plaintiff won’t let this ruling stand as the final word, but it’s clear MyTriggers has gotten zero traction in court. Combined with the ignominious dismissal of TradeComet’s similar lawsuit against Google on jurisdictional grounds (being handled by some of the same plaintiff’s lawyers), I’m even more confident now that both the TradeComet and MyTriggers lawsuits lack any merit. Unfortunately, these lawsuits’ likely demise probably will only encourage the anti-Google forces to redirect their energy and resources into the multitudinous other efforts to bust Google.

Some specifics about this ruling:

* the state antitrust claim (the Valentine Act) fails because MyTriggers only alleged that Google harmed MyTriggers as a competitor, not that it harmed competition. In particular, MyTriggers alleged that Google favored some vertical search engines over others, so this allegation undercut MyTriggers’ claim. MyTriggers’ allegation of a boycott were too general, and its allegation of unilateral conduct weren’t supported by any allegation of antitrust injury.

* MyTriggers’ contract breach claim fails because MyTriggers never properly identified the allegedly breached contract or Google’s breach.

* MyTriggers’ promissory estoppel claim fails because MyTriggers couldn’t allege a sufficiently unambiguous promise or any detrimental reliance on those promises.

* MyTriggers’ rescission claim (based on fraud) failed for many of the same reasons: no identification of the contract and weak promises by Google.

Stepping back from the details, this is quite a stinging–and thorough–rejection of MyTriggers’ pleadings, even though they were aided by many months of discovery. These are not the kinds of dismissal grounds one normally expects to see from a complaint drafted by lawyers with national reputations.

The only sour note is the judge’s rejection of Google’s 47 USC 230(c)(2) defense to the antitrust claims. Google’s basic position is that it rejected MyTriggers’ ads because it objected to them, and therefore it gets the statutory immunity for blocking “otherwise objectionable” content. The court rejects the contention, applying the ejusdem generis doctrine to interpret “otherwise objectionable” more narrowly. Citing the National Numismatics case, the court rejected the Langdon v. Google ruling and said that objectionable content must relate to porn, violence, obscenity or harassment. It distinguished other Google citations (such as the e360 case) as involving spam, which the court characterized as a subset of harassment, or 230(c)(1).

I don’t agree with this reading of 47 USC 230(c)(2), and there are many cases applying the “otherwise objectionable” language more broadly than this court did. See my overall recap of 47 USC 230(c)(2). On the other hand, I think it’s a tough sell for courts to apply 230(c)(2) to antitrust claims (see, e.g., the concurrence in Zango v. Kaspersky), and this ruling shows the natural reluctance of judges to go that direction.