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Twitter Takes Fight With PeopleBrowsr To Federal Court

PeopleBrowsr recently won a restraining order against Twitter and the two were scheduled to take the next, albeit small, step in the court battle today with preliminary discovery.

But Twitter wasn’t having it.

You didn’t think it would be that easy – did you, PeopleBrowsr? Silly rabbit.

PeopleBrowsr announced this latest news on its blog, sharing that “Twitter filed a ‘Notice of Removal’ to Federal Court on the eve of the December 4 discovery hearing, claiming this is a federal antitrust case and should be decided in Federal Court.”

There was to be a hearing over deposing Twitter Co-Founder Evan Williams and the discovery of documents relating to Twitter policy on the Firehose. The companies had agreed that Doug Williams, Twitter’s Head of Business Development; Kelton Lynn, Twitter’s Head of Mobile Business Development; Jodee Rich, Founder and CEO of PeopleBrowsr; and Bob Harris, Professor Emeritus of the UC Berkeley Haas School of Business and a Twitter antitrust expert would be deposed over the coming weeks.

Last week, Twitter told the San Francisco Superior Court, “This is Contracts 101. Although PeopleBrowsr attempts to dress up its case as some sort of grand antitrust or interference case, it is not”. Twitter’s new petition is contrary to the company’s previous statement that there “was no merit to PeopleBrowsr’s claim” of unfair competition.  Now, Twitter has removed the case from San Francisco Superior Court to the Federal Court on the basis that “PeopleBrowsr’s complaint and TRO papers reveal that its Section 17200 claim is based on federal antitrust law”, and antitrust cases must be decided in federal court.

So now someone has to determine whether the Federal Court has jurisdiction. And “in the meantime, PeopleBrowsr’s temporary restraining order against Twitter will remain in place and PeopleBrowsr [will] continue to have full access to the Firehose.”

Interesting. Why would Twitter do this?

We asked Randal C. Picker, Professor at the University of Chicago’s Law School where he teaches classes in Antitrust (among other topics) and has a pretty extensive high-tech industry legal background.

Picker observes that “the [PeopleBrowsr] article certainly makes it sound as if Twitter prefers to be in federal court and avoid state court. The contracts claim might not do that if the parties aren’t citizens from different states; a federal claim would work.”

But why would Twitter want to be in federal court? Why, why, why??

Randy D. Gordon, Trial Partner at Gardere law firm, specializing in antitrust and trade regulation, shared the following very interesting tidbit:

Twitter’s position appears to be that PeopleBrowr’s state-law breach of contract claim is, in fact, a disguised federal-law antitrust claim.  The immediate purpose of taking this position is to provide a hook for removing the case from state to federal court.  (Cases filed in state court that raise a “federal question” can be removed to federal court.)  The potential reasons for removing a case are manifold, ranging from perceived procedural advantages, to slowing a case down, to a genuine belief that a particular case is a federal matter, and on and on.  From the outside it is of course impossible to know exactly what Twitter’s motivation might be.

So, it’s impossible to know . . . but it will most likely cause a delay and Twitter’s top-notch legal team must know that. Is this delay part of their strategy? Curiouser and curiouser.

We’ll keep you posted as this story develops!

(Gesturing rival image from Shutterstock)

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