Locksmiths Seek To Revive Suit Against Search Engines

A group of 14 locksmiths are asking a federal appellate court to revive a lawsuit accusing Google, Bing and Yahoo of promoting listings by "scammers."

"When a consumer is locked out of his or her automobile or home and is in dire need of help, they use the most available and convenient tool to find that help, usually a hand held device such as a smart phone, to conduct an immediate internet search for a local locksmith," the locksmiths, including Baldino's Lock & Key of Newington, Virginia, write in papers filed late last month with the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. "All too often the consumer’s call results in the arrival of an unlicensed and unqualified person who overcharges and provides inferior service."

The locksmiths are asking the appellate court to reinstate a 2017 complaint alleging that Google, Yahoo and Bing populate their results with listings by unlicensed locksmiths in order to convince licensed locksmiths to pay for ads. The businesses that sued contends that search companies' alleged actions amounted to the "abuse of monopoly control."



U.S. District Court Judge Trevor McFadden in Washington, D.C. dismissed the locksmiths' claims in January. He ruled that the Communications Decency Act protects the search engines from liability for returning links to unlicensed businesses. That law provides that web platforms aren't responsible for displaying material created by third parties.

"In common sense terms, it is the scam locksmiths ... who are providing the information that potentially creates liability here," McFadden wrote.

Baldino's and the other locksmiths now argue that they should have been allowed to prove that the search engines -- and not the "scam" locksmiths -- created the problematic listings.

"The District Court made its findings of fact before there was any discovery, and no evidence was presented," Baldino's and the others write.

"The complaint here focuses on information that is created by and originates with the search engines and not on information that originated with the scam locksmiths and was merely re published," they add. "The location information at issue here does not appear anywhere else on the Internet. It was created and published in the first instance by the search engines."

Google, Microsoft and Yahoo are expected to file their court papers later this month.

Baldino's previously sued Google over its search results. That case was dismissed in 2015 by U.S. District Court Judge Claude Hilton in the Eastern District of Virginia. Hilton ruled that Google wasn't responsible for any misrepresentations in its search results.

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

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