Browne v. Avvo, Inc.

Bruce Edward Humble Johnson

Case Conclusion Date:December 18, 2007

Practice Area:Constitutional

Outcome:Plaintiffs' lawsuit dismissed on the pleadings.

Description:This case was dismissed by the District Court in an opinion dated Dec. 18, 2007 (http://avvoblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2007/12/order-granting-defendants_-motion-to-dismiss-dec-18-2007.PDF). It was a putative class action lawsuit that challenged the First Amendment free speech rights of defendants Avvo and Mark Britton by seeking to hold them liable under the Washington Consumer Protection Act ("CPA") because they offered to consumers their "assessment" of the qualifications of two local lawyers, plaintiffs John Henry Browne and Alan J. Wenokur. Plaintiffs alleged that these assessments were unfair and arbitrary; Wenokur also asserted that he felt "coerced" by the operation of the Avvo ratings during its first nine days. On June 28, 2007, defendants filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings, asking that all claims be dismissed with prejudice. Defendants argued, among other things, that dismissal of the case was warranted because the First Amendment provides absolute protection for statements of opinion. On Dec. 18, 2007, Judge Lasnik granted this motion and dismissed the lawsuit with prejudice. Avvo's attorney ratings, he held, are "absolutely protected by the First Amendment and cannot serve as a basis for liability under state law." In addition, the Court concluded that plaintiffs could not hold defendants liable under the CPA because the "publication of information and ratings" is not trade or commerce and plaintiffs' claim of damages was too remote to be legally viable.