A Northern District of California Magistrate Judge ruled against plaintiffs last Friday, dealing another blow to their efforts to hold Ancestry.com accountable for the alleged misappropriation of their names, images, and likenesses by the world’s biggest online genealogy company through its collection of their yearbook photos and information for commercial purposes.
After their case was dismissed for lack of constitutional standing and they appealed, the plaintiffs sought an indicative ruling from the court. The request asked Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler to either grant a motion to reconsider her dismissal ruling or make an indicative ruling that the motion presents a “substantial issue” and that she would accept remand from the Ninth Circuit to hear it.
In last week’s decision, the court said it would only partly consider the motion because of a lack of an underlying Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b) “extraordinary circumstance” motion. “Because there is no pending Rule 60(b) motion, there is no basis for the court to say whether it would deny or grant the motion. The court can, however, state whether the proposed Rule 60(b) motion would raise a ‘substantial issue’ without tying ‘the district court to a particular ruling on the motion after remand,’” the court explained.
The plaintiffs argued that The Supreme Court recently expanded the view of standing articulated in Spokeo Inc. v. Robbins in the June 2021 decision TransUnion LLC v. Ramirez. Judge Beeler declined the plaintiffs’ arguments, finding that “[t]he TransUnion decision does not amount to the kind of change in the law that could amount to an extraordinary circumstance justifying relief under Rule 60(b).”
Judge Beeler said that the plaintiffs merely cited portions of TransUnion that quoted Spokeo, causing the court to conclude that their authorities did not “announce a completely new test or overturn precedent that was crucial to this court’s order dismissing the First Amended Complaint.”
Judge Beeler also dealt with the contention that the plaintiffs in part and impliedly relied on a decision rendered in another Ancestry.com case as the basis for their request for an indicative ruling. “[W]hile the decision in Sessa is thorough and persuasive, it is not binding and does not constitute an intervening change in the law sufficient to support a motion under Rule 60(b) or create a ‘substantial issue’ for purposes of Rule 62.1,” the court explained.
The plaintiffs’ standing appeal will now proceed to the Ninth Circuit. They are represented by Morgan & Morgan Complex Litigation Group and Benjamin R. Osborn, while Ancestry.com is represented by Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan LLP.