Ferrell v. Google
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge Theodore D. Chuang on 7/30/2015. (kns, Deputy Clerk)(c/m 7/31/15)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF MARYLAND
Civil Action No. TDC-15-1604
On June 2, 2015. pro se Plaintiff Keyonna Ferrell ("Ferrell") filed the above-captioned
Complaint, ECF No. I, together with a Motion to Proceed in Forma Pauperis, ECF NO.2.
Ferrell appears indigent, therefore, she is granted leave to proceed informa pauperis.
In the Complaint, Ferrell claims that certain images she had posted on her Pinterestl page
remained accessible through the search engine operated by Defendant Google ("Google") even
after she had removed the images from her Pinterest page.
Ferrell alleges that, as a result of
these images, she is experiencing retaliation, in the form of having property stolen by unnamed
persons and experiencing unspecified issues with several hotels that do not appear to have any
association with Google. Ferrell alleges that Google has defamed her character and seeks relief
in the fonn of an order that the images be removed from her Pinterest account and an award of
$2 million to $5 million in monetary damages for her emotional distress.
It appears Ferrell is referring to the website and mobile telephone application Pintercst, on
which a user creates an individual page to share photos and links with other users. See Pintcrest
(July 27, 2015), https://www.pinteresLcoml.
I. Failure to State a Claim
Under 28 U.S.C. ~1915 this Court is granted the discretion to dismiss a proceeding filed
in forma pauperis if it determines that the complaint is frivolous or malicious, fails to state a
claim on which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is
immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. ~1915(e)(2)(B)(i)-(iii).
Here, the Complaint fails to state a
Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8, a plaintiff is required to provide "a short and
plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief," and each averment ofa
pleading must be "simple, concise, and direct," Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2) & (d)(I).
must allege enough facts to state a plausible claim for relief. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662,
678 (2009); Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). A claim is plausible when
"the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the Court to draw the reasonable inference that
the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged."
courts have a duty to construe self-represented
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Although district
pleadings liberally, a pro se plaintiff must
nevertheless allege facts that state a cause of action and provide enough detail to illuminate the
nature of the claim and allow defendants to respond. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89. 94
(2007); Beaudell v. City of Hampton, 775 F.2d 1274, 1278 (4th Cir. 1985) (stating that the duty
to construe pro se pleadings liberally does not require courts to "conjure up questions never
In this case, the Complaint docs not state a plausible defamation claim against Google.
In a case based on diversity jurisdiction, 28 U.S.c. ~ 1332(a) (providing federal jurisdiction over
civil actions in which the parties are citizens of different states and the amount in controversy
exceeds $75.000), the district court applies the law of the state in which the court is located. in
this case Maryland, including the forum state's choice of law rules. Colgan Air, Inc. v. Raytheon
Aircraji Co., 507 F.3d 270, 275 (4th Cir. 2007). Defamation is a tort claim. Under Maryland
law, the tort doctrine of lex loci delicti provides that the substantive law to be applied in a tort
case is that of the state in which the alleged wrong occurred, which appears most likely to be
Virginia in this case.' Philip Morris, Inc. v. Angelerri, 752 A.2d 200, 230 (Md. 2000). Under
Virginia Jaw, the elements of defamation are "'(1) publication of (2) an actionable statement with
(3) the requisite intent." Schaecher v. Bouffault, 772 S.E.2d 589, 594 (Va. 2015) (internal
citation and quotation marks omitted). "An 'actionable' statement is both false and defamatory."
Jd. Words are defamatory if they tend to "harm the reputation of another as to lower him in the
estimation of the community," hold a person "up to scorn, ridicule, or contempt," or are
calculated to render a person "infamous odious, or ridiculous."
Id. (internal citation and
quotation marks omitted).
Here, Ferrell's sole allegation is that she put information on the internet that remained
accessible through the Google search engine and thus available for viewing by the public after
she had removed the images from Pinterest. Nothing about this allegation suggests that the
information made available was false. Ferrell therefore fails to state a claim for defamation.
Furthermore, the Court is unable to identify any other cause of action based on the allegations in
The Complaint does not allege where any of the incidents occurred. Ferrell has provided the
Court with mailing addresses in Virginia and South Carolina. Because Ferrell has indicated that
her preferred mailing address is in Virginia, it seems most likely that Virginia is where she
resides and where the incidents occurred. The Court therefore applies Virginia law. However,
the Court's ruling would be the same regardless of whether the law of South Carolina, or even
Maryland, was applied instead. Like Virginia, both South Carolina and Maryland require a
plaintiff alleging a defamation claim to show that the statement in question was false and
defamatory. See Fountain v, First Reliance Bank, 730 S.E.2d 305, 309 (S.C. 2012); Piscatelli v,
Van Smith, 35 A.3d 1140, 1147 (Md. 2012). As discussed above, Ferrell has failed to allege
plausibly that the published materials were false.
Thus, the Complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted
and is dismissed.3
II. Motion to Seal
Ferrell also filed a Motion to Seal the case on June 10,2015.
"lbe full text of
the Motion states: "Please [s]eal all civil suits filed including address, names and [d]ocuments
immediately [sic]." /d. On July 6, 2015, Ferrell filed a second Motion to Seal, ECF No.5,
which she supplemented her original request by asserting that the Court should seal all filings in
this civil case because "celebrities and [B]arack [are] involved," making the case "substantially
Id. at 1.
Local Rule 105.11, which governs the sealing of all documents filed in the record, states
In relevant part: "Any motion seeking the sealing of pleadings, motions, exhibits or other
documents to be filed in the Court record shall include (a) proposed reasons supported by
specific factual representations to justiry the sealing and (b) an explanation why alternatives to
sealing would not provide sufficient protection."
Local Rule 105.11 (D. Md. 2014).
balances the public's generdl right to inspect and copy judicial records and documents, see Nixon
v. Warner Commc'ns, Inc., 435 U.S. 589,597 (1978), with competing interests that sometimes
outweigh the public's right, see In re Knight Publ'g Co., 743 F.2d 231, 235 (4th Cir. 1984). The
The Court also notes that there is a significant question whether venue is proper in this
District. Venue would be proper if the defendant is a resident of Maryland, or if a substantial
part of the events or omissions giving rise to the claim occurred in Maryland. 28 U.S.C. 9
1391(b). There is no indication that any of events in this case occurred in Maryland, and there is
a substantial question whether defendant Google, a corporation headquartered in California, can
be deemed to be a resident of Maryland. See 28 U.S.C. ~ 1391(c)(2) (noting that a corporation is
"deemed to reside in any judicial district in which such defendant is subject to the court's
personal jurisdiction with respect to the civil action in question"). Thus, even if the Complaint
stated a cognizable claim, this action likely should have been brought in Virginia or South
Carolina, where Ferrell presumably accessed Pinterest, or in California, where there is
undoubtedly personal jurisdiction over Google.
common.law presumptive right of access can only be rebutted by showing that "countervailing
interests heavily outweigh the public interest in access." Doe v. Pub. Citizen, 749 F.3d 246, 26566 (4th Cir. 2014) (quoting Rushford v. New Yorker Magazine, Inc., 846 F.2d 249, 253 (4th Cir.
Because neither of the Motions to Seal identify such a countervailing
Motions are denied.
For the foregoing reasons, the Motion to Proceed in Fonna Pauperis is GRANTED.
Motions to Seal are DENIED. The case is DISMISSED for failure to state a claim. A separate
Date: July 30, 2015
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