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.

This, too:

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.

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Filed Under: anti-conservative bias, rico, search results
Companies: dj lincoln, google, seniorcare


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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 22 Jan 2021 @ 10:16am

    Seems like a credible person

    'The accused was mean to me, they should have to give me ninety millions dollars or shut down entirely.'

    Can't imagine why Google might have had trouble with that particular client, if their legal arguments are at all indicative of their behavior I can't see how anyone couldn't take their claims at face value and am positively baffled that the court didn't.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
      identicon
      Lolrekt, 22 Jan 2021 @ 10:52am

      Re: Seems like a credible person

      I too honor and obey our glorious tech overlords!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Baron von Robber, 22 Jan 2021 @ 11:15am

        Re: Re: Seems like a credible person

        We know. Here you are using tech overlord computers, over tech overlord wires on tech overlord servers, with tech overlord browsers and your tech overload bs.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 22 Jan 2021 @ 1:32pm

      Re: Seems like a credible person

      Back when I worked at a hosting provider, there was one guy who threatened to sue us because he was receiving spam email.

      He also thought the US Postal Service was out to get him, and that we might somehow be part of that.

      So yeah, credibility.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 25 Jan 2021 @ 4:44am

        Re: Re: Seems like a credible person

        Washington State passed a law once or almost did that would have made SPAMmers pay. Why not just lock them up for wire fraud for pretending to be Big Tech. Why doesn't Big Tech sue them UNLESS...

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Baron von Robber, 22 Jan 2021 @ 11:13am

    I guess it's sad that courts are last bastion of reality vs Republican fantasies.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 25 Jan 2021 @ 12:15am

      Re:

      "I guess it's sad that courts are last bastion of reality vs Republican fantasies."

      Well, on the positive side, 1 out of 3 americans being hopelessly inept and malicious clowns does offer no end of entertainment value. Although I guess the funny fades a bit if you have to put with a few of those living in your actual neighborhood.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 25 Jan 2021 @ 4:45am

        Re: Re:

        Yeah find an extreme Republican and use it as a brush to paint anyone who isn't in your party.

        So did Biden get those 2k checks OUT THE DOOR?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Jan 2021 @ 11:46am

    When did 'conservative' become a protected class? I do not recall this happening, oh well.

    Perhaps it is wishful thinking on their part, one of those unwritten laws.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Bloof (profile), 22 Jan 2021 @ 2:56pm

      Re:

      Conservatives believe they should be a protected class, while simultaneously demanding all protections put in place to defend actual persecuted minorities should be abolished as conservatives can't be as mean to them as they used to be, therefore that means they're not necessary.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Jan 2021 @ 12:16pm

    The judges can't establish jurisdiction over google. It's a harboring and fugitive rico crap.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Jan 2021 @ 1:26pm

    Why didn't he just ask for complete ownership of Alphabet and ninety trillion
    space credits...just as likely to happen

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Bobvious, 22 Jan 2021 @ 3:25pm

    Conjecture on conjecture

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Alan Bleiweiss, 22 Jan 2021 @ 4:54pm

    Could have saved Lincoln from shooting themselves in the head

    As an SEO auditor, I could have saved Lincoln a lot of wasted time and money. Any basic audit would point out "your site is shite".

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    BernardoVerda (profile), 22 Jan 2021 @ 5:15pm

    Do I have this right?

    The guy's whole case boils down to:

    My on-line advertising effort wasn't as successful as I hoped it would be.
    It must be Google's fault -- it's a conspiracy!!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Jan 2021 @ 3:43am

    "Google's anti-conservative bias..."

    These asshats better pray God Google never really develops a true anti-conservative bias, since they would be within their rights to do so and have more than sufficient funds to defend that right. More horrible still for the idiot conservative who might attempt a lawsuit, the magic, Google algorithms are proprietary, intellectual property and not subject to public review. I look forward to a serious attempt to pursue a suit of this nature just to see Google smile and say, "come at me, bro'."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 23 Jan 2021 @ 9:14am

      Re: "Google's anti-conservative bias..."

      Google is mostly a robot and has little meaningful human oversight.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 25 Jan 2021 @ 4:50am

      Re: "Google's anti-conservative bias..."

      Screencaps of Twitter's censorship buttons were leaked.

      Conservatives know there is a bias against them online, but they've never been silenced. The bias is in the use of the liberal definitions of subjective terms like "hate" or "misogyny."

      Liberals are edging more towards the "find out who you are not allowed to cricitize" camp than the "we may not agree with what you say but we'll defend your right to say it" camp. That's also obvious.

      One day people will not even be allowed to question affirmative action, and are no longer allowed to question such "settled" issues that have been "explained" to us dumbfolk like why we have to let trans "women" compete against biological women.

      Since it's illogical and unsustainable, the bias will crash, though watching Parler get deplatformed was interesting especially in light of "blame the user, not the platform" (unless the platform is conservative).

      What's done in the dark will be brought to the light. The same hackers lawyers use to defame their adversaries are the ones who organized the capitol riots. Not very good optics there.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Jan 2021 @ 5:34am

    All the evidence I see points to Google having a pro-conservative bias.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    McGyver (profile), 25 Jan 2021 @ 6:09am

    Wahhh haaa ahhh wahhh... Everyone is mean to meeee...

    Conservatives- The spoiled annoying, smelly, whiny kid who throws tantrums over everything and can’t understand why nobody likes him or wants him around... only he’s not a kid anymore, he’s 70 and that’s been his entire life.

    If it wasn’t so insipid and all encompassing, it would be comical, but it’s getting really tiresome now.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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