A federal judge has thrown out the Republican National Committee's lawsuit against Google for allegedly sending fundraising messages into Gmail users' spam folders.
In a decision issued Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge Daniel Calabretta in the Eastern District of California ruled that Google is protected from the claims by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which explicitly allows web companies to make good-faith efforts to suppress “objectionable” material, such as suspected spam.
Calabretta wrote that the political committee's allegations against Google, even if proven true, wouldn't show that the company acted in bad faith by sending emails to the Gmail spam folders.
Instead, he said the allegations regarding bad faith were “pure speculation.”
“Plaintiff argues that the only reasonable inference for why its emails were labelled as spam is Google’s alleged political animus,” he wrote. “This is pure speculation, lacking facts from which the court could infer animus or an absence of good faith.”
The decision comes in a battle dating to last October, when the Republican National Committee alleged that Google was “discriminating based on political affiliation and unlawfully controlling the flow of information to the public” by designating fundraising messages as spam.
The complaint was referred to a North Carolina State University study that found Gmail Gmail flags around 68% of Republican campaign emails as spam, compared to 8% Democratic campaign emails.
Google denied filtering emails for political reasons. "Google designs its spam-filtering technology to make its product better for users — not for any political or partisan purposes. Indeed, effective spam filtering is a key feature of Gmail," the company wrote earlier this year, when it urged Calabretta to dismiss the lawsuit.
Calabretta said in his ruling that the North Carolina study provides "some evidence that Google could be acting without good faith,” but also said the study wasn't sufficient in itself to allow the lawsuit to proceed.
He added that the study “expressly states there is no reason to believe Google was acting in bad faith.”
The Republican committee's complaint included claims that Google violated California's common carrier law (which prohibits telecommunications companies from discriminating when transmitting messages), a state civil rights law that prohibits discrimination, an unfair competition law, and that the company wrongly interfered with potential economic relationships.
Calabretta's ruling allows the committee to amend its allegations and re-file the claims relating to unfair competition and potential economic relationships. The other claims were dismissed with prejudice -- meaning they can't be brought again.
“No court, much less a court interpreting California’s common carrier law, has found an email service provider to be a common carrier. This Court declines to be the first,” he wrote, regarding allegations that Google had violated California's telecommunications law.
He also said California's civil rights law prohibits discrimination based on factors such as race, sex or religion, but doesn't cover discrimination based on political affiliation.
Earlier this year, the Federal Election Commission rejected a complaint by Republican groups that alleged Google's spam filter disproportionately rejected GOP fundraising emails during the 2020 election cycle.
That agency wrote that Google “credibly asserts that its spam filter is applied on a politically neutral basis and for a commercial purpose.”