Kinderstart.Com, LLC v. Google, Inc.

Filing 42

ORDER BY JUDGE JEREMY FOGEL (1) GRANTING 11 DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS WITH LEAVE TO AMEND; AND (2) DEFERRING CONSIDERATION OF 12 DEFENDANT'S SPECIAL MOTION TO STRIKE. (jflc2, COURT STAFF) (Filed on 7/13/2006)

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Kinderstart.Com, LLC v. Google, Inc. Doc. 42 Case 5:06-cv-02057-JF Document 42 Filed 07/13/2006 Page 1 of 24 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 NOT FOR CITATION 8 IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 9 FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 10 SAN JOSE DIVISION 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 1 **E-Filed 7/13/06** KINDERSTART.COM LLC, a California limited liability company, on behalf of itself and all others similarly situated, Plaintiff, v. GOOGLE, INC., a Delaware corporation, Defendant. Case Number C 06-2057 JF (RS) ORDER1 (1) GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS WITH LEAVE TO AMEND, AND (2) DEFERRING CONSIDERATION OF DEFENDANT'S SPECIAL MOTION TO STRIKE [re: docket nos. 11, 12] Defendant Google, Inc. ("Google") moves to dismiss the First Amended Complaint ("FAC") of Plaintiff Kinderstart.com LLC ("Kinderstart") pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) and Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the reasons set forth below, the motion will be granted with leave to amend. Consideration of Google's special motion to strike pursuant to California Code of Civil Procedure 425.16 will be deferred pending further amendment of Kinderstart's complaint. 28 This disposition is not designated for publication and may not be cited. Case No. C 06-2057 JF (RS) O R D E R (1) GRANTING DEFENDANT ' S MOTION TO DISMISS WITH LEAVE TO AMEND, AND (2) D E F E R R I N G CONSIDERATION OF DEFENDANT'S SPECIAL MOTION TO STRIKE (JFEX2) Dockets.Justia.com Case 5:06-cv-02057-JF Document 42 Filed 07/13/2006 Page 2 of 24 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 I. BACKGROUND Kinderstart filed the instant action, on behalf of itself and others similarly situated, on March 17, 2006. On April 12, 2006, Kinderstart filed the operative FAC, alleging nine claims for relief: (1) Violation of Right to Free Speech under the U.S. Constitution and the California Constitution, (2) Attempted Monopolization under Section 2 of the Sherman Act, (3) Monopolization under Section 2 of the Sherman Act, (4) Violations of the Communications Act, 47 U.S.C. 201, et seq., (5) Unfair Competition under California Business and Professional Code 17200, et seq., (6) Price Discrimination under California Business and Professional Code 17045, (7) Breach of the Implied Covenant of Good Faith and Fair Dealing, (8) Defamation and Libel, and (9) Negligent Interference with Prospective Economic Advantage. Kinderstart alleges the following facts. Kinderstart operates a website, www.kinderstart.com, which is a directory and search engine for links to information and resources on subjects related to young children. At one point, Kinderstart was "one of the choicest Internet destinations for thousands of parents, caregivers, educators, nonprofit and advocacy representatives, and federal, state and local organizations and officials in the United State s and worldwide to access vital information about infants and toddlers." FAC 19. It launched in May 2000 and at its peak was "presenting in excess of 10,000 page views to visitors on a monthly basis." Id. 20. Google is the world's most widely used search engine. Id. 2. Google "actively invites to `anyone with an Internet connection' worldwide to perform searches for Websites and Webpages" and presents results of its searches on a "Search Engine Results Page" or "Results Page." Id. 2. According to the FAC, Google "induces users, the public, and the cyberspace community at large to expect and believe that Results Pages generated from a search every single time will be objective and neutral, untrammeled by human intervention or preference and free of any arbitrariness." Id. 31. Google states on its "Technology Overview" page: "`There is no human involvement or manipulation of results, which is why users have come to trust Google as a source of objective information untainted by paid placement.'" Id. 27. Google states on its 2 Case No. C 06-2057 JF (RS) O R D E R (1) GRANTING DEFENDANT ' S MOTION TO DISMISS WITH LEAVE TO AMEND, AND (2) D E F E R R I N G CONSIDERATION OF DEFENDANT'S SPECIAL MOTION TO STRIKE (JFEX2) Case 5:06-cv-02057-JF Document 42 Filed 07/13/2006 Page 3 of 24 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 "Information for Webmasters" page: "`We're committed to providing thorough and unbiased search results for our users. We stop indexing pages of a site only at the request of the webmaster who's responsible for those pages, when it's spamming our index, or as required by law.'" FAC 38 (emphasis in original). Google also "has ownership and control over a computer process known as `PageRankTM', an automated, computer algorithm that generates a score as a whole number up to `10'. PageRank reflects the extent and nature of hyperlinking within the Internet to a particular Website and its web pages." Id. 32. Google explains: "`Wondering whether a new website is worth your time? Use the Toolbar's format PageRankTM display to tell you how Google's algorithms assess the importance of the page you're viewing.'" Id. Kinderstart alleges that "PageRank is not a mere statement of opinion of the innate value or human appeal of a given Website and its web pages," but instead is "a mathematically-generated product of measuring and assessing the quantity and depth of all the hyperlinks on the Web that tie into PageRanked Website, under programmatic determination by Defendant Google." Id. 33. "On information and belief, PageRank as promulgated and propagated by Defendant Google throughout the Internet, has become the most widely accepted relative measure of the appeal, popularity and relevance of a Website on the Internet. As such, Defendant Google has created and now manages and controls the de facto and prevailing standard of PageRank for rating Websites throughout the United States." Id. 56. Google also has commenced programs to make digital copies and archives of university libraries and "to create a digital, searchable archive of published books, which has the potential to be the functional equivalent and scale of the U.S. Library of Congress." Id. 23, 24. In addition, Google has provided $3 million and promises of equipment and expertise to the Library of Congress's "World Digital Library" project. Id. 25. Kinderstart alleges that Google "is a common carrier that makes a public offer to provide communications facilities for subscribers to freely use its facilities to link to and connect with one or more Websites that are hosted on the Internet." Id. 41. Kinderstart provides the 3 Case No. C 06-2057 JF (RS) O R D E R (1) GRANTING DEFENDANT ' S MOTION TO DISMISS WITH LEAVE TO AMEND, AND (2) D E F E R R I N G CONSIDERATION OF DEFENDANT'S SPECIAL MOTION TO STRIKE (JFEX2) Case 5:06-cv-02057-JF Document 42 Filed 07/13/2006 Page 4 of 24 1 2 3 4 following quotation from Google's Form 10-K for the fiscal year ending December 31, 2005: We maintain the largest, most comprehensive index of web sites and other content, and we make this information freely available to anyone with an Internet connection. Id. 22 (emphasis in FAC). 5 Kinderstart claims that Google has engaged in "pervasive monopolistic practices," which 6 have led to the denial of free speech rights, prevention and destruction of competition, and 7 predatory pricing. Id. 18. Kinderstart further claims that "[a]ny Website seeking to gain 8 visibility, site traffic and page views must rely upon Defendant Google's Google Engine as an 9 essential facility for receiving search query hits." Id. 49. Although MSN and Yahoo also 10 operate in the search engine market, they "are not focused principally on search technology and 11 search-driven advertising." Id. 54. 12 According to Kinderstart, Google "does in fact monitor, manipulate and censor the output 13 and content on Results Pages, whether programmatically through a computer or individually 14 th rough the intervention and discretion of one or more human decision-makers under the employ, 15 direction, supervision and/or oversight of Defendant Google." Id. 70. Google engages in the 16 practice of "Blockage" of websites by "delisting, de-indexing and censoring" websites, including 17 the unacknowledged practice of isolating a website from search queries, either permanently or for 18 an unspecified probationary period. Id. 3, 60, 63. Blockage also includes "penalization," by 19 which a site's PageRank is reduced or set to zero "presumably based on either stated or unstated 20 `quality guidelines.'" Id. 61. Websites may experience "Blockage" at any time and may be 21 unable to receive an explanation from Google as to why it occurred. Id. 62, 63. Kinderstart 22 alleges that although Google denies engaging in "Blockage," it has admitted engaging in the 23 "euphemistically" named practices of "`search quality improvement' or anti-Webspamming." Id. 24 64, 65. Kinderstart alleges that the practice of "Blockage" is positively correlated with "the 25 failure and/or the reduction in AdWords advertising." Id. 69. 26 In 2003, Kinderstart enrolled in Google's AdSense Program and paid for a series of 27 sponsored links from Google. Id. 21. In or about August 2003, Kinderstart began placing 28 4 Case No. C 06-2057 JF (RS) O R D E R (1) GRANTING DEFENDANT ' S MOTION TO DISMISS WITH LEAVE TO AMEND, AND (2) D E F E R R I N G CONSIDERATION OF DEFENDANT'S SPECIAL MOTION TO STRIKE (JFEX2) Case 5:06-cv-02057-JF Document 42 Filed 07/13/2006 Page 5 of 24 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 advertisements from the Google Network onto its site and receiving payments from Google for these placements. Id. On March 19, 2005, Kinderstart's website "suffered a cataclysmic fall of 70% or more in its monthly page views and traffic." Id. 74. Kinderstart eventually "realized that common key word searches on Defendant Google's search engine no longer listed KSC.com as a result with any of its past visibility." Id. With this drop in search engine referrals, Kinderstart's "monthly AdSense revenue suffered an equally precipitous fall by over 80%." Id. 75. Kinderstart concludes that its website "was officially, practically and illegally Blocked by Defendant Google." Id. 76. Its website has been assigned a PageRank of "0" by the Google Toolbar. Id. 87. Kinderstart was not notified in advance that this would occur and has not been instructed as to how it can cause Google to cease the "Blockage." Id. 78. Kinderstart is not aware of any way in which it has violated Google's guidelines. Id. 85. Kinderstart believes that "over 100 other sites of California and nationwide Websites that participated in AdSense suffered a loss of traffic and referrals as a result of Blockage by Defendant Google." Id. 77. Additionally, "a multitude of Websites of Class members consistently receive significantly and relatively high rankings and referrals from other search engines such as MSN and Yahoo, but suffer deflated ratings and rankings from search engine results presented by Defendant Google's Engine." Id. 80. On May 2, 2006, Google filed a motion to dismiss all of Kinderstart's claims pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) and Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure, along with a motion to strike Kinderstart's first, eighth, and ninth claims pursuant to California Code of Civil Procedure 425.16. Kinderstart opposes both motions. The Court heard oral argument on June 30, 2006. II. LEGAL STANDARD For purposes of a motion to dismiss, the plaintiff's allegations are taken as true, and the Court must construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Jenkins v. McKeithen, 395 U.S. 411, 421 (1969). Leave to amend must be granted unless it is clear that the complaint's deficiencies cannot be cured by amendment. Lucas v. Department of Corrections, 5 Case No. C 06-2057 JF (RS) O R D E R (1) GRANTING DEFENDANT ' S MOTION TO DISMISS WITH LEAVE TO AMEND, AND (2) D E F E R R I N G CONSIDERATION OF DEFENDANT'S SPECIAL MOTION TO STRIKE (JFEX2) Case 5:06-cv-02057-JF Document 42 Filed 07/13/2006 Page 6 of 24 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 66 F.3d 245, 248 (9th Cir. 1995). When amendment would be futile, however, dismissal may be ordered with prejudice. Dumas v. Kipp, 90 F.3d 386, 393 (9th Cir. 1996). On a motion to dismiss, the Court's review is limited to the face of the complaint and matters judicially noticeable. North Star International v. Arizona Corporation Commission, 720 F.2d 578, 581 (9th Cir. 1983); MGIC Indemnity Corp. v. Weisman, 803 F.2d 500, 504 (9th Cir. 1986); Beliveau v. Caras, 873 F.Supp. 1393, 1395 (C.D. Cal. 1995). However, under the "incorporation by reference" doctrine, the Court also may consider documents that are referenced extensively in the complaint and accepted by all parties as authentic, even if they are not physically attached to the complaint. In re Silicon Graphics, Inc. Securities Litigation, 183 F.3d 970 (9th Cir. 1999). "Under the `incorporation by reference' rule of this Circuit, a court may look beyond the pleadings without converting the Rule 12(b)(6) motion into one for summary judgment." Van Buskirk v. Cable News Network, Inc., 284 F.3d 977, 980 (9th Cir. 2002). III. DISCUSSION 1. Violation of Right to Free Speech Kinderstart first claims that Google's practices violate Kinderstart's right to free speech under both the United States Constitution and the California Constitution. A. U.S. Constitution The Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that "Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech." U.S. Const. amend. I. Google argues that Kinderstart's claim pursuant to the First Amendment must be dismissed because the First Amendment governs state actors, not private parties. See, e.g., Lugar v. Edmondson Oil Co., 457 U.S. 922, 937 (1982) ("Our cases have accordingly insisted that the conduct allegedly causing the deprivation of a federal right be fairly attributable to the State."). The Ninth Circuit has recognized "at least four different criteria, or tests, used to identify state action: (1) public function; (2) joint action; (3) governmental compulsion or coercion; and (4) governmental nexus. Satisfaction of any one test is sufficient to find state action, so long as 6 Case No. C 06-2057 JF (RS) O R D E R (1) GRANTING DEFENDANT ' S MOTION TO DISMISS WITH LEAVE TO AMEND, AND (2) D E F E R R I N G CONSIDERATION OF DEFENDANT'S SPECIAL MOTION TO STRIKE (JFEX2) Case 5:06-cv-02057-JF Document 42 Filed 07/13/2006 Page 7 of 24 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 no countervailing factor exists." Kirtley v. Rainey, 326 F.3d 1088, 1092, (9th Cir. 2003) (citations omitted). The Ninth Circuit has also used the "symbiotic relationship" test to identify state action. See, e.g., Brunette v. Humane Society of Ventura County, 294 F.3d 1205, 1213 (9th Cir. 2002). Kinderstart argues that First Amendment protections apply because Google has dedicated its search engine to "public use." For the reasons discussed below, the Court concludes that Kinderstart's allegations are insufficient under any of these tests. 1. Public Function "Under the public function test, `when private individuals or groups are endowed by the State with powers or functions governmental in nature, they become agencies or instrumentalities of the State and subject to its constitutional limitations.' To satisfy the public function test, the function at issue must be both traditionally and exclusively governmental." Lee v. Katz, 276 F.3d 550, 555 (9th Cir. 2002) (citations omitted). Kinderstart alleges that "Defendant Google actively performs . . . state-like functions, including . . . the creation, management and stewardship of universal, public, Internet-accessible index, archive and repository of the world's Internet content and information that cover all essential topics and subject matter for use by the general public." FAC 105. However, these functions, made possible by new technology, are neither traditionally nor exclusively governmental. Kinderstart's assertion that Google's digital archive "has the potential to be the functional equivalent . . . of the U.S. Library of Congress," id. 24 (emphasis added), is no more than speculation that Google may perform a state function at some time in the future, not a viable claim that it does so today. Nor has Kinderstart alleged that the government has "endowed" Google with the powers or functions in question. 2. Joint Action "To be engaged in joint action, a private party must be a `willful participant' with the State or its agents in an activity which deprives others of constitutional rights." Dennis v. Sparks, 449 U.S. 24, 27 (1980). Kinderstart does not allege that the government was a willful participant in the activities that Kinderstart claims violated its free expression rights. 7 Case No. C 06-2057 JF (RS) O R D E R (1) GRANTING DEFENDANT ' S MOTION TO DISMISS WITH LEAVE TO AMEND, AND (2) D E F E R R I N G CONSIDERATION OF DEFENDANT'S SPECIAL MOTION TO STRIKE (JFEX2) Case 5:06-cv-02057-JF Document 42 Filed 07/13/2006 Page 8 of 24 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 3. Governmental Compulsion/Coercion Kinderstart makes no allegations of compulsion or coercion by the government. 4. Nexus/Entwinement "[T]he nexus test asks whether `there is a such a close nexus between the State and the challenged action that the seemingly private behavior may be fairly treated as that of the State itself.'" Kirtley v. Rainey, 326 F.3d 1088, 1094-95 (9th Cir. 2003) (citing Brentwood Academy v. Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Ass'n, 531 U.S. 288, 295 (2001)). In Brentwood, 84% of an ostensibly private association's members were public schools which "largely provided for the Asso ciatio n's financial support" and whose officials, acting in their official capacity, "overwhelmingly perform[ed] all but the purely ministerial acts by which the Association exist[ed] and function[ed] in practical terms." Brentwood, 531 U.S. at 299. In addition, the state appointed members to the association's governing body, and association employees participated in the state retirement system. Id. at 300. Kinderstart's allegations fall far short of the level of "entwinement" with respect to finances, organization and personnel described in Brentwood. 5. Symbiotic Relationship "If a private entity . . . confers significant financial benefits indispensable to the government's `financial success,' then a symbiotic relationship may exist." Brunette v. Humane Society, 294 F.3d 1205, 1213 (9th Cir. 2002). Such a relationship may be sufficient to establish state action. Id. While Kinderstart alleges that Google is archiving digitally at least one stateowned university library and is supporting a Library of Congress project, it does not allege that Google is indispensable to the financial success of a government entity. See FAC 23, 24. 6. Private Space Dedicated for Public Use Kinderstart next argues that "[s]tate action is present when open space is free, open and dedicated to public use where free speech can and should thrive." Opposition, p. 3. Kinderstart alleges that Google's search engine is "freely available to anyone with an Internet connection." FAC 22. The Ninth Circuit held in Venetian Casino Resort, LLC v. Local Joint Executive Bd., 257 F.3d 937, 943 (9th Cir. 2001), that a casino owner who had formally dedicated property for 8 Case No. C 06-2057 JF (RS) O R D E R (1) GRANTING DEFENDANT ' S MOTION TO DISMISS WITH LEAVE TO AMEND, AND (2) D E F E R R I N G CONSIDERATION OF DEFENDANT'S SPECIAL MOTION TO STRIKE (JFEX2) Case 5:06-cv-02057-JF Document 42 Filed 07/13/2006 Page 9 of 24 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 use as public sidewalk could not exclude union demonstrators from the property. However, the Supreme Court has made clear that merely opening a space to the public does not dedicate the space to public use. See PruneYard Shopping Center v. Robins, 447 U.S. 74, 81 (1980) ("[P]roperty does not `lose its private character merely because the public is generally invited to use it for designated purposes.'"). Kinderstart has not alleged facts tending to show that Google has dedicated the operations of its search engine to public use. Kinderstart's argument that "[t]he sole function and purpose of the [Google] search engine is to promote and realize 24-7 speech and communication, openly and freely," Opposition, p. 4, is inconsistent with its allegation that "Defendant Google derives at least 98% of its total company revenues from [] search-driven advertising, which exceeded $3.1 billion for the year ended December 31, 2004." FAC 57 (emphasis added). B. California Constitution The California Supreme Court has stated that a "protective provision more definitive and inclusive than the First Amendment is contained in [California's] constitutional guarantee of the right of free speech and press." Robins v. Pruneyard Shopping Ctr., 23 Cal.3d 899, 908 (1979), aff'd sub. nom. PruneYard Shopping Center, 447 U.S. 74 ("[S]ections 2 and 3 of article I of the California Constitution protect speech and petitioning, reasonably exercised, in shopping centers even when the centers are privately owned."). In Trader Joe's Co. v. Progressive Campaigns, 73 Cal.A pp.4t h 425 (1999), the California Court of Appeal, applying Robins, held that a trial court did not abuse its discretion by concluding that a stand-alone grocery store had the right to exclude petitioners. The Court noted that: Pruneyard did not hold that the free speech and petitioning activity can be exercised only at large shopping centers. Nor did it hold that such activities can be exercised on any property except for individual residences and modest retail establishments. Rather, in resolving the specific dispute before it, the court developed a balancing test which can be applied to other situations. Pruneyard instructs us to balance the competing interests of the property owner and of the society with respect to the particular property or type of property at issue to determine whether there is a state constitutional right to engage in the challenged acti vi ty. 9 Case No. C 06-2057 JF (RS) O R D E R (1) GRANTING DEFENDANT ' S MOTION TO DISMISS WITH LEAVE TO AMEND, AND (2) D E F E R R I N G CONSIDERATION OF DEFENDANT'S SPECIAL MOTION TO STRIKE (JFEX2) Case 5:06-cv-02057-JF Document 42 Filed 07/13/2006 Page 10 of 24 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 Id. at 448. The Trader Joe's court held that the fact that Trader Joe's, unlike the shopping center in Robins, neither invited nor provided facilities for the public to meet friends, eat, rest, be entertained or otherwise congregate revealed a stronger interest in maintaining exclusive control, and that the "single structure, single-use store" was "not a public meeting place and society has no special interest in using it as such." Id. at 448. A three-justice plurality of the California Supreme Court has since clarified the relationship between California's free speech clause and private property in ruling that the California Constitution did not guarantee petitioners access to an urban apartment complex: [W]e conclude that the actions of a private property owner constitute state action for purposes of California's free speech clause only if the property is freely and openly accessible to the public. By establishing this threshold requirement for establishing state action, we largely follow the Court of Appeal decisions const ruing Robins. For example, our Courts of Appeal have consistently held that privately owned medical centers and their parking lots are not functionally equivalent to a traditional public forum for purposes of California's free speech clause because, among other things, they are not freely open to the public. Golden Gateway Center v. Golden Gateway Tenants Assn., 26 Cal.4th 1013, 1033 (2001) 14 (plurality opinion). Another California Court of Appeal opinion considered the question of what 15 constituted a public forum (though not the question of state action) in light of Golden Gateway: 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 10 Case No. C 06-2057 JF (RS) O R D E R (1) GRANTING DEFENDANT ' S MOTION TO DISMISS WITH LEAVE TO AMEND, AND (2) D E F E R R I N G CONSIDERATION OF DEFENDANT'S SPECIAL MOTION TO STRIKE (JFEX2) Nothing in Golden Gateway can be interpreted to support the conclusion that any large business establishment is a public forum for expressive activity simply because it is `freely and openly accessible to the public . . . .' Rather, the test appears to remain whether, considering the nature and circumstances of the private property, it has become the `functional equivalent of a traditional public forum.' Albertson's, Inc. v. Young, 107 Cal.App.4th 106, 117-18 (2003) (holding that the privatelyowned sidewalk outside a grocery store at a shopping center was not a public forum). While Kinderstart has alleged that Google has made its site "freely accessible," it has not alleged that users' freedom extends to the realm of speech. Nowhere does Kinderstart allege that Google has invited the public to speak through Google's search engine, either by enabling public editing of results/rankings or by promising that every website created by the public will be indexed, ranked, and displayed. Rather, Kinderstart alleges only that Google publicly states that it stops indexing pages in at least three specific circumstances. FAC 38. Kinderstart has not Case 5:06-cv-02057-JF Document 42 Filed 07/13/2006 Page 11 of 24 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 alleged facts tending to show that Google's search engine, encompassing its index, web search form, Results Pages and PageRank scores, is the "functional equivalent of a traditional public forum." See Albertson's, 107 Cal.App.4th at 117-18. While Kinderstart's counsel emphasized Google's size at oral argument, Albertson's makes clear that size is not dispositive, but "simply a factor to be weighed" when considering the interests of the property owner against those of society. Id. at 119. Accordingly, the Court concludes that the allegations of the FAC are insufficient to support a claim that Google's search engine is a public forum in which California Constitution grants Kinderstart a right to speak. 2. Attempted Monopolization Under Section 2 of the Sherman Act Kinderstart next alleges a claim for attempted monopolization under Section 2 of the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. 2, the elements of which are: (1) specific intent to control prices or destroy competition, (2) predatory or anticompetitive conduct directed toward accomplishing that purpose, (3) a dangerous probability of success and (4) causal antitrust injury. Forsyth v. Humana, Inc., 114 F.3d 1467, 1477 (9th Cir. 1997). In order to make out a claim of attempted monopolization, the plaintiff first must define the relevant market. Id. at 1475. The relevant market is "the field in which meaningful competition is said to exist . . . ." Image Technical Services, Inc. v. Eastman Kodak Co., 125 F.3d 1195, 1202 (9th Cir. 1997). A private party has standing to sue only if "`adversely affected by an anticompetitive aspect of the defendant's conduct.'" Datagate, Inc. v. Hewlett-Packard Co., 941 F.2d 864, 868 (9th Cir. 1991) (quoting Atlantic Richfield Co. v. USA Petroleum Co., 495 U.S. 328, 339 (1990)). Kinderstart alleges that it and Google are competitors in the "Search Engine Market" and the "Search Ad Market," but that Google has a dominant position in a third market, the "Website Ranking Market." Kinderstart claims that through its "statements, behavior, conduct, acts and omissions, . . . [Google] harbors and evinces specific intent to destroy competition in the Search Engine Market and the Search Ad Market," and to "control prices in the Search Ad Market." FAC 113-18. Kinderstart further claims that "Google has sufficient intent, power, and 11 Case No. C 06-2057 JF (RS) O R D E R (1) GRANTING DEFENDANT ' S MOTION TO DISMISS WITH LEAVE TO AMEND, AND (2) D E F E R R I N G CONSIDERATION OF DEFENDANT'S SPECIAL MOTION TO STRIKE (JFEX2) Case 5:06-cv-02057-JF Document 42 Filed 07/13/2006 Page 12 of 24 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 resources to create a dangerous probability" of success. FAC 119. Kinderstart alleges injury in the form of lost revenue, loss of returning and new web traffic, and loss of goodwill. FAC 121-22. The Court concludes that Kinderstart has failed to allege facts sufficient to support a claim of anti-competitive conduct, such as denial of access to an essential facility or refusal-todeal. Kinderstart does not identify any specific acts by Google that would evince an intent either to control prices in the Search Ad Market or to destroy competition in the Search Engine Market, nor has Kinderstart made clear what prices Google allegedly is attempting to control. Additionally, Kinderstart does not explain how the alleged conduct demonstrates the requisite intent. Although Kinderstart alleges that Blockage and PageRank devaluation have caused injury to Kinderstart in the form of lost traffic and revenue, the facts alleged are insufficient to show that Kinderstart has suffered an antitrust injury--the result of anti-competitive conduct. FAC 121, 122. Moreover, Kinderstart's allegations that Google removed Kinderstart from search results and lowered its PageRank do not suffice to allege predatory conduct as opposed to legitimate competitive actions. "[A]s a general matter `there is no duty to aid competitors.'" MetroNet Services Corp. v. Qwest Corp., 383 F.3d 1124, 1131 (9th Cir. 2004). Finally, Kinderstart alleged no facts sufficient to support its claim that Google has a dangerous probability of success in attempting to monopolize the Search Engine Market and Search Ad Market, or to show a causal anti trus t injury.2 A related problem is that Kinderstart has not sufficiently described the markets relevant to its claim. It is unclear how the Search Engine Market (described as the "market of search engine design, implementation and usage") is separable from the Search Ad Market (described as the "market of search-driven Internet advertising"), see FAC 113, 114, and Kinderstart does not describe the characteristics of the Website Ranking Market. See FAC 115. In the absence of an adequate description of the Website Ranking Market, Kinderstart has not alleged facts that would establish Google's monopoly power in such a market. "Monopoly power, for the purpose of section 2 of the Sherman Act, is `the power to control prices or exclude competition.'" Forsyth, 114 F.3d at 1475. Kinderstart has identified neither prices nor potential competitors in the Website Ranking Market. 12 Case No. C 06-2057 JF (RS) O R D E R (1) GRANTING DEFENDANT ' S MOTION TO DISMISS WITH LEAVE TO AMEND, AND (2) D E F E R R I N G CONSIDERATION OF DEFENDANT'S SPECIAL MOTION TO STRIKE (JFEX2) 2 Case 5:06-cv-02057-JF Document 42 Filed 07/13/2006 Page 13 of 24 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 3. Monopolization under Section 2 of the Sherman Act Kinderstart also asserts a claim for monopolization under Section 2 of the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. 2, the elements of which are: (1) possession of monopoly power in the relevant market, (2) willful acquisition or maintenance of that power, and (3) causal antitrust injury. Forsyth, 114 F.3d at 1475. As with attempted monopolization, a plaintiff claiming monopolization must first define the relevant market. Id. Kinderstart alleges monopolization of three markets: the Website Ranking Market, the Search Ad Market, and the Search Engine Market. First, Kinderstart alleges that Google maintains monopoly power in the Website Ranking Market by "assign[ing] PageRanks of various commercial Websites and competitive Websites to induce certain behaviors or to penalize certain behaviors of such sites, all to Google's illconceived gain and advantage." FAC 132. In its present form, this allegation is too vague to state a claim under the Sherman Act. Kinderstart does not allege what behaviors are induced or discouraged, or how they affect the market. Second, Kinderstart alleges that Google maintains monopoly power in the Search Ad Market by pressuring websites to purchase advertising in order to avoid decreased PageRank scores, and removal from Results Pages. FAC 130. However, because Kinderstart provides no specifics as to how Google creates this pressure, this allegation also is insufficient to state a claim under the Sherman Act. Finally, Kinderstart alleges that Google maintains monopoly power in the Search Engine Market through false representations that its search engine Results Pages are automated and objective, when in fact they are subject to human intervention and subjective. FAC 128. Kinderstart argues that Google is an "essential facility" within the market, and that by mani pulati ng its Results Pages, Google excludes competitors from this facility.3 Kinderstart Although the Supreme Court has declined either to endorse or repudiate the "essential facilities" doctrine, see Verizon Communications Inc. v. Law Offices of Curtis V. Trinko, LLP, 540 U.S. 398, the Ninth Circuit has recently applied it in MetroNet Servs. Corp. v. Qwest Corp., 383 F.3d 1124 (9th Cir. 2004). 13 Case No. C 06-2057 JF (RS) O R D E R (1) GRANTING DEFENDANT ' S MOTION TO DISMISS WITH LEAVE TO AMEND, AND (2) D E F E R R I N G CONSIDERATION OF DEFENDANT'S SPECIAL MOTION TO STRIKE (JFEX2) 3 Case 5:06-cv-02057-JF Document 42 Filed 07/13/2006 Page 14 of 24 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 concl udes that Google is an "essential facility or essential medium" because "the indexing, linking and referrals to such content afforded by Kinderstart over the Internet are essential to the operations, Web traffic, commerce, communications, and expression of speech by Class members." FAC 125. However, the threshold for finding a facility "essential" in the Ninth Circuit is high: "A facility that is controlled by a single firm will be considered `essential' only if control of the facility carries with it the power to eliminate competition in the downstream market." Alaska Airlines, Inc. v. United Airlines, Inc., 948 F.2d 536, 544 (9th Cir. 1991); see also, Olympia Equipment Leasing v. Western Union Telephone Co., 797 F.2d 370 (7th Cir. 1986) (finding no Sherman act violation where defendant obstructed plaintiff's sales efforts but did not eliminate the potential for competition). While Kinderstart alleges that its Web traffic dropped 70%, and its ad revenue dropped 80%, it does not allege that it or similarly situated class members face elimination as a result of Google's conduct. FAC 74, 75. Instead it alleges that "in spite of Defendant Google's wrongful conduct as alleged above, [Kinderstart] maintains extensive Website Content and links within its directory and index that are fully and remain actively hyperlinked throughout the Internet, and continues to generate sustainable level of traffic and PageViews from visitors." FAC 168 (emphasis added). Additionally, Kinderstart alleges that class members "consistently receive significantly and relatively high rankings and referrals from other search engines such as MSN and Yahoo." FAC 80. Accordingly, Kinderstart has not alleged adequately that Google, or its search engine, is an "essential facility" within the Search Engine Market. Kinderstart argues that by refusing to remedy the alleged "Blockage" of Kinderstart's website, Google has violated Section 2 under the "refusal to deal" doctrine as set forth in Aspen Skiing Co. v. Aspen Highlands Skiing Corp., 472 U.S. 585 (1985). In Aspen, the larger of two ski resorts with a long-standing, bilateral, cooperative and profitable arrangement to market joint ski passes later refused to deal with the smaller resort--not even allowing it to buy tickets at listed retail prices. Id. However, as the Supreme Court has noted, "Aspen is at or near the outer boundary of 2 liability." Verizon Communications Inc. v. Law Offices of Curtis V. Trinko, 14 Case No. C 06-2057 JF (RS) O R D E R (1) GRANTING DEFENDANT ' S MOTION TO DISMISS WITH LEAVE TO AMEND, AND (2) D E F E R R I N G CONSIDERATION OF DEFENDANT'S SPECIAL MOTION TO STRIKE (JFEX2) Case 5:06-cv-02057-JF Document 42 Filed 07/13/2006 Page 15 of 24 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 LLP, 540 U.S. 398, 399 (2004). Moreover, the facts alleged by Kinderstart are distinguishable from those in Aspen. Kinderstart has alleged neither that Google sold PageRanks or Results Page listings to Kinderstart or others nor that Google refused to sell these at listed prices. In fact, Kinderstart itself notes that Google denies ever selling PageRanks or listings at all. FAC 27. Additionally, there is no allegation that the only written agreement between the parties, the AdSense agreement, is no longer in place.4 Accordingly, Kinderstart's monopolization claims under the Sherman Act will be dismissed with leave to amend. In light of this disposition, the Court need not reach Google's argument that Kinderstart's claims are precluded by the holding of Official Airlines Guides, Inc. v. FTC, 630 F.2d 920,5 or because the conduct in question is protected expression.6 4. Violations of the Communications Act (47 U.S.C. 201) Kinderstart claims that Google is a common carrier and, as such, has violated the Communications Act, 47 U.S.C. 201, et seq. A common carrier "makes a public offering to provide communications facilities whereby all members of the public who choose to employ Insofar as Kinderstart alleges that the AdSense agreement encompasses PageRanks and Results Page listings, such allegations would tend to support a breach of contract claim rather than an anti-trust claim. See Official Airline Guides, Inc. v. F. T. C., 630 F.2d 920 (2d Cir. 1980) (upholding right of monopolist publisher of airline guides to discriminate without justification between large air carriers and commuter airlines in production of flight guide). However, in that case, the monopolist (as a publisher, rather than an airline) was not alleged to be in direct competition with the parties harmed by the conduct. Id. In the instant case, Kinderstart has alleged that it directly competes with Google in the Search Ad Market and the Search Engine Market. See Jefferson County School Dist. No. R-1 v. Moody's Investor's Services, Inc., 175 F.3d 848 (10th Cir. 1999). In Jefferson, a financial services company's published article stating a "negative outlook" for school district bonds was found to be protected expression. Id. Jefferson followed the Supreme Court's holding in Milkovich v. Lorain Journal Co., 497 U.S. 1 (1990) that, regarding media defendants, "a statement of opinion relating to matters of public concern which does not contain a provably false factual connotation will receive full constitutional protection." Id. at 20. Without deciding the merits of Google's argument, the Court notes that Jefferson County may be distinguishable because (a) Google is not a media defendant and (b) website ranking may be of little or no public concern in comparison with municipal bond ratings. 15 Case No. C 06-2057 JF (RS) O R D E R (1) GRANTING DEFENDANT ' S MOTION TO DISMISS WITH LEAVE TO AMEND, AND (2) D E F E R R I N G CONSIDERATION OF DEFENDANT'S SPECIAL MOTION TO STRIKE (JFEX2) 6 5 4 Case 5:06-cv-02057-JF Document 42 Filed 07/13/2006 Page 16 of 24 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 such facilities may communicate or transmit intelligence of their own design and choosing." FCC v. Midwest Video Corp., 440 U.S. 689, 701 (1979). As discussed above, while Kinderstart has alleged that Google invites the public to search using its search engine, it has not alleged facts that would show Google invites the public to speak using its search engine. Thus, Kinderstart has not alleged that Google provides facilities of the type covered by the Communications Act. The Ninth Circuit's holding in Howard v. America Online, Inc., 208 F.3d 741, 753 (9th Cir. 2000) is instructive. In that case, the court held that America Online ("AOL"), an Internet Service Provider, "is not a common carrier under the Communications Act," noting that the plaintiff in that case had failed to show that AOL provided discrete "basic services" rather than "enhanced services" as defined by the Federal Communications Commission.7 Kinderstart alleges that Google's search results are generated using computer algorithms based on user input, that sites are listed on Results Pages based on Google's index and that PageRank is generated by a computer algorithm. See FAC 2, 27, 32, 34, 43, 56. In short, Kinderstart alleges that Google's search engine acts based on the content of user's queries and provides the user with additional, different, restructured search results--thus meeting the definition of "enhanced services." Accordingly, Kinderstart's claim under the Communications Act will be dismissed with leave to amend. 7 The Federal Communications Commission has defined "enhanced service" as follows: "[E]nhanced service" shall refer to services, offered over common carrier transmission facilities used in interstate communications, which employ computer processing applications that act on the format, content, code, protocol or similar aspects of the subscriber's transmitted information; provide the subscriber additional, different, or restructured information; or involve subscriber interaction with stored information. 47 C.F.R. 64.702(a). 16 Case No. C 06-2057 JF (RS) O R D E R (1) GRANTING DEFENDANT ' S MOTION TO DISMISS WITH LEAVE TO AMEND, AND (2) D E F E R R I N G CONSIDERATION OF DEFENDANT'S SPECIAL MOTION TO STRIKE (JFEX2) Case 5:06-cv-02057-JF Document 42 Filed 07/13/2006 Page 17 of 24 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 5. Violations of California Business and Professions Code 17200, et seq. Kinderstart claims that Google has violated California Business and Professions Code 17200, which prohibits "any unlawful, unfair or fraudulent business act or practice and unfair, deceptive, untrue or misleading advertising." Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code 17200. According to Kinderstart, "Defendant Google's conduct . . . is unlawful, unfair, and deceptive, and violate [sic] BPC 17200, et seq. and constitute [sic], inter alia, breach of contract and unjust enrichment." FAC 150. Kinderstart alleges that unlawful business practices include the "denial of automated search engine referrals to websites of Kinderstart," "falsely and artificially calculating and presenting a deflated PageRank below the actual, correctly computed figure or all the way down to `0'. . . ." FAC 148. Kinderstart alleges that the AdSense agreement deceives the public into expecting that it can benefit by participating in the program. FAC 149. However, this conclusory allegation neither identifies specific terms of the agreement that are deceptive nor indicates how the agreement as a whole is deceptive. Nor has Kinderstart alleged facts suggesting that the public would expect that participation in the program would prevent a participant's removal from Results Pages or devaluation of PageRank. Accordingly, Kinderstart has failed to allege a deceptive business practice. Both sides acknowledge that, "[w]hen a plaintiff who claims to have suffered injury from a direct competitor's `unfair' act or practice invokes section 17200, the word `unfair' in that section means conduct that threatens an incipient violation of an antitrust law, or violates the policy of spirit of one of those laws because its effects are comparable to or the same as a violation of the law, or otherwise significantly threatens or harms competition." Cel-Tech Communications, Inc. v. L.A. Cellular Tel. Co., 20 Cal. 4th 163, 186-87 (1999). As discussed above in the context of Kinderstart's antitrust claims, the Court concludes that Kinderstart has failed to allege any conduct on the part of Google that significantly threatens or harms competition. In light of this conclusion, the Court does not reach Google's alternative argument that 17 Case No. C 06-2057 JF (RS) O R D E R (1) GRANTING DEFENDANT ' S MOTION TO DISMISS WITH LEAVE TO AMEND, AND (2) D E F E R R I N G CONSIDERATION OF DEFENDANT'S SPECIAL MOTION TO STRIKE (JFEX2) Case 5:06-cv-02057-JF Document 42 Filed 07/13/2006 Page 18 of 24 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 Kinderst art has failed to identify a redressable injury. 6. Violations of California Business and Professions Code 17045 Kinderstart alleges that Google's conduct violates California Business and Professions Code 170458 because it "engage[s] in surreptitious price discrimination" by "secretly offering to other sites favored and special benefits, services and privileges" including higher placement in Results Pages while harming www.kinderstart.com and other sites "subjected to Blockage and PageRank devaluation." FAC 156-57. Section 17045 addresses price discrimination "between competing purchasers." ABC International Traders, Inc. v. Matsushita Electric Corp. 14 Cal.4th 1247, 1255 (1997). While California courts have held that "`purchasing upon like terms and conditions' does not apply to or otherwise qualify secret allowances of unearned discounts," these courts have reiterated that the phrase does apply "to secret extensions of `special services or privileges not extended to all purchasers.'" Eddins v. Redstone, 134 Cal.App.4th 290, 333 (2005) (quoting Diesel Electric, 16 Cal.App.4th 202, 216 n.5 (1993). As Google points out, Kinderstart has not alleged that it purchased anything from Google, nor has it alleged that others made purchases on like terms and conditions.9 It is not enough to allege, as Kinderstart has done, that Google falsely represents that purchasing ads does not affect a site's ranking. FAC 68, 69. Accordingly, the Court will dismiss Kinderstart's 17045 claim with leave to amend. 8 California Business and Professions Code 17045 states: The secret payment or allowance of rebates, refunds, commissions, or unearned discounts, whether in the form of money or otherwise, or secretly extending to certain purchasers special services or privileges not extended to all purchasers purchasing upon like terms and conditions, to the injury of a competitor and where such payment or allowance tends to destroy competition, is unlawful. Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code 17045. Kinderstart alleges only that it is a member of Google's AdSense program, through which it shares revenue from Google ads placed on Kinderstart's site. FAC 21. 18 Case No. C 06-2057 JF (RS) O R D E R (1) GRANTING DEFENDANT ' S MOTION TO DISMISS WITH LEAVE TO AMEND, AND (2) D E F E R R I N G CONSIDERATION OF DEFENDANT'S SPECIAL MOTION TO STRIKE (JFEX2) 9 Case 5:06-cv-02057-JF Document 42 Filed 07/13/2006 Page 19 of 24 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 7. Breach of Implied Covenant of Good Faith and Fair Dealing Kinderstart next claims that Google has violated the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing implicit in the AdSense agreement between Kinderstart and Google. Kinderstart alleges that "[a] principal benefit for which [Kinderstart] contracted into the AdSense Program was [the] opportunity and ability to increase the appeal and traffic volume to their respective Websites and thereby generate advertising revenue with each additional page view and visitor . . ." FAC 162. By not including www.kinderstart.com in Google's search results, Google allegedly acted in bad faith because advertising revenues that would have gone to Kinderstart instead went to other websites. FAC 162. Under California law, every contract contains an implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. See, e.g., Kransco v. American Empire Surplus Lines Ins. Co., 23 Cal.4th 390, 400 (2000). This implied covenant requires that neither party do anything that will deprive the other of the benefits of the contract. Id. Google argues correctly that a covenant of good faith and fair dealing may be implied only to protect the express terms of the contract. "The implied covenant protects only the parties' right to receive the benefit of their agreement." Foley v. Interactive Data Corp, 47 Cal.3d 654, 699 n.39 (1988). "The covenant of good faith is read into contracts in order to protect the express covenants or promises of the contract, not to protect some general public policy interest not directly tied to the contract's purposes." Id. at 690; see also Carma Developers (Cal.), Inc. v. Marathon Dev. Cal., Inc., 2 Cal.4th 342, 373-74 (1992) (rejecting interpretation of covenant of good faith contrary to express language of contract). Kinderstart points out that, "[t]he courts have recognized that the implied covenant imposes reciprocal duties of good faith and fair dealing on both parties to a contract." Smith v. City and County of San Francisco, 225 Cal.App.3d 38, 49 (1990). However, reciprocity does not extend the covenant beyond the express terms. Likewise, while Kinderstart is correct that the implied covenant of good faith requires "objectively reasonable conduct," Badie v. Bank of America, 67 Cal.App.4th 779, 796 (1998), this does not extend the covenant to conduct expressly disclaimed by the express terms of the contract. 19 Case No. C 06-2057 JF (RS) O R D E R (1) GRANTING DEFENDANT ' S MOTION TO DISMISS WITH LEAVE TO AMEND, AND (2) D E F E R R I N G CONSIDERATION OF DEFENDANT'S SPECIAL MOTION TO STRIKE (JFEX2) Case 5:06-cv-02057-JF Document 42 Filed 07/13/2006 Page 20 of 24 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 The AdSense agreement contains no express promises that serving ads will increase either the traffic or appeal of any website, though it does provide for payment based both on ad impressions (display of an ad when a page is viewed) and clicks (users clicking on an ad).10 The contract expressly makes no guarantee regarding the amount of ad impressions, or the amount of revenue generated: No Guarantee. Google makes no guarantee regarding the level of impression of Ads or clicks on any Ad or Referral Button, the timing of delivery of such impressions and/or clicks, the completion of Referral Events, or the amount of any payment to be made to You under this Agreement. Declaration of Bart E. Volkmer in Support of Defendant's Motion to Dismiss the First Amended 9 Complaint and Defendant's Special Motion to Strike Pursuant to CCP 425.16, Ex. A 8. 10 Additionally, Google argues that any covenant not to remove Kinderstart's site from Results 11 Pages would be inconsistent with the express terms of the agreement, which also disclaims all 12 warranties with respect to "ADVERTISING, LINKS, SEARCH, REFERRALS, AND OTHER 13 SERVICES . . . ." Id. 9. In light of these contract terms, the Court concludes that Kinderstart 14 has not alleged that Google deprived Kinderstart of a benefit it could reasonably expect under the 15 agreement, and which the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing would protect. 16 Accordingly, the Court will dismiss this claim with leave to amend. 17 18 8. 19 Kinderstart alleges claims for defamation and libel against Google based on Google's 20 public presentation of a PageRank of `0' for Kinderstart.com. "The tort of defamation exists 21 whenever a false and unprivileged statement which has a natural tendency to injure or which 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 The AdSense agreement is properly before this court under the Ninth Circuit's "incorporation by reference" doctrine because Kinderstart makes reference to the "AdSense Program Agreement" and its terms in 87 of its FAC, makes reference to the existence of such an agreement in 21, 75, 83, 86, 172, and 174 of the FAC, and has not disputed the authenticity of the agreement. See In re Silicon Graphics, Inc. Securities Litigation, 183 F.3d 970 (9th Cir. 1999). "Under the `incorporation by reference' rule of this Circuit, a court may look beyond the pleadings without converting the Rule 12(b)(6) motion into one for summary judgment." Van Buskirk v. Cable News Network, Inc., 284 F.3d 977, 980 (9th Cir. 2002). 20 Case No. C 06-2057 JF (RS) O R D E R (1) GRANTING DEFENDANT ' S MOTION TO DISMISS WITH LEAVE TO AMEND, AND (2) D E F E R R I N G CONSIDERATION OF DEFENDANT'S SPECIAL MOTION TO STRIKE (JFEX2) 10 Defamation and Libel Case 5:06-cv-02057-JF Document 42 Filed 07/13/2006 Page 21 of 24 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 causes special damage is communicated to one or more persons who understand its defamatory meaning and its application to the injured party." Jackson v. Paramount Pictures Corp., 68 Cal.App.4th 10, 26 (1998). To prevail on these claims, Kinderstart must allege a provably false statement. See Edwards v. Hall, 234 Cal.App.3d 886, 902 (1991). Google argues that a PageRank is an opinion and not a factual statement. Google also contends that even if PageRank is entirely generated by an algorithm, the weights assigned to variables in programming the algorithm reflect Google's subjective opinion about the relative impo rtance of websites such that PageRank cannot be anything but subjective.11 Both parties point to Google's statement promoting PageRank: "Wondering whether a new website is worth your time? Use the Toolbar's PageRankTM display to tell you how Google's algorithms assess the importance of the page you're viewing." FAC 32. As the parties' arguments suggest, whether Kinderstart can maintain a claim for defamation may turn on facts outside the pleadings. Google's statement as to whether a particular website is "worth your time" necessarily reflects its subjective judgment as to what factors make a website important. Viewed in this way, a PageRank reflects Google's opinion. However, it is possible a PageRank reasonably could be interpreted as a factual statement insofar as it purports to tell a user "how Google's algorithms assess the importance of the page you're viewing." This interpretation would be bolstered by evidence supporting Google's alleged representations that PageRank is "objective," and that a reasonable person thus might understand Google's display of a `0' PageRank for Kinderstart.com to be a statement that `0' is the (unmodified) output of Google's algorithm. If it could be shown, as Kinderstart alleges, that Google is changing that output by manual intervention, then such a statement might be provably false. However, Kinderstart's complaint as presently framed does not explain how it is a false statement about the output of Google's algorithm regarding Kinderstart.com, as distinguished 11 Google suggested at oral argument that an average viewer of a PageRank would understand it to be a matter of opinion, rather than a statement of fact, and thus would not understand it to be defamatory. 21 Case No. C 06-2057 JF (RS) O R D E R (1) GRANTING DEFENDANT ' S MOTION TO DISMISS WITH LEAVE TO AMEND, AND (2) D E F E R R I N G CONSIDERATION OF DEFENDANT'S SPECIAL MOTION TO STRIKE (JFEX2) Case 5:06-cv-02057-JF Document 42 Filed 07/13/2006 Page 22 of 24 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 from an unfavorable opinion about Kinderstart.com's importance, that has caused injury to Kinderstart. Rather, Kinderstart makes only the conclusory assertion that Google's actions have "cause[d] irreparable harm and damage to the goodwill, value and revenue-generating capabilities of Kinderstart KSC's Website . . . ." FAC 170. Accordingly, this claim will be dismissed with leave granted to amend. 9. Negligent Interference with Prospective Economic Advantage Finally, Kinderstart claims that Google has negligently interfered with Kinderstart's prospective economic advantage. "The tort of negligent interference with prospective economic advantage is established where a plaintiff demonstrates that (1) an economic relationship existed between the plaintiff and a third party which contained a reasonably probable future economic benefit or advantage to plaintiff; (2) the defendant knew of the existence of the relationship and was aware or should have been aware that if it did not act with due care its actions would interfere with this relationship and cause plaintiff to lose in whole or in part the probable future economic benefit or advantage of the relationship; (3) the defendant was negligent; and (4) such negligence caused damage to plaintiff in that the relationship was actually interfered with or disrupted and plaintiff lost in whole or in part the economic benefits or advantage reasonably expected from the relationship." North American Chemical Co. v. Superior Court, 59 Cal.App.4th 764, 786 (1997). Kinderstart fails to allege the required elements of this tort. The only economic relationship alleged is the AdSense contract between Kinderstart and Google; no economic relationship with a third party is alleged. Kinderstart does not allege that Google knew of any third-party contract or business relationship, or that Google negligently disrupted any such relationship. Accordingly, the claim will be dismissed with leave to amend. 10. Motion to Strike Google moves to strike Kinderstart's first, eighth, and ninth claims pursuant to California 22 Case No. C 06-2057 JF (RS) O R D E R (1) GRANTING DEFENDANT ' S MOTION TO DISMISS WITH LEAVE TO AMEND, AND (2) D E F E R R I N G CONSIDERATION OF DEFENDANT'S SPECIAL MOTION TO STRIKE (JFEX2) Case 5:06-cv-02057-JF Document 42 Filed 07/13/2006 Page 23 of 24 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 Code of Civil Procedure 425.16. Having dismissed these claims for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, the Court will defer ruling on Google's special motion to strike under 425.16. The Court may, in its discretion, allow Plaintiffs an opportunity to amend their complaint before addressing a motion brought pursuant to 425.16. Verizon Delaware, Inc. v. Covad Communications Co., 377 F.3d 1081, 1091 (9th Cir. 2004). III. ORDER Good cause therefore appearing, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Google's motion to dismiss Kinderstart's First Amended Complaint is GRANTED with leave to amend. IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that consideration of Google's special motion to strike is deferred pending further amendment of Kinderstart's complaint. DATED: July 13, 2006 JEREMY FOGEL Unit ed States District Judge 23 Case No. C 06-2057 JF (RS) O R D E R (1) GRANTING DEFENDANT ' S MOTION TO DISMISS WITH LEAVE TO AMEND, AND (2) D E F E R R I N G CONSIDERATION OF DEFENDANT'S SPECIAL MOTION TO STRIKE (JFEX2) Case 5:06-cv-02057-JF Document 42 Filed 07/13/2006 Page 24 of 24 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 This Order has been served upon the following persons: Colleen Bal David H. Kramer Bart Edward Volkmer , Esq Gregory John Yu cbal@wsgr.com, eminjarez@wsgr.com dkramer@wsgr.com, dgrubbs@wsgr.com bvolkmer@wsgr.com glgroup@inreach.com, gjy@abcye.com 24 Case No. C 06-2057 JF (RS) O R D E R (1) GRANTING DEFENDANT ' S MOTION TO DISMISS WITH LEAVE TO AMEND, AND (2) D E F E R R I N G CONSIDERATION OF DEFENDANT'S SPECIAL MOTION TO STRIKE (JFEX2)

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