JPML Consolidates and Transfers Google Advertising Antitrust Litigation to SDNY

This Tuesday, the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) issued a transfer order in response to a request lodged by Google LLC, Alphabet Inc., and YouTube LLC (together, Google) to centralize advertising-related antitrust litigation in the Northern District of California. Instead, the JPML decided that the three groupings of cases, advertiser, publisher, and state attorney general, will be consolidated in the Southern District of New York.

The lawsuits concern Google’s purported monopolization and suppression of competition in online display advertising, “the marketplace for the placement of digital display ads on websites and mobile apps,” the order said. The JPML explains that the principal participants in online display advertising are advertisers seeking to place ads, content providers such as news sites offering ad space, and high-speed electronic trading forums known as “exchanges” that advertisers and online publishers use to manage the buying and selling of ad space.

The plaintiffs contend that Google operates the largest ad exchange, but uses its muscle to suppress competition, thereby harming advertisers and publishers that participate in its exchange by imposing supra-competitive prices and depriving them of revenue. For the alleged harm, all plaintiffs seek to halt the purportedly predatory conduct and compensatory damages.

The MDL, now titled In re: Google Digital Advertising Antitrust Litigation, consists of 19 actions pending in 16 districts, including one lodged by a coalition of states and led by Texas. In this week’s order, the panel considered arguments for and against consolidation, and where to transfer the litigation.

After briefing and a hearing, the JPML was satisfied that transfer was appropriate owing to the existence of common questions of fact. Too, now is the “optimal time to structure the litigation to maximize efficiencies” because few of the actions have begun discovery, and those that have done so remain at an early stage.

The JPML elected the New York forum because centralization there would “serve the convenience of the parties and witnesses and promote the just and efficient conduct of this litigation.” The court noted that Google has significant operations in New York and that the advertising and publishing industries also have a strong presence there. The JPML also acknowledged that Facebook, a defendant in some actions and a third-party in others due to contracts it entered into with Google, supported consolidation in the Northern District of California, and alternatively in the Southern District of New York.