On January 16, 2014 the High Court in London rejected submissions made on behalf of Google Inc. (“Google”) that the case brought against it by three UK-based users of Apple’s Safari browser should be heard in the U.S., rather than before an English court. The decision means that the case could be heard before a court in England, although media reports suggest Google will appeal the decision.
The claims against Google arise from the placing of cookies on Apple devices used by the three individuals, resulting in the generation of targeted advertising.
Google is a U.S. corporation registered in Delaware and its principal place of business is in California. The general rule regarding court jurisdiction is that, when the potential defendant is based in the U.S., civil cases must be brought before the U.S. courts, even where those bringing the case are based in another jurisdiction. However, in a limited set of circumstances, English courts are prepared to accept jurisdiction over a case and allow the claimants to serve court papers on a potential defendant outside the jurisdiction. Service of the papers is the first step in having the case heard before an English court.
In order to be allowed to serve the papers outside the UK, the claimants had to convince the High Court that:
- the claims being made against Google could be classified as torts under English law, and that either damage was sustained by the claimants in the UK or damage resulted from an act committed within the UK;
- there is a serious issue to be tried on the merits of the claim; and
- taking all the circumstances into account, the appropriate forum to resolve the dispute would be an English court.
The High Court accepted that the claims being made amounted to the alleged tort of misuse of private information under English law and the alleged breach of the UK Data Protection Act 1998, and that in the three cases before the Court the issues were sufficiently serious to merit trial. The court held that the most appropriate forum would be an English court for the following reasons: (1) the focus of the case would be on the damage that the UK residents claim to have suffered, such that proceedings in the U.S. would be burdensome to them, and (2) the issues of English law raised by the case are complicated and would be costly and difficult to resolve in a U.S. court.