Google hit with $971,000 sanction for litigation misconduct in privacy suit

A Google sign is seen during the WAIC (World Artificial Intelligence Conference) in Shanghai
REUTERS/Aly Song/File Photo
  • Plaintiffs' lawyers at Boies Schiller, other firms awarded fees
  • Google denied shirking court obligations

(Reuters) - A U.S. judge on Friday ordered Alphabet Inc's Google to pay more than $971,000 in legal fees and costs as a penalty for litigation misconduct in a privacy lawsuit in California federal court.

The plaintiffs' lawyers at Boies Schiller Flexner and other firms had sought more than $1 million in fees and costs, after U.S. Magistrate Judge Susan van Keulen in San Jose, California, federal court in May found Google had failed to timely disclose some pieces of evidence.

The $5 billion lawsuit filed in 2020 alleges Google has unlawfully tracked its users' data while they are using the company's browsers in private, or "incognito," mode. Google has denied liability. The sanctions stemmed from Google's "failure to timely identify witnesses, additional documents and data sources relevant to this litigation," van Keulen wrote in a previous order.

Billing records submitted in the case last month showed Boies Schiller founder and prominent litigator David Boies charging $1,950 hourly. Boies sought compensation for 49 hours, or about $96,000.

Google's lawyers at Quinn Emanuel questioned the inclusion of Boies on the fee application, saying that the plaintiffs had not offered a "justification for their decision to have David Boies get up to speed to argue the complex issues in the sanctions motion."

They also said Boies' hourly rates were "significantly higher" than other lawyers well-versed in the case.

Boies did not immediately respond to a message on Friday seeking comment. In a statement through a spokesperson, Boies said the "sanctions are serious, as they should be, given Google’s serious misconduct."

A Google lawyer at Quinn Emanuel, Andrew Schapiro, said in a statement that the plaintiffs "were seeking extreme sanctions and, at the end of the day, they are getting a partial payment of their inflated bill for the time they devoted to bringing the motion."

A representative from Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday.

The judge reduced the plaintiffs' award by about $75,000 after deducting amounts from lawyers who billed under 10 hours on matters related to the sanctions proceeding.

The plaintiffs' effort to certify a class is pending, and a hearing is set for September.

The case is Brown v Google LLC, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, No. 4:20-cv-03664.

For Brown: Mark Mao of Boies Schiller Flexner; Bill Carmody of Susman Godfrey; and John Yanchunis of Morgan & Morgan

For Google: Andrew Schapiro of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan

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