On June 4, Washington State attorney general Bob Ferguson sued Facebook and Google for what he said was a decade's worth of "negligent and/or intentional" violations of this state's law on political ad transparency. Citing The Stranger's reporting, Ferguson declared: "What's happening now is not legal. Not even close."
Paid for by Committee to Reelect Judge North, P.O. Box 27113, Seattle, WA 98165
Ferguson's lawsuits were filed in King Count Superior Court, but on Friday, lawyers for Facebook filed notice (.PDF) that they've moved the case to federal court. "First and foremost, Facebook is not a citizen of Washington," attorneys for Facebook explained.
They cited federal law that gives federal courts jurisdiction when more than $75,000 is at stake—which definitely seems to be the case here—and when the parties involved are citizens of different states.
According to Facebook's lawyers, "Facebook is incorporated in Delaware and its principal place of business is California, where it is headquartered." So, the company says, it's definitely not a citizen of Washington State in the legal sense.
Additionally, Facebook argues that the state of Washington is "not the real party in interest" in this lawsuit. The real parties in interest, Facebook says, are "two individuals (Eli Sanders and Connor Edwards) who were allegedly denied access by Facebook to records pertaining to political advertising."
Facebook brings this up to argue that neither I nor Edwards is a citizen of Delaware or California, thus creating "complete diversity of citizenship between the parties"—and making the company's case for a transfer to federal court.
Leaving the legal arguments to others, I would just point out that in my experience, my requests for political ad records from Facebook were actually—not "allegedly," as Facebook's lawyers wrote—ignored.
It's now been more than seven months since I walked into Facebook's Seattle office and politely asked for records that state law requires be "open for public inspection." Despite multiple follow-ups and e-mail exchanges with the company over the last seven months, Facebook has never given me any information on the political ad records I've requested.
A Facebook spokesperson, citing the ongoing legal process, declined to comment on the company's recent filing.
A spokesperson for Attorney General Bob Ferguson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
And Google, for its part, seems to be sticking with state court. Based on court records, the company appears to have let a 30-day deadline for requesting a removal to federal court pass with no action. (A Google spokesperson, asked for comment, did not immediately reply.)