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State attorneys general appeal court’s dismissal of their Facebook antitrust suit

The appeal will be a test of state attorneys’ general ability to play a larger role in tech regulation.

New York Attorney General Letitia James speaks during a news conference in New York. A bipartisan coalition of states appealed a federal judge's ruling to dismiss their antitrust suit against Facebook. (Mary Altaffer/AP)
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A coalition of 48 attorneys general filed an appeal Friday arguing that a federal judge erred in dismissing their high-profile antitrust case against Facebook.

The 99-page brief, filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, seeks to overturn Judge James E. Boasberg’s stunning decision in June to dismiss the states’ lawsuit because the states waited too long to challenge the company’s acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp, bought in 2012 and 2014, respectively.

In their appeal brief, the states argue that such limits do not apply “against sovereign States suing to protect the public interest, like the States here.”

“We’re filing this appeal with the support of almost every state in the nation because we will always fight efforts to stifle competition, reduce innovation, and cut privacy protections, even when we face a goliath like Facebook,” Letitia James (D), the New York attorney general who is leading the coalition, said in a statement.

Court says FTC hasn’t provided evidence Facebook is a monopoly, dismisses lawsuit

The filing, which has been anticipated since last summer, follows Boasberg’s decision Tuesday to allow the Federal Trade Commission’s revised antitrust case against Facebook to proceed to discovery. The judge also had dismissed the FTC’s initial suit last year, but allowed the agency to refile, which it did in August. In his ruling Tuesday, Boasberg said the agency’s refiling included “more robust and detailed” evidence supporting its claim that Facebook holds a monopoly in personal social networking, and has abused it to the detriment of consumers.

Boasberg, however, had not allowed the state attorneys general the same opportunity to refile, and the appeal will be a test of state attorneys’ general ability to play a larger role in the efforts to regulate tech companies. A separate bipartisan coalition of attorneys general has launched an inquiry into whether the social network broke consumer protection laws by promoting its products to children and teens. Attorneys general have also brought antitrust suits against Google and Amazon.