Court Won't Reinstate Karate School Owner's Class-Action Against Google

A karate school owner who advertised on Google can't proceed with a federal class-action accusing the company of mishandling paid-search campaigns, a federal appellate court has confirmed.

Instead, Mark Trudeau, co-owner of Troy Martial Arts, must pursue his claims in arbitration, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled late last week.

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.

Trudeau alleged he began advertising with Google in 2012, and agreed to pay between 50 cents and $5 per click. He 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 at blocking ads from people looking for out-of-area studios, he alleged that Google sometimes showed ads for his business when search users misspelled “Southfield” as “Douthfield.”

Google said 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.”

The search company also argued that its terms of service required arbitration of all disputes.

U.S. District Court Judge Beth Labson Freeman in San Jose, California agreed with Google and sent the matter to arbitration.

Trudeau then asked the 9th Circuit to reinstate the case in federal court. He argued 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 argued that before September of 2017, Google had promised to avoid retroactive changes to its terms of service.

The appellate judges rejected those arguments. In a four-page opinion issued Friday, the judges wrote that Trudeau was bound by Google's 2017 terms of service, which included the arbitration clause.

“Google gave Mr. Trudeau notice of the new terms and he affirmatively accepted them,” the judges wrote.

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