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Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Illinois federal court asked to dismiss woman’s amended complaint alleging Spokeo search engine ad violated privacy

By John Sammon | Nov 21, 2017

CHICAGO (Legal Newsline) – The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois is being asked by Spokeo to dismiss an amended complaint made by an Illinois woman alleging that an advertisement produced by an internet search engine listing her name violated her privacy under the Illinois Right of Publicity Act (IRPA).

Spokeo filed a motion to dismiss Oct. 27, stating Nicole Vinci's name was not enough to distinguish her from the dozens of other Nicole Vinci’s listed. In addition, Spokeo ventured that since the the plaintiff allegedly failed to prove that any events took place in Illinois, the legal action was not warranted.

Spokeo asked to dismiss the complaint with prejudice (meaning the case is permanently ended), and awarding it reasonable attorney fees, costs and expenses.  

Spokeo is an online search engine that lets people search for and buy “reports” containing information like names, addresses, phone numbers and court records compiled from publicly available sources.

According to the motion, Vinci sued Spokeo claimed that when someone looked up “Nicole Vinci” on a search engine, the results page included an advertisement for Spokeo saying “We found Nicole Vinci.”

Spokeo alleges that mere identification of a person by name was not enough to pinpoint an individual when many other people had the same name. To violate the IRPA, more identification was required, it claimed.

“There must be some 'plus factors' in the context of a defendant’s use which support an identification of the plaintiff, as opposed to any other person bearing the same name to a reasonable audience,” the motion states.

Vinci filed a complaint in January with the Cook County Circuit Court individually and on behalf of others alleging the company wrongly used her name and the names of other people to advertise its page as a marketing ploy. She alleged the Spokeo advertisements encouraged consumers to purchase personal information about her.

The case was moved to the U.S. Northern District Illinois Court in February.  

Attorneys for Spokeo countered that the search engine listings are protected under the First Amendment because the information is already in the public domain and because the plaintiff did not allege and any reasonable person would not have recognized the advertisement to refer specifically to her.

Vinci filed an amended suit, however the high court said the amended version mirrored the first lawsuit and had failed to correct its flaws.

The court said the IRPA defines the attributes that identify a specific individual to any reasonable viewer or listener to include but not be limited merely to the publication of a name.

In addition, the motion to dismiss said the amended complaint failed because Vinci did not allege an Illinois violation of the law.

“Both Illinois law and the (U.S.) Constitution prohibit applying the IRPA extraterritorially,” the motion states.

Spokeo said a listings page alone cannot support an IRPA claim and that the First Amendment protected Spokeo’s listing reports and that such reports were “noncommercial.”

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U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois