Judge in U.S. case against Facebook delays trial preparation


FILE PHOTO: The Facebook logo is displayed on a mobile phone in this picture illustration taken December 2, 2019. REUTERS/Johanna Geron/Illustration/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The judge in the U.S. government's antitrust case against Facebook Inc said on Tuesday the social media company's motion to dismiss the lawsuit "raises a number of serious challenges" and put the discovery process on hold.

In a brief order, Judge James Boasberg of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia said he expected to rule on the motion to dismiss next month.

"Given that Facebook's motion to dismiss raises a number of serious challenges to the complaint," the judge wrote in a brief order, it would be premature to exchange documents until he has a chance to decide if some or all of the complaint will be tossed out.

Facebook had asked the court to dismiss both lawsuits, one brought by the Federal Trade Commission and the other by a big group of states, alleging they were brought "in the fraught environment of relentless criticism of Facebook for matters entirely unrelated to antitrust concerns."

Facebook said in a second filing that a recent Supreme Court ruling meant the FTC lawsuit against it calling for the sale of WhatsApp and Instagram should be dismissed. The company argued that the high court ruling allows the FTC to use a particular section of the FTC Act only to demand that behavior stop.

The FTC and a big group of states filed separate lawsuits last year that accused Facebook of breaking antitrust law to keep smaller competitors at bay by snapping up rivals, such as its 2012 acquisition of Instagram for $1 billion and of WhatsApp in 2014 for $19 billion.

All told, the federal government and states filed five lawsuits against Facebook and Alphabet Inc's Google last year following bipartisan outrage over use and misuse of social media clout both in the economy and the political sphere.

(Reporting by Diane Bartz in Washington; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

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