A new appeals court ruling has reopened the fight between Google and Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood. Filed this morning by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, the core of the ruling is procedural, vacating an earlier injunction against a subpoena filed by Hood against Google. The court found that the injunction was not necessary because the issue could have been more appropriately adjudicated in a district court.
The court also made it clear that the injunction could be reinstated if the attorney general decides to seek enforcement on the initial order order. Some legal observers are already describing it as a positive outcome for Google because it provides the attorney general with new incentive to let the investigation drop.
Google has not announced whether it will appeal the ruling, saying only, "we're reviewing the implications of the Court's decision, which focused on whether our claim was premature rather than on the merits of the case."
State Attorney General Hood also declined to state whether he will continue to pursue the initial investigation, but applauded the ruling as a rebuke to Google. "The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals clearly saw through Google’s attempt to misuse the federal courts in an effort to obstruct a sovereign state’s investigation into state-law matters," Hood said in a statement. "It should be a concern of every American citizen when a corporation tries such a brazen end-run around state law."
Close ties with Google's business rivals
In 2013, Hood had served Google with a 79-page subpoena, as part of a broad-reaching investigation into piracy, prescription drug sales, and other illegal activity taking place on Google networks. Leaked documents later revealed that investigation to be part of a larger anti-Google campaign by the MPAA, which went by the internal codename "Project Goliath." Google contested Hood's subpoena as beyond the powers of an attorney general. In March of last year, the company won an injunction blocking the subpoena, effectively halting Hood's demands on the company. Today's ruling halts that order, but Hood's larger case has stalled and is unlikely to resume.
At the same time, Google's lawsuit against Hood has continued to turn up evidence of close ties between the company's business rivals and the Mississippi Attorney General's office. Earlier this year, the company released discovery documents showing the law firm tasked with investigating Google had also been paid $180,000 by the Digital Citizens Alliance for unnamed consulting services.
5:11PM ET: Updated with Hood statement.