Karate School Owner Has No Right To Sue Over Search Ads, Google Says

A karate school owner who advertises on Google shouldn't be allowed to proceed with a federal class-action accusing the company of mishandling paid search campaigns, Google argues in new court papers.

Instead, Mark Trudeau, co-owner of Troy Martial Arts, must pursue his claims in arbitration, Google contends in papers filed with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The company is asking the 9th Circuit to reject Trudeau's attempt to revive his lawsuit.

The legal battle dates to February 2018, when Trudeau, a resident of Oakland County, Michigan, sued Google for allegedly displaying pay-per-click ads for his karate studio when users' queries contained “negative” keywords -- meaning terms that were supposed to prevent ads from appearing.

Last year, U.S. District Court Judge Beth Labson Freeman in San Jose, California granted Google's motion to send the matter to arbitration. Freeman ruled that Google's contract with search advertisers required arbitration of all disputes.



Trudeau is now asking the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse that decision and reinstate the case in federal court. He argues that Google didn't add an arbitration clause to its advertiser contract until September of 2017 -- after the company allegedly mishandled his search campaign. He also argues that before September of 2017, Google had promised to avoid retroactive changes to its terms of service.

Google counters in its new papers that Trudeau and his business could have eschewed the arbitration provision back in 2017. “Google gave appellants the right to opt out of arbitration if they did not like any part of the dispute resolution agreement; they declined and chose to accept the 2017 terms in their entirety,” Google argues.

Trudeau alleged that he began advertising with Google in 2012, and agreed to pay between 50 cents and $5 per click. He also said he attempted to use “negative” keywords to block ads from being displayed when people's search queries suggested they lived far from Oakland County. For instance, he said, he wanted to block ads from being displayed to people who used the word “Southfield” in their queries, because he didn't believe people in Southfield would travel to Troy for martial arts training.

Despite his attempts to block those ads, Google sometimes served ads when the queries contained “negative” keywords like Southfield, Trudeau alleged. For example, he alleged, if search users misspelled “Southfield” as “Douthfield,” Google sometimes showed ads for his studio in Troy.

For its part, Google says it “fully disclosed how negative keywords work and advised advertisers that they must include misspellings or variations of negative keywords if they want to block their ads from appearing in response to searches containing such terms.”

Trudeau is expected to respond to Google's newest argument by mid-June.

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