Court Tosses RICO Lawsuit Demanding $90 Million And The Dissolution Of Google For Supposed Anti-Conservative Bias
from the they-hate-me-for-my-narrow-views-on-acceptable-freedoms dept
A lawsuit [PDF] against Google over ad practices and search engine rankings has been dismissed. The allegations start normally before taking a sharp turn into some recently favored causes of action. First, there’s the RICO. Second, the plaintiff claims the RICO and everything that goes with it is a result of Google’s anti-conservative bias.
Here’s the most coherent part of the allegations:
Plaintiff operated a website, https://seniorcare.care/ (“the website”), from 2014 to 2019 that aimed to connect caregivers and assisted living professionals with seniors and families. Between 2016 and 2018, Defendant communicated with Plaintiff through emails, chat rooms, and blogs and induced Plaintiff to make changes to the website to conform with Defendant’s standards and to optimize the number of visits to the website, which Plaintiff did at great cost and expense.. For example, Plaintiff made the website “mobile friendly,” increased the website’s security, created social media accounts, and removed certain ads and pop-up content. Plaintiff made these changes in reasonable reliance on Defendant’s promise that they would improve the search results for the website on Google Search.
That’s the end of the reasonable part of the complaint. The next two sentences indicate where this is headed.
Defendant, however, had “blacklist[ed]” Plaintiff and intentionally manipulated Google Search’s algorithms in a way that actually worsened the website’s search results. Defendant did this because conservatives own and operate Plaintiff.
Because of this perception, a lawsuit was filed in May of last year. In addition to claims of anti-conservative bias, the plaintiff lists RICO, Florida’s RICO analogue, and the usual tortious interference. Oh, and there’s a demand for $90,000,000 in damages. That, or Google agrees to dissolve itself. You know, reasonable demands.
And here’s the RICO part of it:
These entities and individuals “operated with a common purpose” to discriminate against and censor conservatives and to damage businesses that conservatives run.
Defendant engaged in at least two acts of wire fraud to accomplish this purpose.
The RICO claim fails for a very simple reason: a conspiracy needs more than one “conspirator.” Otherwise, there’s no conspiring.
Plaintiff has not plausibly alleged the existence of two distinct entities. To the extent that Plaintiff contends that Defendant was part of an enterprise with Alphabet, Inc. and YouTube, Plaintiff has not alleged any facts to support a conclusion that these related corporate entities are distinct for RICO purposes, rather than one corporate “person.” To the extent that Plaintiff contends that Defendant was part of an enterprise with its officers, agents, or employees, or with Alphabet, Inc.’s or YouTube’s officers, agents, or employees, Plaintiff has not identified any of these individuals and has not alleged any facts to support a conclusion that the individuals did not operate within their official capacities for their corporate employers.
Even if the court were to agree that multiple employees overseeing various enterprises under the Alphabet umbrella could credibly be called a “conspiracy,” the plaintiff hasn’t offered any evidence these many employees conspired against his business and website because the website owner is a conservative.
While Plaintiff alleges in a conclusory manner that members of the purported enterprise had a common purpose to discriminate against and censor conservatives and to damage businesses that conservatives run, Plaintiff has not alleged any facts to demonstrate that each member shared this common purpose.
And the “racketeering” part of the RICO allegations is no better. The court has stared long and hard at the complaint and can’t find anything supporting the allegations made or the conclusions drawn by the plaintiff.
As best the Court can discern from the Amended Complaint, the “scheme or artifice to defraud” that Plaintiff alleges is Defendant’s scheme to suppress conservative viewpoints while claiming viewpoint neutrality. See, e.g., DE 19 ¶ 18 (“Google has defrauded hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of conservative Floridians in an ongoing effort to discriminate and purge conservatives from Google’s platforms.”); id. ¶ 43 (“Google fraudulently manipulated Search, and made it appear as if Lincoln did not exist.”). And, as best the Court can discern, the transmitted wire communications that Plaintiff alleges are Defendant’s email, chat, and blog communications with Plaintiff about how to conform the website to Defendant’s standards and to optimize the number of visits. See, e.g., id. ¶ 54 (“Google and its agents communicated with Lincoln in interstate commerce hundreds of times using the wires (via Google blogs/chat rooms).”). Plaintiff has not alleged facts to show how the wire communications were “for the purpose of executing” the scheme or artifice to defraud. That is, Plaintiff has not explained how Defendant’s communications about website modifications were for the purpose of furthering the suppression of conservative viewpoints.
If those communications weren’t fraudulent, there’s no wire fraud. For communications to be fraudulent, they need to be deceptive. That Google never informed the plaintiff of things that actually weren’t happening isn’t actionable.
Plaintiff’s claim of fraud relies, at least in part, on the failure of Defendant to communicate certain information to Plaintiff. See, e.g., DE 19 ¶ 15 (“Google fraudulently concealed from Lincoln the fact that Google intended to violate Lincoln’s First Amendment Rights and interfere with Lincoln’s business.”); id. ¶ 26 (“Google concealed the fact that no matter what Lincoln did, Lincoln would never obtain any Search results.”); id. ¶ 39 (“Google concealed its institutional bias from the public, including Lincoln.”); id. ¶ 62 (“In its many communications with Lincoln, Google concealed from Lincoln the material fact that Google discriminates against conservatives and that it fraudulently manipulates Search.”)
It’s conjecture on top of conjecture, which isn’t anywhere near what’s needed to survive a motion to dismiss. That goes for the tortious interference allegations, too. There was no contract between Google and the plaintiff. Without a contract or agreement that could be interfered with, there’s no basis for claims of interference.
Google argued the First Amendment protects its “editorial judgments in ranking search results” and, even if the allegations of bias were true, protects Google’s biases as well. The plaintiff’s response was basically, “No, it doesn’t.” Again, that’s not nearly enough to sustain this lawsuit.
Plaintiff does not meaningfully respond to Defendant’s argument, provide any First Amendment analysis, or address this caselaw. Instead, Plaintiff simply states: “The First Amendment does not protect Google’s fraudulent conduct that induced Lincoln to change its website. Fraud and fraudulent concealment is not an ‘editorial judgment’.”
The court then points out this lawsuit is a prime example of “shotgun pleading,” where every count adopts all of the proceeding allegations, resulting in the final count being a rerun of the entire pleading to that point. The court notes this makes it all but impossible for the court to suss out which allegations are tied to which cause of action, making the entire thing an incoherent mess. The complaint is dismissed, but without prejudice. The plaintiff has one more chance to amend the complaint into something the court can address on a point-by-point basis.
Even if this does return to court in better shape, it’s unlikely to change the outcome. What the court could address shows the allegations are weak, conclusory, and supported by little more than the plaintiff’s insistence he’s being discriminated against.