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
Dubois v. Butler, 901 So.
2d 1029 (Fla. App. 2005), available at
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
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.
The Lawyer's Guide to Fact Finding on the Internet, 3rd edition (2006 A.B.A.).