Certain Approval Program v. Rip-off Report Update: Misappropriation Claim Dismissed

By Eric Goldman

Certain Approval Programs, L.L.C. v. XCentric Ventures L.L.C., CV08-1608-PHX-NVW (D. Ariz. April 13, 2009).

Yet another update on Rip-off Report litigation. In March, a ruling in Certain Approval Program v. Xcentric caused a minor stir. The plaintiff sought to amend its complaint against the Rip-off Report to add a claim for “misappropriation of name or likeness.” Rip-off Report defended that the new claim was futile due to 47 USC 230. The court allowed the amendment, saying that the complaint had alleged enough facts that Rip-off Report was involved in the requisite activity to overcome 47 USC 230. Based on the plaintiff’s allegations in its complaint, this was the correct ruling on a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, yet some commentators seemed to think this was a crack in Rip-off Report’s litigation armor. I didn’t see that ruling as a big deal. Instead, I wrote “This is not the first time that plaintiffs’ allegations against Rip-off Report have survived the equivalent of a motion to dismiss, but getting further into the litigation process has proven difficult for plaintiffs.”

Indeed, after allowing the claim, the court immediately granted Rip-off Report’s 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, saying that:

While the alleged conduct may or may not be immune from defamation liability, the necessary use of Plaintiffs’ names to identify them fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted for misappropriation. No one could possibly think that Plaintiffs are somehow endorsing Defendants, and the count adds nothing to Plaintiffs’ defamation claims.

I’d like to think that this may provide a significant new defense against publicity rights claims when websites are making “commercial referential uses” of an individual’s name, but a laconic ruling like this isn’t likely to have much precedential weight.