Avvo Wins Big in Ratings Lawsuit–Browne v. Avvo

By Eric Goldman

Browne v. Avvo, C07-0920RSL (W.D. Wash. motion to dismiss granted Dec. 18, 2007)

The lawsuit against Avvo for lawyer ratings has been dismissed without leave to amend. This is a big win for Avvo.

The ruling turns on two legal conclusions. First, the judge says that Avvo’s ratings, even if generated through automated algorithms, are opinions, not facts, and thus fully qualify for First Amendment protection. Second, the judge rejects the lawyers’ claim under Washington consumer protection law because (A) the “editorial” rankings are not commercial enough to be regulated by the act, even when the publication of those rankings is supported by advertising (a conclusion I fully agree with, but many courts–especially in the trademark arena–would have inappropriately labeled the rankings a commercial activity), and (B) the lawyers’ damages are too speculative because it’s impossible to measure how many consumers will be misdirected by any rankings inaccuracies and how much value a lawyer would have derived from those misdirected consumers.

Along the way, the judge expresses a healthy skepticism (bordering on snideness) about lawyer rankings in general, calling the Lawdragon rankings “nonsense,” pointing out that he had trashed a “Super Lawyer”-ranked lawyer who had engaged in “unreasonable and vexatious litigation tactics” in his courtroom (and who retained the ranking even after the trashing) and chiding “how ludicrous the rating of attorneys (and judges) has become.” This judge fully understands ranking silliness and gives it no quarter. Right on, judge!

Lawyers being lawyers, it wouldn’t surprise me to see the plaintiffs appeal the ruling. But the judge’s opinion is solid and any appeal would likely be fruitless.

Other comments on the case:

* Mark Britton of Avvo tells the story from his perspective. The official Avvo press release.

* John Cook of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer

* WSJ Law Blog

* Denise Howell

* The complete CMLP page on the lawsuit