Court Grants Company’s Motion to Dismiss with Prejudice, Supports Avvo’s First Amendment Right to Express Opinion
Seattle, Wash — The United States District Court in Seattle today dismissed with prejudice a Class Action Complaint filed against Avvo, Inc., the only website that rates and profiles every lawyer. Two Seattle lawyers unhappy about their Avvo Ratings filed the complaint on June 14, 2007, only nine days after Avvo launched its free consumer beta site (www.avvo.com). Avvo filed a motion to dismiss the suit on June 28th.
“As I have said from the beginning, this was a case that never should have been filed,” said Mark Britton, Avvo CEO. “We are gratified that the court agrees. We can now get back to serving consumers rather than litigating with lawyers that want to stop our service.”
In asking the court to dismiss the case, Avvo argued that the company’s publication of attorney disciplinary information and its own and others’ opinions were protected by the First Amendment and that the plaintiff’s case was nothing more than an attempt to chill and censor all of the opinions and guidance that Avvo offers consumers to help them choose the right lawyer, including the Avvo Rating, client ratings and lawyer endorsements.
In its opinion, the court wrote, “Defendants assert that the opinions expressed through the rating system (i.e., that attorney X is a 3.5 and/or that an attorney with a higher rating is better able to handle a particular case than an attorney with a lower rating), are absolutely protected by the First Amendment and cannot serve as the basis for liability under state law. The court agrees.” The complete court order granting the Avvo Motion to Dismiss is posted on the Avvo blog.
“This is a huge win for our First Amendment rights to express our opinions as Americans,” said Bruce E.H. Johnson, partner, Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, and Avvo’s counsel. “Judge Lasnik’s well reasoned and thoughtful opinion confirms our view that lawyers cannot exempt themselves from public scrutiny.”
“Keep in mind that this case was initiated by a sanctioned attorney that did not like having his recent misconduct brought to light,” added Britton. “But to provide consumers with the information and guidance to help them choose the right lawyer, sometimes we need to shine a flashlight into some dark places, and we’ll continue to do so as long as it benefits consumers.”
Avvo offers free information and guidance to help consumers choose the right attorney. A critical piece of guidance the company provides is the Avvo Rating, which is Avvo’s effort to evaluate a lawyer’s background, based on the information Avvo knows about the lawyer. Avvo saves users hours of research time because they have scoured state courts, bar associations and lawyer websites to collect detailed information about every licensed attorney in Arizona, California, District of Columbia, Georgia, Illinois, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Washington. This data is enhanced by content provided directly by lawyers and consumers, including client ratings and peer endorsements. To date, thousands of consumers and attorneys have provided client ratings, peer endorsements, and profile information to Avvo.
Avvo recently enhanced its web site with “Avvo Answers,” a free legal questions-and-answers forum that provides personalized answers to consumers’ specific legal questions. “Avvo Answers” is the only legal Q&A website where users can assess the qualifications of every lawyer who answers a question – through their Avvo Rating and Avvo Profile – and the quality of their answer through votes from the community of Avvo users.
Avvo is a lawyer search website that rates and profiles every attorney to help consumers find the right lawyer. In addition to detailed lawyer profiles, the free site includes the Avvo Rating, disciplinary sanctions and client ratings. Avvo gives every attorney a free online profile and an opportunity to give and receive peer endorsements. Founded in early 2006, Avvo is privately held, with funding from private investors, Benchmark Capital and Ignition Partners. For more information, visit www.avvo.com.