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Even as a law student, when I look at Google’s “Street View” feature, the last thing I’m thinking about is a lawsuit. A lawsuit, however, is just what Aaron and Christine Boring of Pennsylvania thought when they saw their house on street view.
Our story begins back in 2008, when the Borings discovered that their home was depicted on Google’s street view feature. Of course, they live on a private road, and so in the parlance of boxing,“it was on.” The Borings filed suit in Pennsylvania state court alleging more torts than you would see on a first-year law school exam. Specifically, the Boring’s complaint included accusations that Google had committed torts in the line of invasion of privacy, trespass, negligence, and conversion, and that the Borings were entitled to consequential and punitive damages to the tune of $25,000 a claim, as well as injunctive relief.
Needless to say, Google was not about to take a default judgment. The case was removed to federal court, and a 12(b)(6) motion was filed by Google and subsequently granted by the court on all claims. Game over, right? Nope: the Borings appealed to the Third Circuit.
The Third Circuit released its opinion last week and, surprisingly, let the Borings back into court on one of their claims: trespass. The court stated that if the road were indeed a private road, then the Borings have a cause of action if Google drove on it. Hence, it looks like the Borings will get to go to discovery and then maybe even to trial.
One way of looking at this case is that it is a validation of old-school common law property principles, a rejection of frivolous claims against a corporate giant, and then a refusal to monkey around with the Internet and tort law any more than necessary. I suppose that is all accurate.
The other way of looking at this though is that it is the triumph of stupidity over common sense. After all, the Borings now get to go to discovery. Who in their right mind really wants to issue discovery requests to Google? GOOGLE IS A SEARCH ENGINE. Imagine what will happen when the Boring’s lawyer asks for “all documents in Google’s possession that relate to the present case.” Google will object to the documents that are privileged, and then print out each and every one of the documents stored in its server’s cache. Last I checked (by Googling it, of course), it looks like there are 860,000+ webpages out there that relate to this lawsuit that are currently in Google’s cache. Something tells me that the Borings won’t be pressing the suit any further once they get discovery materials delivered by the truck load. That said, if I were the Borings, I’d walk away from this one right now before my legal fees start to add up. Of course, as this is the triumph of stupidity over common sense, I suspect the dump trucks of discovery should start rolling in any day now.
– Sean Wlodarczyk
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