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Marshall's Locksmith Serv. v. Google, LLC

United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

October 12, 2018, Argued; June 7, 2019, Decided

No. 18-7018


 [*1265]  Garland, Chief Judge: Fourteen locksmith companies allege that Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo! have conspired to "flood the market" of online search results with information about so-called "scam" locksmiths, in order to extract additional advertising revenue. Am. Compl. ¶ 36. According to the amended complaint, the defendants further this scheme by publishing the content of scam locksmiths' websites, translating street-address and area-code information on those websites into map pinpoints, and allegedly publishing the defendants' own original content. The district court dismissed the amended complaint as barred by the Communications Decency Act, which states that "[n]o provider or user of [**2]  an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider." 47 U.S.C. § 230(c)(1). We affirm.

] "This case arises from a motion to dismiss, and so we accept as true the factual allegations in the [plaintiffs'] amended complaint." Hemi Grp., LLC v. City of New York, 559 U.S. 1, 5, 130 S. Ct. 983, 175 L. Ed. 2d 943 (2010). The plaintiffs operate businesses that provide legitimate locksmith services.1 They face competition from "scam" locksmiths who misrepresent their businesses in terms of "services offered, pricing, expertise, training, who is behind the website, their location, contact information, and whether they are licensed or registered to do business." Am. Compl. ¶ 57.

According to the plaintiffs, the internet allows scam locksmiths to amplify their influence. Consumers typically call locksmiths when they are locked out of their homes or cars. In emergencies of this kind, consumers prioritize identifying the locksmith closest to where they are located. Today, the "primary means" that an inquiring consumer uses to find a nearby locksmith is "[l]ocation-based internet search." Id. ¶ 54.

Both the importance of proximity and the internet's potential to create the facade  [*1266]  of proximity are not lost on scam [**3]  locksmiths. These companies actively cultivate online presences that give the appearance of locality. Scam locksmiths "publish hundreds or thousands of unique websites targeting nearly every heavily populated geographic location all around the country." Id. ¶ 57. These pages "display either a fictitious or no address, and include false claims that [scam locksmiths] are local businesses." Id. ¶ 58. Moreover, scam locksmiths use call centers to generate "local-area phone number[s]," when in reality they may be located far away from the querying consumer. Id. ¶ 59. All of these efforts are designed to take advantage of the structure of the defendants' search engines. By so doing, the scam locksmiths have "tricked Google into displaying [scam locksmiths] as physical stores in [the consumers'] neighborhoods, when in reality, they're ghosts." Id. ¶ 61B (internal quotation marks omitted).

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925 F.3d 1263 *; 2019 U.S. App. LEXIS 17123 **


Prior History:  [**1] Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. (No. 1:16-cv-02360).

Baldino's Lock & Key Serv. v. Google LLC, 285 F. Supp. 3d 276, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 5617 (D.D.C., Jan. 11, 2018)

Disposition: Affirmed.


locksmiths, scam, immunity, third-party, map, websites, pinpoints, provider, amended complaint, search engine, translation, publish, defendants', information provided, algorithms, consumer, alleges, user, plaintiffs', internet, online, computer service, third party, interactive, convert, prong

Civil Procedure, Responses, Defenses, Demurrers & Objections, Motions to Dismiss, Appeals, Standards of Review, Business & Corporate Compliance, Computer & Internet Law, Content Regulation, Communications Decency Act, Civil Actions, Service Provider Liability, Motions to Dismiss, Failure to State Claim, Appellate Briefs, Reviewability of Lower Court Decisions, Preservation for Review