Smith v. Garcia
Collusive Consent Orders Directed at Google Listings – A pro se complaint was filed in federal court in Rhode Island in the name of Bradley Smith, the CEO of a California debt-relief company, against Deborah Garcia, supposedly a Rhode Island resident, alleging that Garcia had posted defamatory comments on the “Get Out of Debt Guy” web site. Filed along with the complaint was a consent motion for entry of a proposed order, bearing signatures of both Smith and Garcia, which called for “the Defamation” to be taken off the Internet and calling further, in the event that the defamatory matter was not removed, for the removal of links to the web pages supposedly containing the defamatory material (the pages were articles about specific debt relief companies) from search engine databases. The “consent order” was entered by the judge, no questions asked, and without any notice to the web site owner. Public Citizen has filed a motion to intervene on behalf of the company that owns the web site, Myvesta Foundation, and seeks to vacate the “consent judgment” as well as to dismiss the complaint on the grounds that there is no diversity jurisdiction (because the comments were posted from California, because “Deborah Garcia” appears to be a fictitious defendant, and because the complaint does not allege enough damages); to dismiss the complaint on the merits because the statute of limitations ran and the comments were not about Bradley Smith; and to vacate the judgment for those reasons as well as because it violated the Communications Decency Act, the First Amendment and the Due Process Clause to issue an order against including Myvesta’s articles in search engine databases without evidence and without notice to Myvesta. The trial court has granted the motion for leave to intervene, and Myvesta filed its motion to dismiss and motion to vacate the judgment. The court granted the motions to vacate the consent order and to dismiss the complaint, and set a briefing schedule on the issue of fees and sanctions, requesting briefing as well on the issue of who should be responsible for the payment of the fees.
Richart Ruddie has acknowledged having filed the case on behalf of his debt relief company clients; the case has been settled with a payment of attorney fees and damages as well as Ruddie’s commitment to seek to have the phony orders he obtained for his customers vacated. The court has been asked to retain jurisdiction to make sure that Ruddie takes these actions and that the customers cooperate in such efforts.