Appeals Court Says Google Must Take Further Abuse From AG Jim Hood Before It Can Challenge Hood's Abusive Behavior
from the you-must-get-fucked-a-little-longer-before-we-can-examine-complaints-of-chafing dept
Towards the end of 2014, Google filed for an injunction against Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, whose close ties with the MPAA had led to a sustained campaign of harassment over Google’s supposed lack of interest in policing the entire internet for infringing material.
Early in 2015, the district court granted Google’s requested injunction against Hood’s 79-page subpoena, which the court noted was a “burdensome fishing expedition” that went beyond the bounds of what a state AG could actually demand. Not only that, but the court noted that many of Hood’s actions were blocked by Section 230 of the CDA because the content in question had been uploaded by third parties.
Unfortunately for Google, the Fifth Circuit Appeals Court has reversed the lower court’s decision and vacated the injunction. It’s being portrayed as a victory for the MPAA and its kept man, Jim Hood, but those actually reading the decision will find the reversal is just procedural. TL; DR: Google must face additional legal harassment from Jim Hood before it can challenge said legal harassment in a federal court.
We conclude that the district court erred in granting injunctive relief because neither the issuance of the non-self-executing administrative subpoena nor the possibility of some future enforcement action created an imminent threat of irreparable injury ripe for adjudication.
The decision also notes that it is passing no judgment on Hood’s subpoena nor his other actions against Google.
We express no opinion on the reasonableness of the subpoena or on whether the conduct discussed in the parties’ briefs could be held actionable consistent with federal law.
Which works out in Hood’s favor, as a great deal of the opening of the opinion details the many, many actions Google undertakes to address online piracy — including its swift responsiveness to Hood’s increasingly ridiculous demands. [emphasis added]
Google has made some changes in response to Hood’s investigation. It created a “trusted flag” mechanism through which Google promptly reviewed videos Hood’s office complained about. After being trained on that tool, Hood’s office flagged seven videos, six of which Google quickly took down. When asked by the district court, Hood’s counsel could not identify any investigatory efforts related to the videos his office flagged. His office has nevertheless asked that Google immediately remove flagged videos pending review and “consider implementing a more comprehensive content evaluation process.”
As for the broad subpoena the company is challenging, Google has already turned over 100,000 pages of documents in response. These documents showed the content targeted by Hood’s office (but not, notably, by any investigation) was generated by third parties. This still wasn’t enough for Hood, who refused to narrow the scope of the subpoena — leading directly to Google’s injunction request and the district court’s grant of this request.
The Appeals Court — while reversing the injunction — notes that Hood’s actions against Google do present possible First Amendment issues, but nothing about the actions taken by both parties to date brings it to the level where it feels it can uphold Google’s request. The court similarly finds Hood’s attempt to force the federal court system to resolve this (in his favor) by denying Google the right to bring its challenge of his actions to a federal court — either at this point or at any point in the future.
We first reject Hood’s contention that we can resolve this case on the simple ground that the district court lacked federal-question jurisdiction. Federal courts have jurisdiction over “all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 1331. We apply the “well-pleaded complaint rule” to determine whether a suit arises under federal law, asking “whether the plaintiff has affirmatively alleged a federal claim.” New Orleans & Gulf Coast Ry. Co. v. Barrois, 533 F.3d 321, 328 (5th Cir. 2008). As a corollary, “anticipated or potential defenses, including defenses based on federal preemption, do not provide a basis for federal question jurisdiction.” Id. Here, Google brings four claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging violations of the United States Constitution and federal statutory law. This satisfies the well-pleaded complaint rule.
Focusing on Google’s claims for declaratory relief, Hood protests that Google really presents only artfully pleaded anticipated defenses to a future state-law action—but he is wrong, as illustrated by our recent decision in NiGen Biotech, L.L.C. v. Paxton, 804 F.3d 389 (5th Cir. 2015)
In the end, it boils down to Hood having to make some forward progress in his “investigation.” As it stands now, Google is on the receiving end of an incredibly broad subpoena and has complied with portions of it. It has challenged the subpoena based on anticipated actions by Hood in the future if it fails to comply with all aspects of it, but Hood has not moved forward with any punitive actions as of yet. Until he does, the court is unable to support an injunction against Hood.
The statute under which this administrative subpoena was issued gives Hood no authority to enforce it; instead, if the recipient refuses to comply, the Attorney General “may, after notice, apply” to certain state courts “and, after hearing thereon, request an order” granting injunctive or other relief and enforceable through contempt.
Hood has not brought an enforcement action. And Google does not contest Hood’s assertions that it could raise its objections to the administrative subpoena if Hood ever brings an enforcement proceeding. The only real difference is that we have before us a state, not federal, subpoena. But we see no reason why a state’s non-self-executing subpoena should be ripe for review when a federal equivalent would not be. If anything, comity should make us less willing to intervene when there is no current consequence for resisting the subpoena and the same challenges raised in the federal suit could be litigated in state court.
In this as in any context, equitable relief is only appropriate when necessary to avoid an imminent irreparable injury. Because the administrative subpoena is not ripe for review, we hold that the district court should have rejected Google’s pre-enforcement challenge.
This ruling means Hood has to make the next move. Until he does, Google cannot seek an injunction as it cannot claim imminent irreparable injury when all Hood has done to this point is be an officious pain in the ass. If he seeks legal recourse for Google’s failure to comply, Google can challenge the act with an injunction. Until then, both parties can do little more than glare at each other angrily. The MPAA thinks this is a win. It’s not even a tie, and the court’s depiction of the events leading up to the failed injunction request are hardly favorable to Jim Hood.