Locksmith Owner Launches New Challenge To Search Results

A locksmith owner who previously attempted to sue Google over its search results now alleges in a new lawsuit that Google, Yahoo and Microsoft's Bing violate antitrust law.

Baldino's Lock & Key of Newington, Virginia alleges in new court papers that the three search engines -- which together dominate the search market -- "abused their monopoly power" in order to convince companies to purchase paid-search listings.

Specifically, Baldino's argues that the search companies "flood their organic results (including map results) with fake listings in order to induce legitimate locksmiths to pay them for advertising spots."

"Defendants have abused their monopoly power to compel plaintiff to pay them for advertising positions plaintiff would otherwise not purchase," Baldino's alleges in a complaint filed Friday in federal court in the District of Columbia.

The new complaint appears to mark the latest twist in Baldino's long-running battle with Google over its search results. The locksmith first sued Google in 2014, alleging that the company violated racketeering laws as well as false advertising laws by "publishing the names of illegally operating locksmiths."

Owner Mark Baldino, who operates in D.C., Virginia and Maryland, says he lost more than $8 million in business since 2008, according to The New York Times.

He alleged in court papers that Google published more than 400 listings for locksmiths in Maryland, but that the state only had 150 licensed locksmiths in the state. In Virginia, Google allegedly posted more than 1,000 names of locksmiths, although the state only had 325 people licensed to provide locksmith services.

Baldino also took issue with search results that went beyond mere links, but also showed businesses' locations on a map, pictures and reviews. He alleged that Google's platform was "aiding and abetting a fraud" by "creating a picture of legitimacy for an illegal and fraudulent listing."

U.S. District Court Judge Claude Hilton in the Eastern District of Virginia dismissed the lawsuit in January of 2015, ruling that Google wasn't responsible for any misrepresentations in its search results. "The unlicensed and illegal locksmiths are the advertisers that made representations," Hilton wrote.

Baldino appealed to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld Hilton's ruling last year. "The locksmiths who generated the information ... are solely responsible for making any faulty or misleading representations or descriptions of fact," an appellate panel wrote.

Those earlier rulings could make it difficult for the locksmith to proceed with a new complaint against Google, according to Santa Clara University law professor Eric Goldman. He says courts generally don't allow people who lose lawsuits to continually file new cases based on the same underlying facts.

"It's a fairness principle," he says, referring to the legal concept that bars new lawsuits after the first case is dismissed. If litigants had the opportunity to bring a claim, but didn't, "they don't get a chance to raise the claim in a subsequent lawsuit," he says.

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