Browne v. Avvo Inc.

NOTE: The information and commentary contained in this database entry are based on court filings and other informational sources that may contain unproven allegations made by the parties. The truthfulness and accuracy of such information is likely to be in dispute. Information contained in this entry is current as of the last event mentioned in the "Description" section below; additional proceedings might have taken place in this matter since this event.

Summary

Threat Type: 

Lawsuit

Date: 

06/14/2007

Status: 

Concluded

Location: 

Washington

Disposition: 

Dismissed (total)

Verdict or Settlement Amount: 

N/A
On June 14, 2007, two prominent lawyers in Seattle, WA filed a class action lawsuit against Avvo Inc., the operator of Avvo.com, a website that profiles and rates lawyers and allows users to submit reviews of lawyers they... read full description
Parties

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

Avvo Inc.; Mark Britton; John 1-25 Does

Type of Party: 

Individual

Type of Party: 

Individual
Organization
Intermediary

Location of Party: 

  • Washington

Location of Party: 

  • Washington

Legal Counsel: 

Ambika K Doran; Bruce EH Johnson; Stephen M. Rummage (DAVIS WRIGHT TREMAINE)
Description

On June 14, 2007, two prominent lawyers in Seattle, WA filed a class action lawsuit against Avvo Inc., the operator of Avvo.com, a website that profiles and rates lawyers and allows users to submit reviews of lawyers they have worked with. Plaintiffs also sued Mark Britton, Avvo's CEO, and 25 anonymous "John Doe" users of the site.

The lawsuit alleges that Avvo's rating system, which plaintiffs claim resulted in their receiving an unreasonably low score, violates the Washington Consumer Protection Act. They also allege that Avvo purports to be objective but is subject to manipulation, cannot produce a reliable system, contains inherent inconsistencies, does not provide a reliable benchmark for assessing lawyer competence, encourages consumer trust in a fallible system, allows attorneys to manipulate their ratings, promotes qualities of attorneys in violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct, and does not accurately report in the categories where it purports to do so. As a result, they assert that Avvo has damaged their reputation and good will. Moreover, by filing a class action lawsuit, the two lawyers are disputing not only their own rankings on the site, but are also challenging the accuracy and validity of the mathematical algorithm used by Avvo to rate and compare attorneys.

On June 28, 2007, defendants filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings, which the court granted on December 18. In dismissing the complaint without leave to amend, Judge Lasnik wrote that the ratings on the site are protected statements of opinion, noting that "defendants' rating is not only defensible, it is virtually impossible to prove wrong." While evidencing clear skepticism about lawyer ratings generally, the judge also took the plaintiffs to task for bringing the lawsuit:

[P]laintiffs Browne and Wenokur want to make a federal case out of the number assigned to them because (a) it could harm their reputation, (b) it could cost them customers/fees, or (c) it could mislead the lawyer-hiring public into retaining poor lawyers or bypassing better lawyers. To the extent that their lawsuit has focused a spotlight on how ludicrous the rating of attorneys (and judges) has become, more power to them. To the extent that they seek to prevent the dissemination of opinions regarding attorneys and judges, however, the First Amendment precludes their cause of action

Judge Lasnik also rejected the plaintiffs' claim under the Washington Consumer Protection Act, concluding that the rankings are not commercial enough to fall under the act and any damages resulting from consumer misinformation are too speculative to support a claim.

As to Avvo’s possible defense under section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, the judge noted that "[p]laintiffs have disavowed any claim based on content that Avvo obtained from a third-party and the Court need not consider this defense further."

Details

Publication Medium: 

Website

Subject Area: 

  • Third-Party Content
  • Section 230
  • Anonymity
  • Consumer Ratings and Reviews
Court Information & Documents

Jurisdiction: 

  • Washington

Source of Law: 

  • Washington

Court Name: 

United States District Court for the Western District of Washington (Seattle)

Court Type: 

Federal

Case Number: 

2:07-cv-00920-RSL

Relevant Documents: