Review Services Aren’t Liable for Removing Business Profiles (and Associated Reviews)–PCS v. HomeAdvisor

This case is an interesting, but equally unmeritorious, variation of the many lawsuits seeking to impose “must-carry” obligations on UGC sites. The defendants are consumer review sites Angie’s List and HomeAdvisor. The lead plaintiff is a home contractor. It had business profiles on both review sites. It had also advertised on HomeAdvisor, where it had many consumer reviews. In July 2019, the DC AG’s office sued the plaintiff for a variety of business practices. Soon after the AG’s action, both review sites removed the plaintiff’s profiles and associated reviews. The plaintiff sued them for the removal.

Consumer Review Fairness Act. The plaintiff asserted the CRFA as a sword against the consumer review sites, arguing that the CRFA restricts the ability of HomeAdvisor and Angie’s List to remove consumers’ reviews about the plaintiff. This misunderstanding of the CRFA is so unexpected and preposterous, I don’t even know where to start. Not surprisingly, the court quickly dismisses it. First, the court says that only the FTC can enforce the CRFA; there isn’t any private right of action. Second, by its express terms (the definition of “covered communications”), the CRFA only protects reviewers, not reviewed businesses. The court cites the legislative history statement of Rep. Burgess: “the Act ‘doesn’t interfere with the Web site operators’ ability to manage the contacts and reviews on their own Web sites[,]’ as ‘[r]easonable management of online reviews is necessary to ensure that they convey useful information as opposed to irrelevant or offensive content.'”

This isn’t the first court opinion interpreting the CRFA. I believe that honor goes to the uncited Quigley v. Yelp ruling, another case that tried to weaponize the CRFA against a review site (like this opinion, the court simply held that the CRFA lacks a private right of action). Still, this opinion provides perhaps the most extensive judicial discussion of the CRFA to date.

For more on what the CRFA says and doesn’t say, see my primer.

Tortious Interference. The court graciously calls the plaintiff’s argument–that “HomeAdvisor’s and Angie’s List’s removal of a profile PCS used to drum up business amounts to tortious interference”–a “novel” one. Even if the review sites knew that online reviews were important to the plaintiff, they still lack the requisite intent to disrupt the plaintiff’s business relationships. Furthermore, to the extent that the review sites were responding to the AG litigation, any customer disruption was incidental. Indeed, the court says that “[r]emoval of PCS’s profiles due to the District’s complaint was well-justified.”

False Light. Removing the profiles didn’t create any false impression because ” the perception that HomeAdvisor and Angie’s List had deemed PCS unqualified to be on their websites is not wrong, or even misleading.”

Case citation: Precision Contracting Solutions, LP v. ANGI Homservices, Inc., 2019 WL 6135448 (D.D.C. Nov. 19, 2019)