SCOTUS Opinion: Google Class Action Settlement In Danger Of Losing Standing

When a person enters search terms on Google, and then selects a web page that comes up in the search results, Google sends the host of the web page the search terms the person used to locate the page. Certain plaintiffs filed suit as a class, arguing that Google’s practice violated the Stored Communications Act. The parties settled, with Google paying $5 million to six cy pres recipients that were not parties to the litigation, $2 million to class counsel, and none to absent class members. Certain class members objected to the settlement as not being “fair, reasonable, and adequate” under Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(e)(2), and appealed to the Ninth Circuit. During that appeal, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins that a concrete injury was necessary for standing, and rejected the argument that violation of a statutory right was, in itself, a sufficient injury to create standing. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the settlement without considering Spokeo. On appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, the Solicitor General, as amicus curiae, argued that likely none of the class plaintiffs had standing. The Court, in a per curiam decision, heeded the Solicitor General’s views and reversed the Ninth Circuit, remanding the case for consideration of the standing issue in light of Spokeo. Justice Thomas filed a dissent, stating that he would have reached the merits of the case, held that the plaintiffs had standing, and reversed on the basis that cy pres payments do not constitute meaningful relief under Rule 23(e)(2). A link to the opinion in Frank v. Gaos is here.