IP geolocater that targeted couple’s farm cannot escape privacy suit

October 28, 2016

Signs are seen at an entrance to a field on land owned by the 250-member Pinoleville Pomo Nation in UkiahA Kansas couple can proceed with their federal lawsuit alleging an IP geolocation company wreaked havoc on their lives by identifying their farm as the residence of over 600 million IP addresses, many of them associated with illegal or embarrassing activities.

U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Marten of the District of Kansas denied MaxMind Inc.’s motion to dismiss James and Theresa Arnold’s complaint, finding that the couple alleged sufficient facts to warrant discovery for their claims of reckless infliction of emotional distress, defamation, and false light publication or invasion of privacy.

He also found that the court had jurisdiction over MaxMind, saying, “Kansas has a strong interest in resolving the dispute between the parties and provides the most efficient forum for resolving the dispute.”

The center of everything

According to the suit, Massachusetts-based MaxMind publishes a free, publicly downloadable database on its website of information about the IP addresses of computers active on the internet.

The database assigns each IP address a geographic location, the suit says.

According to the complaint, when MaxMind cannot determine where an IP address is physically located, it lists an address an approximately two-hour drive from the geographic center of the U.S.: the Arnolds’ rural Potwin, Kansas, farm.

As a result, MaxMind has targeted the Arnolds’ residence with approximately 600 million IP addresses, including millions of IP addresses used for illegal, immoral or embarrassing purposes, the plaintiffs claim.

As a result, since the Arnolds leased the property in 2011 they have received nearly constant visits from law enforcement day and night seeking runaway children, responding to suicide attempts, or searching for evidence of computer fraud or child pornography, the Arnolds say.

They also say private individuals have come onto their property and that they have received threats and complaints online.

According to the complaint, the Arnolds finally discovered the source of their distress after reading an article on the website Fusion called “How an internet mapping glitch turned a random Kansas farm into a digital hell.”

The Arnolds filed suit against the defendant, and MaxMind moved to dismiss, arguing that the amended complaint was insufficient to support the claims and that the court lacked personal jurisdiction.

All claims may proceed

MaxMind argued specifically that the couple’s emotional distress claim failed because they had not provided proof of an accompanying physical injury as Kansas law requires.

Judge Marten rejected this argument, explaining that an accompanying physical injury is not required where the conduct was willful, wanton or with the intent to injure, as the Arnolds alleged.

The judge also rejected MaxMind’s argument that it had not placed the Arnolds in a false light because it only provided their address, not their names.

The court explained that the law does not require that a name be published; a name or a specific home address may place a plaintiff before the public in a false light.

Judge Marten also generally found that the allegations in the complaint were sufficiently specific to warrant discovery on the Arnolds’ claims.

The court then rejected MaxMind’s argument that the claim was barred by Kansas’s 10-year statute of repose, saying that even though MaxMind’s alleged acts began in 2002 when the company first listed the Arnolds’ address, the harm is ongoing, and MaxMind may be liable for harms that occurred within the past decade.

Finally, the court said jurisdiction over MaxMind was proper, in part because “the volume of IP addresses involved” meant MaxMind should reasonably expect to be called into court in Kansas.

Arnold v. MaxMind, Inc., No. 16-1309, 2016 WL 6124985 (D. Kan. Oct. 20, 2016).