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Duty to Google Questioned


Carole Levitt and Mark Rosch, Editors of Internet Fact Finding For Lawyers


Originally published in Internet Fact Finding For Lawyers, September/October 2007.

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Logo for Americal Law Institute | Americal Bar Association19 November 2007. In the first issue of volume 1 of this newsletter, we discussed a number of cases in which judges told attorneys, in a nutshell, that they have a "duty to Google" as part of their due diligence procedure. Munster v. Groce, 829 N.E.2d 52 (Ind. App. 2005), available at http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/data2/indianastatecases/app/06080501mpb.pdf and Dubois v. Butler, 901 So. 2d 1029 (Fla. App. 2005), available at http://www.4dca.org/May2005/05-25-05/4D04-3559.pdf.


Always cross-check your search results by trying several ways to find a person.

In Dubois, the judge specifically stated that merely calling directory assistance to find a missing defendant has gone "the way of the horse and buggy and the eight track stereo" and admonished the attorney for failing to Google the missing defendant. Yet, in a recent Pennsylvania case, the court took the opposite view and ruled that a Google search, which a county performed to locate someone who owed back taxes on a property, was insufficient and instead they should have used the telephone book! The court noted that if Northampton, Pennsylvania's tax collectors had looked up the missing defendant's telephone number in the telephone book, they might have been able to reach him (the telephone number in the telephone book was correct while the telephone number found using Google had been disconnected). The court, taking a very literal approach, concluded that the county's service by publication was insufficient because, by law, it was required to search the countywide telephone book to find an address to mail notice of a tax sale to a delinquent owner. Fernandez v. Tax Claim Bureau of Northampton County, No. 1600 C.D. 2006 (Pa. Commw. 5/30/07), available at http://www.courts.state.pa.us/OpPosting/ CWealth/out/1600CD06_5-31-07.pdf.

Tip: Always cross-check your search results by trying several ways to find a person. For example, verify results by checking more than one Web site or database, and if the law specifically requires a certain manner of research, follow that literally, even if it means a "horse and buggy" search of the telephone book instead of an online Google search. While it is common to "Google" someone to find a phone number or address, there are also many other phone directories free online to search, such as Infospace (http://www.infospace.com) or Anywho (http://www.anywho.com). If the free resources yield no results, try one of the pay investigative databases (discussed on pages 4-9 of this newsletter).


© 2007 American Law Institute–American Bar Association
all rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Carole Levitt and Mark Rosch are principals of Internet For Lawyers (IFL), a CLE seminar company. They co-authored The Lawyer's Guide to Fact Finding on the Internet, 3rd edition (2006 A.B.A.).


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Created: 19 November 2007
Revised: 9 May 2008 (no text revisions)
URL: https://www.virtualchase.com/articles/duty_to_google.html

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