U.S. judge throws out defamation suit against Google

SAN MATEO, California Tue Mar 20, 2007 6:53pm EDT

The logo of Google Inc. is seen outside their headquarters building in Mountain View, California August 18, 2004. GA U.S. judge has thrown out a lawsuit challenging the fairness of how Web search leader Google Inc. calculates the popularity of Web sites in determining search results, court papers show.. REUTERS/Clay McLachlan

The logo of Google Inc. is seen outside their headquarters building in Mountain View, California August 18, 2004. GA U.S. judge has thrown out a lawsuit challenging the fairness of how Web search leader Google Inc. calculates the popularity of Web sites in determining search results, court papers show..

Credit: Reuters/Clay McLachlan

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SAN MATEO, California (Reuters) - A U.S. judge has thrown out a lawsuit challenging the fairness of how Web search leader Google Inc. calculates the popularity of Web sites in determining search results, court papers show.

In a ruling issued on Friday that came to light on Tuesday, Judge Jeremy Fogel of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California dismissed a lawsuit against Google by parenting information site KinderStart.

The judge also imposed yet-to-be-determined sanctions on KinderStart legal counsel Gregory Yu for making unsupported allegations against Google.

KinderStart sued Google in March 2006 alleging the Mountain View, California-based Internet company had defamed the site by cutting it from its Web search ranking system.

The Norwalk, Connecticut-based company, which features links to information about raising children, accused Google of violations of antitrust, free speech, unfair competition and defamation and libel laws.

In its suit, the company argued its site's sudden demotion in March 2005 to a "zero" ranking in Google's search system had severely harmed its business.

KinderStart had sought class action status on behalf of what is said were many other sites that suffered the same fate as Google fine-tunes Web site rankings in search results.

"KinderStart had failed to explain how Google caused injury to it by a provably false statement ... as distinguished from an unfavorable opinion about KinderStart.com's importance," the judge's ruling states.

In addition, the judge said the plaintiff's counsel should have removed allegations that Google discriminated against or manipulated its Web search rankings after the judge ordered the lawyer to do so in an interim ruling.

"While Yu has brought a novel challenge to a major corporation, it is apparent that to some extent he has overreached in doing so," Fogel said. "Yu had a professional responsibility to refrain from filing such allegations if he did not have appropriate supporting evidence."

The judge granted Google the right to seek attorneys fees for the costs of defending against these specific charges. Both sides have 14 days to file motions before the judge determines monetary damages against Yu.

Yu is with the firm Global Law Group of San Mateo.

"All options are being explored. That's all that we are going to say at this point," he told Reuters, but declined to describe his plans further.

A Google attorney said the company felt vindicated.

"We always felt these claims were unjustified, because courts have consistently rejected complaints over search engine rankings, so we're pleased that Judge Fogel promptly dismissed this case," Google litigation counsel Hilary Ware said in a company statement.

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