The company behind the Pokémon Go! mobile gaming application has agreed to settle a batch of nuisance and trespass lawsuits brought by property owners, including at least one from New Jersey, irked by the game’s players.
The once-ubiquitous “augmented reality” game, which launched in 2016, led streams of players to roam the physical world with their smartphones in search of virtual Pokémon creatures to catch, train and do combat with. The game, which has dipped in popularity since its viral launch, also spawned a string of lawsuits.
Property owners and leaseholders, including named plaintiffs in New Jersey, Florida, Ohio, Michigan, New York, California, Tennessee and Utah, claimed that players created a nuisance by hanging out and creating disturbances around virtual Pokéstops—places to get useful items within the game—and Pokémon gyms—places to train Pokémon—which were placed near their property without consent. One such suit was filed in August 2016 in the Northern District of California by Jeffrey Marder of West Orange, who claimed that shortly after the game was released that summer, Pokémon Go players began lingering around his property and knocking on his door seeking to capture creatures in his backyard. He claimed that game designers placed virtual Pokéstops and Pokémon gyms on or adjacent to private property such as Marder’s without sign-off from the real-world property owners, though the company contended that there was no real harm because he alleged that only five players knocked on his door.
In a deal outlined in court papers on Feb. 14, Niantic, the game’s maker, has agreed to settle claims brought on behalf of Americans who own or lease property within 100 meters of any location that the company designated as a Pokéstop or Pokémon Gym without the consent of the owner or leaseholder. The proposed deal, which still needs sign off from U.S. District Judge James Donato for the Northern District of California, provides for an injunction “designed to prevent the future placement of virtual game items on private property, and to promptly address future complaints of trespass and nuisance by Pokémon Go players when they arise,” according the court papers filed by plaintiffs lawyers at Pomerantz.
The settlement, however, leaves untested the central legal question in the case: whether a company like Niantic can be held liable for leading users to trespass by placing virtual items on private property without an owner’s consent.
As part of the deal, Niantic has agreed to make “commercially reasonable efforts” to respond to complaints within 15 days in at least 95 percent of cases over the next three years. The company has also agreed to remove its virtual landmarks within five days when it determines that their location is within 40 meters of a single-family residence. The company has also agreed to allow public parks to indicate their hours of operation on Niantic’s website to ward off any unwanted after-hours visitors. The company has also agreed to have an outside auditor review its compliance with the settlement at some point in the next three years.
The proposed deal does not, however, release any claims for monetary damages. Court papers indicate that the parties have agreed to mediate the named plaintiffs’ monetary damages claims.
The Pomerantz lawyers who represent the plaintiffs indicate they will seek as much as $8 million dollars in attorneys fees. So far, they say, they’ve spent 2,500 hours on the matter, or about $1.4 million worth of attorney time. They claim their work on the case could warrant a multiplier of up to four times the lodestar amount. “Plaintiffs’ Counsel expects to expend many more hours in connection with this Action in the future in the course of seeking final approval of the Settlement and then in monitoring Niantic’s compliance with the Settlement,” the Pomerantz lawyers wrote.
Pomerantz’s Jennifer Pafiti didn’t immediately respond to a message requesting a comment.
Niantic didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment sent via their outside counsel at Cooley.
Read the Motion for Preliminary Approval: [falcon-embed src="embed_1"]