Browne et al v. Avvo Inc et al

Filing 6

MOTION for Judgment on the Pleadings Under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c) by Defendants Avvo Inc, Mark Britton. (Attachments: # 1 Proposed Order)Noting Date 7/20/2007.(Johnson, Bruce)

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Browne et al v. Avvo Inc et al Doc. 6 Case 2:07-cv-00920-RSL Document 6 Filed 06/28/2007 Page 1 of 34 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Plaintiffs, 12 v. 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 AVVO, INC., MARK BRITTON, and JOHN DOES 1-25, Defendants. JOHN HENRY BROWNE and ALAN J. WENOKUR, individually and on behalf of others similarly situated, ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) The Honorable Robert S. Lasnik UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT WESTERN DISTRICT OF WASHINGTON AT SEATTLE No. CV7-920 RSL DEFENDANTS MOTION TO DISMISS CLASS ACTION COMPLAINT UNDER FED. R. CIV. P. 12(c) Note on Motion Calendar: July 20, 2007 DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS COMPLAINT (CV7 920 RSL) 1 SEA 2044802v3 0084269-000001 Davis Wright Tremaine LLP LAW OFFICES Suite 2600 1201 Third Avenue (206) 622-3150 Seattle, Washington 98101-3045 Fax: (206) 757-7700 Dockets.Justia.com Case 2:07-cv-00920-RSL Document 6 Filed 06/28/2007 Page 2 of 34 1 2 I. 3 II. 4 A. 5 B. 6 C. 7 D. 8 III. 9 A. 10 11 12 13 D. 14 15 16 17 E. 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 IV. F. 1. 2. B. C. TABLE OF CONTENTS PRELIMINARY STATEMENT .................................................................................... 1 FACTUAL BACKGROUND.........................................................................................1 Avvo s Launch................................................................................................................1 The Avvo Rating.............................................................................................................2 What Avvo Purports to Offer..........................................................................................4 The Complaint. ...............................................................................................................4 LEGAL ARGUMENT....................................................................................................5 Because They Seek to Punish Speech, Plaintiffs Face a Heightened Pleading Standard Under the First Amendment. ........................................................................... 5 Avvo Engages in a Core First Amendment Activity Opinion. ....................................7 The First Amendment Precludes the Unlimited Liability that Plaintiffs Seek Against Avvo. ...............................................................................................................13 Plaintiffs Have Failed to State a Claim Under the Washington Consumer Protection Act. .............................................................................................................. 15 Avvo does not engage in trade or commerce under the CPA............................15 Plaintiffs have failed to allege that Avvo proximately caused their alleged injuries. 17 Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act Bars Liability for Avvo s Posting of Third-Party Content.....................................................................................19 The First Amendment Bars Liability for Republication of Disciplinary Actions by the Washington State Bar Association..........................................................................21 1. A publisher cannot be liable for reprinting truthful information from public records about a matter of public concern.......................................................................................21 2. The fair report privilege also bars liability for publication of disciplinary history. . 21 CONCLUSION.............................................................................................................22 DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS COMPLAINT (CV7 920 RSL) i SEA 2044802v3 0084269-000001 Davis Wright Tremaine LLP LAW OFFICES Suite 2600 1201 Third Avenue (206) 622-3150 Seattle, Washington 98101-3045 Fax: (206) 757-7700 Case 2:07-cv-00920-RSL Document 6 Filed 06/28/2007 Page 3 of 34 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS COMPLAINT (CV7 920 RSL) ii SEA 2044802v3 0084269-000001 Davis Wright Tremaine LLP LAW OFFICES Suite 2600 1201 Third Avenue (206) 622-3150 Seattle, Washington 98101-3045 Fax: (206) 757-7700 TABLE OF AUTHORITIES CASES Agora, Inc. v. Axxess, Inc., 90 F. Supp.2d 697 (D. Md.), aff d, 11 Fed. Appx. 99 (4th Cir. 2001).......................................9 Alpine Indus. Computers, Inc. v. Cowles Publ g Co., 114 Wn. App. 371, 57 P.3d 1178 (2002)........................................................................... 21-23 Anton v. St. Louis Suburban Newspapers, Inc., 598 S.W.2d 493 (Mo. App. 1980) ...........................................................................................11 Asay v. Hallmark Cards, Inc., 594 F.2d 692 (8th Cir. 1979) .....................................................................................................7 Ass n of Wash. Pub. Hosp. Dist. v. Philip Morris Inc., 241 F.3d 696 (9th Cir. 2001) ...................................................................................................17 Aviation Charter, Inc. v. Aviation Research Group/US, 416 F.3d 864 (8th Cir. 2005) ......................................................................................... 9, 12-13 Baker v. Los Angeles Herald Exam r, 721 P.2d 87 (Cal. 1986) .............................................................................................................9 Bates v. State Bar of Arizona, 433 U.S. 350 (1977).................................................................................................................12 Batzel v. Smith, 333 F.3d 1018 (9th Cir. 2003) .................................................................................................19 Beinin v. Berk, 452 N.Y.S.2d 601 (N.Y. App.), aff d, 444 N.E.2d 1005 (N.Y. 1982).....................................11 Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S. Ct. 1955, 2007 WL 1461066 (U.S. May 21, 2007) ....................................................2, 6 Bergen v. Martindale-Hubbell, Inc., 285 S.E.2d 6 (Ga. 1981) ..........................................................................................................12 Blatty v. New York Times Co., 42 Cal.3d 1033 (Cal. 1986)......................................................................................................13 Blewett v. Abbott Labs., 86 Wn. App. 782, 938 P.2d 842 (1997)...................................................................................17 Case 2:07-cv-00920-RSL Document 6 Filed 06/28/2007 Page 4 of 34 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 Bobal v. Rennselaer Polytechnic Inst., 916 F.2d 759 (2d Cir. 1990) ......................................................................................................7 Bramesco v. Drug Computer Consultants, 834 F. Supp. 120 (S.D.N.Y. 1993) ............................................................................................7 Branch v. Tunnell, 14 F.3d 449 (9th Cir. 1994) .......................................................................................................2 Brooks v. Paige, 773 P.2d 1098 (Colo. 1988).....................................................................................................14 Carafano v. Metrosplash.com, Inc., 339 F.3d 1119 (9th Cir. 2003) ........................................................................................... 19-20 Clapp v. Olympic View Publ g Co., 137 Wn. App. 470, 154 P.3d 230 (2007).................................................................................21 Clegg v. Cult Awareness Network, 18 F.3d 752 (9th Cir. 1994) .......................................................................................................6 Cochran v. NYP Holdings, Inc., 58 F. Supp.2d 1113 (C.D. Cal.), aff d, 210 F.3d 1036 (9th Cir. 2000)................................8, 10 Coles v. Washington Free Weekly, Inc., 881 F. Supp. 26 (D.D.C. 1995)................................................................................................11 Cornwell v. Joseph, 7 F. Supp.2d 1106, 1108 (S.D. Cal. 1998).................................................................................6 Cox Broad. Corp. v. Cohn, 420 U.S. 469 (1975).................................................................................................................20 Deupree v. Iliff, 860 F.2d 300 (9th Cir. 1988) ...................................................................................................14 El Paso Times, Inc. v. Kerr, 706 S.W.2d 797 (Tex. App. 1986)..........................................................................................11 Elite Funding Corp. v. Mid-Hudson Better Bus. Bureau, 165 Misc.2d 497 (N.Y. Sup. 1995)............................................................................................9 Fair Hous. Council v. Roommates.com, ___ F.3d ____, 2007 WL 1412650 (9th Cir. May 15, 2007)...................................................20 Fed. Deposit Ins. Corp. v. Bathgate, 27 F.3d 850 (3rd Cir. 1994) .......................................................................................................7 DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS COMPLAINT (CV7 920 RSL) iii SEA 2044802v3 0084269-000001 Davis Wright Tremaine LLP LAW OFFICES Suite 2600 1201 Third Avenue (206) 622-3150 Seattle, Washington 98101-3045 Fax: (206) 757-7700 Case 2:07-cv-00920-RSL Document 6 Filed 06/28/2007 Page 5 of 34 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 Ferlauto v. Hamsher, 74 Cal. App.4th 1394 (Cal. App. 1999)...................................................................................12 Fidelity Mortgage Corp. v. Seattle Times Co., 131 Wn. App. 462, 128 P.3d 621 (2005)........................................................................... 15-18 Films of Distinction, Inc. v. Allegro Film Productions, Inc., 12 F. Supp. 2d 1068 (C.D. Cal. 1998) .....................................................................................14 Florida Star v. B.J.F., 491 U.S. 524 (1980).................................................................................................................21 Flowers v. Carville, 310 F.3d 1118 (9th Cir. 2002) ...................................................................................................6 Franchise Realty Interstate Corp. v. S.F. Local Joint Executive Bd. of Culinary Workers, 542 F.2d 1076 (9th Cir. 1976) ............................................................................................... 6-7 Galbraith v. County of Santa Clara, 307 F.3d 1119 (9th Cir. 2002) ...................................................................................................2 Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc., 418 U.S. 323 (1974).............................................................................................................7, 22 Golub v. Esquire Publ g Inc., 508 N.Y.S.2d 188 (N.Y. App. 1986) .......................................................................................11 Graham v. Bryce Corp., 348 F. Supp.2d 1038 (E.D. Ark. 2004)......................................................................................7 Guarneri v. Korea News, Inc., 625 N.Y.S.2d 291 (N.Y. App. 1995) .......................................................................................11 Hammer v. Amazon.com, 392 F. Supp.2d 423 (E.D.N.Y. 2005) ........................................................................................9 Hangman Ridge Training Stables, Inc. v. Safeco Title Ins. Co., 105 Wn.2d 778, 719 P.2d 531 (1986)......................................................................................15 Harris v. City of Seattle, 315 F. Supp. 2d 1112 (W.D. Wash. 2004).................................................................................6 Herbert v. Lando, 603 F. Supp. 983 (S.D.N.Y. 1985), aff d in relevant part, 781 F.2d 298 (2d Cir. 1986) ..........................................................................................................................................7 Herron v. Tribune Publ g. Co., 108 Wn.2d 162, 736 P.2d 249 (1987)......................................................................................21 DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS COMPLAINT (CV7 920 RSL) iv SEA 2044802v3 0084269-000001 Davis Wright Tremaine LLP LAW OFFICES Suite 2600 1201 Third Avenue (206) 622-3150 Seattle, Washington 98101-3045 Fax: (206) 757-7700 Case 2:07-cv-00920-RSL Document 6 Filed 06/28/2007 Page 6 of 34 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 Hoffman v. Capital Cities/ABC, Inc., 255 F.3d 1180 (9th Cir. 2001) .................................................................................................15 Hustler v. Falwell, 485 U.S. 46 (1988)............................................................................................................. 13-14 Int l Ultimate, Inc. v. St. Paul Fire & Marine Ins. Co., 122 Wn. App. 736, 87 P.3d 774 (2004)...................................................................................18 Ireland v. Edwards, 584 N.W.2d 632 (Mich. App. 1998)........................................................................................14 James v. San Jose Mercury News, 17 Cal. App.4th 1 (Cal. App. 1993).........................................................................................11 Jefferson County School Dist. No. R-1 v. Moody s Investor s Servs., Inc., 175 F.3d 848 (10th Cir. 1999) .............................................................................................9, 14 Kirkland v. City of Peekskill, 634 F. Supp. 950 (S.D.N.Y. 1986) ............................................................................................7 Knievel v. ESPN, 393 F.3d 1068 (9th Cir. 2005) ...................................................................................................2 Lence v. Hagadone Inv. Co., 853 P.2d 1230 (Mont. 1993), rev d on other grounds, Sacco v. High Country Indep. Press, Inc., 271 Mont. 209, 896 P.2d 411 (Mont. 1995) ............................................................................21 Liberty Lobby, Inc. v. Dow Jones & Co., Inc., 838 F.2d 1287 (D.C. Cir. 1988)......................................................................................... 11-12 Lieberman v. Fieger, 338 F.3d 1076 (9th Cir. 2003) ...................................................................................................8 Manns v. The Leather Shop, Inc., 960 F. Supp. 925 (D.V.I. 1997) .................................................................................................7 Mark v. Seattle Times Co., 96 Wn.2d 473, 635 P.2d 1081 (1981)......................................................................................22 Mashburn v. Collin, 355 So.2d 879 (La. 1977) ..........................................................................................................9 McGlinchy v. Shell Chem. Co., 845 F.2d 802 (9th Cir. 1988) .....................................................................................................6 Mohr v. Grant, 153 Wn.2d 812, 108 P.3d 768 (2005)......................................................................................22 DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS COMPLAINT (CV7 920 RSL) v SEA 2044802v3 0084269-000001 Davis Wright Tremaine LLP LAW OFFICES Suite 2600 1201 Third Avenue (206) 622-3150 Seattle, Washington 98101-3045 Fax: (206) 757-7700 Case 2:07-cv-00920-RSL Document 6 Filed 06/28/2007 Page 7 of 34 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 Moldea v. New York Times Co., 22 F.3d 310 (D.C. Cir. 1994)................................................................................................. 8-9 Morris v. Gray & Co., 378 So.2d 1081 (La. 1979) ......................................................................................................11 Mr. Chow of New York v. Ste. Jour Azur S.A., 759 F.2d 219 (2d Cir. 1985) ......................................................................................................9 Murray v. Bailey, 613 F. Supp. 1276 (N.D. Cal. 1985) ........................................................................................10 New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 (1964).................................................................................................................15 North Star Int l v. Arizona Corp. Comm n, 720 F.2d 578 (9th Cir. 1983) .....................................................................................................6 Northwest Airlines, Inc. v. Ticket Exch., Inc., 793 F. Supp. 976 (W.D. Wash. 1992)......................................................................................19 O Brien v. Tribune Publ g Co., 7 Wn. App. 107, 499 P.2d 24 (1972).......................................................................................22 Oregon Natural Res. Council v. Mohla, 944 F.2d 531 (9th Cir. 1991) .....................................................................................................7 Owen v. Carr, 497 N.E.2d 1145 (Ill. 1986).....................................................................................................10 Parrino v. FHP, Inc., 146 F.3d 699 (9th Cir. 1998) .....................................................................................................2 Partington v. Bugliosi, 56 F.3d 1147 (9th Cir. 1995) ...............................................................................................8, 10 Peel v. Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Comm n of Ill., 496 U.S. 91 (1991)...................................................................................................................12 Pegasus v. Reno Newspapers, Inc., 57 P.3d 82 (Nev. 2002)..............................................................................................................9 Phantom Touring, Inc. v. Affiliated Pub lns, 953 F.2d 724 (1st Cir. 1992)......................................................................................................7 Presidio Enter. v. Warner Bros. Distrib. Corp., 784 F.2d 674 (5th Cir. 1986) ...............................................................................................9, 14 DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS COMPLAINT (CV7 920 RSL) vi SEA 2044802v3 0084269-000001 Davis Wright Tremaine LLP LAW OFFICES Suite 2600 1201 Third Avenue (206) 622-3150 Seattle, Washington 98101-3045 Fax: (206) 757-7700 Case 2:07-cv-00920-RSL Document 6 Filed 06/28/2007 Page 8 of 34 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 Quilici v. Second Amendment Found., 769 F.2d 414 (7th Cir. 1985) ...................................................................................................11 Reader s Digest Ass n v. Superior Court, 37 Cal.3d 244 (Cal. 1984)........................................................................................................13 Redco Corp. v. CBS, Inc., 758 F.2d 970 (3d Cir. 1985) ....................................................................................................14 Remick v. Manfredy, 238 F.3d 248 (3d Cir. 2001) ....................................................................................................10 Reno v. ACLU, 521 U.S. 844 (1997).................................................................................................................16 Rice v. Comtek Mfg. of Or. Inc., 766 F. Supp. 1539 (D. Or. 1990) ...............................................................................................7 S & W Seafoods Co. v. Jacor Broad. of Atlanta, 390 S.E.2d 228 (Ga. App. 1990)................................................................................................9 Sharper v. Phila. Bar Ass n, 42 Pa. D. & C.3d 550 (Pa. Com. Pl. 1986) ................................................................................9 Shoen v. Shoen, 5 F.3d 1289 (9th Cir. 1993) .....................................................................................................16 Short v. Demopolis, 103 Wn.2d 52, 691 P.2d 163 (1984)........................................................................................15 Smith v. Daily Mail Publ g Co., 443 U.S. 97 (1979)...................................................................................................................21 Sorin v. Bd. of Educ. of City School Dist. of Warrensville Heights, 464 F. Supp. 50 (N.D. Ohio 1978).............................................................................................7 Stuart v. Gambling Times, Inc., 534 F. Supp. 170 (D.N.J. 1982) .................................................................................................9 Sullivan v. Conway, 157 F.3d 1092 (7th Cir. 1998) .................................................................................................11 Themed Restaur., Inc. v. Zagat Survey, LLC, 801 N.Y.S.2d 38 (N.Y. App. 2005) ........................9 Thomas v. Los Angeles Times Communications, LLC, 189 F. Supp.2d 1005 (C.D. Cal. 2002), aff d on other grounds, 45 Fed. Appx. 801 (9th Cir. 2002)............................................................................................................................9 DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS COMPLAINT (CV7 920 RSL) vii SEA 2044802v3 0084269-000001 Davis Wright Tremaine LLP LAW OFFICES Suite 2600 1201 Third Avenue (206) 622-3150 Seattle, Washington 98101-3045 Fax: (206) 757-7700 Case 2:07-cv-00920-RSL Document 6 Filed 06/28/2007 Page 9 of 34 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 Trump v. Chicago Tribune Co., 616 F. Supp. 1434 (S.D.N.Y. 1985) ..........................................................................................9 U.S. ex rel. Smith v. Yale Univ., 415 F. Supp.2d 58 (D. Conn. 2006)...........................................................................................7 Unelko Corp. v. Rooney, 912 F.2d 1049 (9th Cir. 1990) .................................................................................................14 Vantassell-Matin v. Nelson, 741 F. Supp. 698 (N.D. Ill. 1990) ..............................................................................................7 Vasquez v. Los Angeles County, __ F.3d __, No. 04-56973, 2007 WL 1412671 (9th Cir. May 15, 2007)...................................6 Wash. State Physicians Ins. Exch. & Ass n v. Fisons Corp., 122 Wn.2d 299, 858 P.2d 1054 (1993)....................................................................................19 Washington Post Co. v. Keogh, 365 F.2d 965 (D.C. Cir. 1966).................................................................................................22 Whitney v. California, 274 U.S. 357 (1927).................................................................................................................22 Zauderer v. Office of Disciplinary Counsel of Supreme Court of Ohio, 471 U.S. 626 (1985).................................................................................................................12 Zeran v. America Online, Inc., 129 F.3d 327 (4th Cir. 1997) ............................................................................................. 19-20 STATUTES 47 U.S.C. 230........................................................................................................................ 19-20 RCW 19.86.010(2).........................................................................................................................15 RCW 19.86.020 ....................................................................................................................... 14-15 OTHER AUTHORITIES Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, FEDERAL PRACTICE AND PROCEDURE (2d ed. 1990) ..........................................................................................................................................2 Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) ...................................................................................................................6 Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c) ................................................................................................................ 2, 5-6 H.B. 1366, 2007 Leg., 60th Sess. (Wa. 2007) ...............................................................................16 DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS COMPLAINT (CV7 920 RSL) viii SEA 2044802v3 0084269-000001 Davis Wright Tremaine LLP LAW OFFICES Suite 2600 1201 Third Avenue (206) 622-3150 Seattle, Washington 98101-3045 Fax: (206) 757-7700 Case 2:07-cv-00920-RSL Document 6 Filed 06/28/2007 Page 10 of 34 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 U.S. Const., Amend. I............................................................................................................ Passim DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS COMPLAINT (CV7 920 RSL) ix SEA 2044802v3 0084269-000001 Davis Wright Tremaine LLP LAW OFFICES Suite 2600 1201 Third Avenue (206) 622-3150 Seattle, Washington 98101-3045 Fax: (206) 757-7700 Case 2:07-cv-00920-RSL Document 6 Filed 06/28/2007 Page 11 of 34 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 A. I. PRELIMINARY STATEMENT Plaintiff John Henry Browne says he has been honored in The Best Lawyers in America. Compl. 20. He also alleges that Washington Law and Politics magazine has recognized him as one of Washington s Super Lawyers. Id. His co-plaintiff, Alan J. Wenokur, is no slouch either: like Mr. Browne, he has earned the coveted Martindale-Hubbell AV rating. Id. 20, 25. But if these gifted attorneys have their way, nobody would be permitted to judge them or to question their skills further. In particular, Messrs. Browne and Wenokur object that defendant Avvo, Inc., and an Avvo employee, defendant Mark Britton, have launched a website that collects data and then opines on the qualifications of many of America s lawyers. Plaintiffs have not pointed to any false and defamatory statements of fact on the Avvo site. Instead, their dismay appears to result from ratings lower than they think they deserve in Mr. Browne s case, due to a recent disciplinary admonition, and in Mr. Wenokur s case, because he refuses to fill out a form on the site. Messrs. Browne and Wenokur are not the first lawyers to object to a public expression of opinion about their work. In fact, other disgruntled lawyers have filed similar lawsuits in the past, which have bequeathed a rich legacy of First Amendment opinion cases emphasizing the right of the media and the public to evaluate, comment upon, and even criticize, lawyers. These cases uniformly find that the Constitution does not exempt lawyers from opinions and evaluations. In this motion, defendants ask the Court to recognize that the First Amendment bars lawsuits chilling free speech, even those brought by lawyers who consider themselves superlative and above criticism, and to dismiss the Complaint with prejudice. II. Avvo s Launch FACTUAL BACKGROUND On June 5, 2007, Avvo launched the initial version of its website, offering consumers ratings and profiles of attorneys in nine states and the District of Columbia. Compl. 1, 2, 32. Developed for non-experts, Avvo aims to make the murky process of comparing lawyers DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS COMPLAINT (CV7 920 RSL) 1 SEA 2044802v3 0084269-000001 Davis Wright Tremaine LLP LAW OFFICES Suite 2200 1201 Third Avenue (206) 622-3150 Seattle, Washington 98101-3045 Fax: (206) 757-7700 Case 2:07-cv-00920-RSL Document 6 Filed 06/28/2007 Page 12 of 34 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 clearer. Id. 2.1 Avvo rates attorneys in three basic areas: experience, industry recognition, and professional conduct. Id. 4. To do this, Avvo compiles several pieces of information. First, Avvo gathers and displays publicly available material about attorneys from state bar associations and websites including years of experience and disciplinary sanctions. Declaration of Karen Shaak, Ex. A. at 1. Second, attorneys may update their profiles with relevant information at no cost, entering their credit card information solely to safeguard the website against fraudulent activity (e.g., hackers attempting to claim multiple profiles). See id. at 2, 5. Third, consumers can submit ratings and reviews of attorneys they have worked with, and attorneys may submit endorsements of their peers. Id. at 1. B. The Avvo Rating Based on extensive research, legal expertise, attorney opinions, and consumer input, Avvo arrived at the view that some lawyer attributes matter more than others. Id. at 11. Pushed by a desire to share these beliefs with consumers, Avvo developed a mathematical model that incorporates the gathered information and converts it into a numerical rating based 1 This quotation, like much material the Complaint cites, relies on information from the Avvo website. See, e.g., Compl. 1-7, 10-13, 15, 21-23, 26-27, 32-35, 37-40, 46-49, 50-56, 60, 70-71, 79, 82-84. Under the incorporation-by-reference doctrine, the Court may consider the full text of the website. Parrino v. FHP, Inc., 146 F.3d 699, 706 (9th Cir. 1998) ( [A] district court ruling on a motion to dismiss may consider a document the authenticity of which is not contested, and upon which the plaintiff s complaint necessarily relies. ); see also Branch v. Tunnell, 14 F.3d 449, 453 (9th Cir. 1994) (citing 5 Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, FEDERAL PRACTICE AND PROCEDURE 1327, at 762-63 (2d ed. 1990)), rev d on other grounds, Galbraith v. County of Santa Clara, 307 F.3d 1119 (9th Cir. 2002). The rationale of the incorporation by reference doctrine applies with equal force to internet pages as it does to printed material. Just as a reader must absorb a printed statement in the context of the media in which it appears, a computer user necessarily views web pages in the context of the links through which the user accessed those pages. Knievel v. ESPN, 393 F.3d 1068, 1076 (9th Cir. 2005). Last month, the Supreme Court applied this principle on a motion to dismiss. See Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S. Ct. 1955, 2007 WL 1461066, at *13, n.13 (U.S. May 21, 2007) ( [T]he District Court was entitled to take notice of the full contents of the published articles referenced in the complaint, from which the truncated quotations were drawn. ). Given that plaintiffs lawsuit is premised on the Avvo website itself, consideration of its contents does not convert this motion into one for summary judgment. Parrino, 146 F.3d at 705-06; see also Branch, 14 F.3d at 454. Finally, to the extent this Court considers information outside the pleadings, this Court has the option to treat this motion for judgment on the pleadings as a motion for summary judgment in accordance with Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c). See, e.g., Olsen v. Idaho State Bd. of Medicine, 363 F.3d 916, 922 (9th Cir. 2004). DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS COMPLAINT (CV7 920 RSL) 2 SEA 2044802v3 0084269-000001 Davis Wright Tremaine LLP LAW OFFICES Suite 2200 1201 Third Avenue (206) 622-3150 Seattle, Washington 98101-3045 Fax: (206) 757-7700 Case 2:07-cv-00920-RSL Document 6 Filed 06/28/2007 Page 13 of 34 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 on a ten-point scale. Id.; see also Compl. 5. The rating represents Avvo s assessment of how well a lawyer could handle [a consumer s] legal issue. Id.; see also Compl. 5. These numbers correspond to Avvo s judgment as follows: 9.0-10.0 Superb 8.0-8.9 Excellent 7.0-7.9 Very good 6.0-6.9 Good 5.0-5.9 Average 4.0-4.9 Concern 3.0-3.9 Caution 2.0-2.9 Strong caution 1.0-1.9 Extreme caution. Id. at 12; see also Compl. 3. Lawyers may not change their Avvo ratings without submitting information relevant to the factors considered in the mathematical model. See id. at 13. They may not pay to increase their rating. Id. Avvo assumes that lawyers honestly report information relevant to their experience. Id. at 14. Nevertheless, when Avvo s system does not recognize an award or recognition an attorney posts to his or her profile, it assigns the lawyer certain minimum points for the unknown award or recognition and forwards the unknown information to an internal assessment team for review. Id. The team reviews the award or recognition and assigns a value according to Avvo s scoring guidelines. Id. Ratings also may change when Avvo updates information it collects from publicly available records. See id. at 13. Avvo may lower an attorney s rating for submitting false data, and encourages users to report potentially false information. Id. In addition, an attorney s Avvo rating may change as Avvo periodically adjusts the model it uses. Id.2 2 In fact, Avvo has already begun changes to its beta version. On June 26, 2007, the site debuted a new system that applies to attorneys for whom Avvo has information only from public records. In these situations, Avvo no longer assigns the attorney a numerical rating and DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS COMPLAINT (CV7 Davis Wright Tremaine LLP LAW OFFICES 920 RSL) 3 SEA 2044802v3 0084269-000001 Suite 2200 1201 Third Avenue Seattle, Washington 98101-3045 (206) 622-3150 Fax: (206) 757-7700 Case 2:07-cv-00920-RSL Document 6 Filed 06/28/2007 Page 14 of 34 C. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 D. 22 23 24 25 26 27 What Avvo Purports to Offer Avvo s website is filled with reminders that its ratings simply represent its opinion of the subject attorneys. Id. at 11-12 ( The Avvo Rating is our assessment of how well a lawyer could handle your legal issue . The Avvo Rating is one of several tools you should use to choose the right lawyer for your case . Keep in mind that the Avvo Rating is based on information we have collected about a lawyer, not personal experience, so it can t measure subjective factors like personality and communication style. The fact is, there s no substitute for talking and meeting with an attorney in person. ) (emphasis added); 3 (Avvo offers unique information and guidance in the form of our Avvo Rating, which is our assessment of how well a lawyer can represent you, as well as disciplinary histories, client ratings and peer ratings for every lawyer in the states that we currently cover. ) (emphasis added); 19 ( The Avvo Rating is our assessment of how well a lawyer could handle your legal issue. It is based on data we collected about the lawyer, including the attorney s experience practicing law, professional achievements and disciplinary sanctions (if any). ) (emphasis added); 17 ( We re an excellent place to start because we ve profiled every lawyer in your state. Profile information includes experience, areas of practice, professional achievements, disciplinary sanctions (if any), and the Avvo Rating, our assessment of how well a lawyer could represent you based on information we know about the lawyer. ) (emphasis added); 20 ( Should I rely on only the Avvo Rating in choosing a lawyer? No. While the Avvo Rating is well-informed by our extensive research and legal expertise, it is only one of several tools you can use to choose the right lawyer for your case. ) (emphasis added); see also Compl. 5, 33-34, 39. The Complaint. On June 14, 2007, two Seattle lawyers, Browne and Wenokur, individually and purportedly on behalf of other lawyers similarly situated, filed this Class Action Complaint. Plaintiffs disagree with Avvo s views about their expertise and seek to penalize Avvo for communicating its views, alleging that Avvo distributes misleading information because it alerts the consumer if the attorney has something in his or her record that Avvo believes the consumer should consider, such as a suspended license. DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS COMPLAINT (CV7 920 RSL) 4 SEA 2044802v3 0084269-000001 Davis Wright Tremaine LLP LAW OFFICES Suite 2200 1201 Third Avenue (206) 622-3150 Seattle, Washington 98101-3045 Fax: (206) 757-7700 Case 2:07-cv-00920-RSL Document 6 Filed 06/28/2007 Page 15 of 34 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 fails to accurately reflect their experience, disciplinary proceedings and meaningful benchmarks of performance. Id. 16. They also contend (without offering any facts) that Avvo s ratings are capricious and arbitrary. Id. 46. The lawsuit turns on two basic disagreements. First, Mr. Browne has been subject to a disciplinary proceeding brought by the Washington State Bar Association, which he claims does not justify his rating of 5.2 ( Average ). Compl. 23. Second, Mr. Wenokur has a rating of 6.5 ( Good ) because he has not claimed his profile, which would have allowed him to add information that would aid Avvo in judging his qualifications. Id. 25. As a result of Avvo s use and promotion of the rating system as an method to find the right lawyer, unbiased plaintiffs contend, Avvo has violated the Washington Consumer Protection Act ( CPA ). Id. 70-71. They also allege (again, in conclusory fashion) that Avvo purports to be objective but is subject to manipulation, cannot produce a reliable system, contains inherent inconsistencies, publicly penalizes lawyers who will not register, falsely purports to be free of favoritism, does not provide a reliable benchmark for assessing lawyer competence, encourages consumer trust in a fallible system, does not discriminate between low ratings based on whether information is available, allows attorneys to manipulate their ratings, promotes qualities of attorneys in violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct, and does not accurately report in the categories where it purports to do so. Id. 71. As a result, they assert that Avvo has damaged the reputation and good will associated with their legal practices. Id. 14. Mr. Browne seeks to bring a complaint on behalf of himself based on essentially the same allegations and claims the website has cost him two clients. Id. 76-85. III. A. LEGAL ARGUMENT Because They Seek to Punish Speech, Plaintiffs Face a Heightened Pleading Standard Under the First Amendment. A court should decide a motion for judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c), Fed. R. Civ. P., under the same standard as a motion for failure to state a claim upon which relief DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS COMPLAINT (CV7 920 RSL) 5 SEA 2044802v3 0084269-000001 Davis Wright Tremaine LLP LAW OFFICES Suite 2200 1201 Third Avenue (206) 622-3150 Seattle, Washington 98101-3045 Fax: (206) 757-7700 Case 2:07-cv-00920-RSL Document 6 Filed 06/28/2007 Page 16 of 34 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 can be granted under Rule 12(b)(6). See McGlinchy v. Shell Chem. Co., 845 F.2d 802, 810 (9th Cir. 1988) (because Rule 12(c) was used to raise the defense of failure to state a claim the motion for judgment on the pleadings faces the same test as a motion under Rule 12(b)(6) ); accord Cornwell v. Joseph, 7 F. Supp.2d 1106, 1108 (S.D. Cal. 1998) (same). A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) tests a complaint s legal sufficiency, a test that (notwithstanding their excellent non-Avvo ratings) plaintiffs have failed to meet. See North Star Int l v. Arizona Corp. Comm n, 720 F.2d 578, 581 (9th Cir. 1983) (affirming dismissal). Although the Court must accept as true the Complaint s well-pleaded factual allegations, the Ninth Circuit has consistently emphasized that conclusory allegations of law and unwarranted inferences will not defeat an otherwise proper motion to dismiss. Vasquez v. Los Angeles County, __ F.3d __, No. 04-56973, 2007 WL 1412671, at *2 (9th Cir. May 15, 2007) (affirming dismissal) (citation omitted). [T]he court is not required to accept legal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations if those conclusions cannot reasonably be drawn from the facts alleged. Clegg v. Cult Awareness Network, 18 F.3d 752, 754-55 (9th Cir. 1994). The Supreme Court recently made clear that a plaintiff s obligation to provide the grounds of his entitle[ment] to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of a cause of action s elements will not do. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S. Ct. 1955, 2007 WL 1461066, at *8 (U.S. May 21, 2007) (quotation marks omitted). Moreover, this lawsuit directly implicates the First Amendment. Where a plaintiff seeks damages for conduct which is prima facie protected by the First Amendment, the danger that the mere pendency of the action will chill the exercise of First Amendment rights requires more specific allegations than would otherwise be required. Flowers v. Carville, 310 F.3d 1118, 1130 (9th Cir. 2002) (quoting Franchise Realty Interstate Corp. v. S.F. Local Joint Executive Bd. of Culinary Workers, 542 F.2d 1076, 1082-83 (9th Cir. 1976)); see also Harris v. City of Seattle, 315 F. Supp. 2d 1112, 1123-24 (W.D. Wash. 2004) (dismissing a plaintiff s defamation claim for failure to identify the allegedly defamatory statements, and to DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS COMPLAINT (CV7 920 RSL) 6 SEA 2044802v3 0084269-000001 Davis Wright Tremaine LLP LAW OFFICES Suite 2200 1201 Third Avenue (206) 622-3150 Seattle, Washington 98101-3045 Fax: (206) 757-7700 Case 2:07-cv-00920-RSL Document 6 Filed 06/28/2007 Page 17 of 34 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 allege that the statements were made about her). Many courts have confirmed this heightened standard, finding that defamation plaintiffs must allege with specificity the elements of their claims, for example by identifying the allegedly libelous statements.3 In other contexts, too, these First Amendment rules have spurred the Ninth Circuit to require plaintiffs to meet additional specificity requirements to survive a motion to dismiss.4 B. Avvo Engages in a Core First Amendment Activity Opinion. The Avvo Rating is an opinion. As the United States Supreme Court emphasized long ago: Under the First Amendment, there is no such thing as a false idea. Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc., 418 U.S. 323, 339 (1974) (emphasis added). However pernicious an opinion may seem, the Court continued, we depend for its correction not on the conscience of judges and juries but on the competition of other ideas. Id. Plaintiffs ask this Court to do precisely the opposite, by passing judgment on Avvo s ratings, which consist of Avvo s (and 3 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 See Fed. Deposit Ins. Corp. v. Bathgate, 27 F.3d 850, 875 (3rd Cir. 1994) (dismissal was appropriate where party claiming defamation failed to identify allegedly libelous statements); Phantom Touring, Inc. v. Affiliated Pub lns, 953 F.2d 724, 728 n.6 (1st Cir. 1992) (party sued is entitled to knowledge of the precise language challenged as defamatory, and the plaintiff therefore is limited to its complaint in defining the scope of the alleged defamation ); Bobal v. Rennselaer Polytechnic Inst., 916 F.2d 759, 763 (2d Cir. 1990) (district court properly dismissed defamation claims where plaintiff failed to plead adequately the actual words spoken, publication or special damages ); Asay v. Hallmark Cards, Inc., 594 F.2d 692, 69899 (8th Cir. 1979); U.S. ex rel. Smith v. Yale Univ., 415 F. Supp.2d 58, 108-09 (D. Conn. 2006) (dismissing defamation complaint for failure to allege with sufficient specificity); Graham v. Bryce Corp., 348 F. Supp.2d 1038, 1043 (E.D. Ark. 2004) (same); Manns v. The Leather Shop, Inc., 960 F. Supp. 925, 929 (D.V.I. 1997) ( The plaintiff thus failed to give the defendant adequate notice of what she must defend against. ); Bramesco v. Drug Computer Consultants, 834 F. Supp. 120, 122 (S.D.N.Y. 1993) (defamation allegations so bereft of factual content that court denied request to replead); Rice v. Comtek Mfg. of Or. Inc., 766 F. Supp. 1539, 1541-42 (D. Or. 1990) (plaintiff s defamation claim dismissed where vague pleading ke[pt] defendants from identifying constitutional or other privileges that may be available to them ); Vantassell-Matin v. Nelson, 741 F. Supp. 698, 707 (N.D. Ill. 1990) (Plaintiff alleging defamation must recite the precise language alleged to be defamatory. In the absence of such specific allegations, dismissal of a complaint is appropriate ); Kirkland v. City of Peekskill, 634 F. Supp. 950, 953 (S.D.N.Y. 1986) (same); Herbert v. Lando, 603 F. Supp. 983, 990-91 (S.D.N.Y. 1985) (same), aff d in relevant part, 781 F.2d 298 (2d Cir. 1986); Sorin v. Bd. of Educ. of City School Dist. of Warrensville Heights, 464 F. Supp. 50, 53 (N.D. Ohio 1978) (same). 4 For example, those seeking to challenge an individual s First Amendment petition rights face heightened pleading requirements. See Oregon Natural Res. Council v. Mohla, 944 F.2d 531, 533 (9th Cir. 1991); Franchise Realty Interstate Corp. v. S.F. Local Joint Executive Bd. of Culinary Workers, 542 F.2d 1076, 1082-83 (9th Cir. 1976). DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS COMPLAINT (CV7 920 RSL) 7 SEA 2044802v3 0084269-000001 Davis Wright Tremaine LLP LAW OFFICES Suite 2200 1201 Third Avenue (206) 622-3150 Seattle, Washington 98101-3045 Fax: (206) 757-7700 Case 2:07-cv-00920-RSL Document 6 Filed 06/28/2007 Page 18 of 34 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 others ) opinions of attorney qualifications, and holding Avvo liable merely for publishing these opinions. In examining whether any statement constitutes constitutionally protected opinion, the Ninth Circuit examines first whether a reasonable factfinder could conclude that the contested statement implies an assertion of objective fact. Partington v. Bugliosi, 56 F.3d 1147, 1153 (9th Cir. 1995); accord Lieberman v. Fieger, 338 F.3d 1076, 1079 (9th Cir. 2003) (attorney s statements that expert psychiatrist was a terrible witness disliked by the jury were protected opinions). In making this analysis, the court must examine the totality of the circumstances in which the statement was made, engaging in a three-part inquiry: (1) whether the general tenor of the entire work negates the impression that the defendant was asserting an objective fact, (2) whether the defendant used figurative or hyperbolic language that negates that impression, and (3) whether the statement in question is susceptible of being proved true or false. Partington, 56 F.3d at 1153. Here, the general tenor of the website undisputedly confirms that Avvo does not assert its ratings are objective facts: First, the Avvo site states many times that Avvo s ratings represent the company s own assessments of attorneys qualifications, and plaintiffs admit as much. See II.C, supra; see also Compl. 39 ( [t]he Avvo rating reflects Avvo s judgment based on the available information ) (emphasis in original). For example, when a consumer clicks on one of four main tabs, How It Works, he or she is directed to a page that contains the following language: [T]he Avvo Rating is our assessment of how well the lawyer could handle your legal issue. Shaak Decl., 2, Ex. A at 11. (emphasis added). Second, readers normally do not expect to find assertions of objective fact in ratings and reviews. See, e.g., Cochran v. NYP Holdings, Inc., 58 F. Supp.2d 1113, 1125 (C.D. Cal.), ( The audience would reasonably expect the alleged defamatory statement to constitute opinion. ), aff d, 210 F.3d 1036 (9th Cir. 2000); Moldea v. New York Times Co., 22 F.3d 310, 313 (D.C. Cir. 1994) (rejecting a defamation claim that plaintiff engaged in sloppy DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS COMPLAINT (CV7 920 RSL) 8 SEA 2044802v3 0084269-000001 Davis Wright Tremaine LLP LAW OFFICES Suite 2200 1201 Third Avenue (206) 622-3150 Seattle, Washington 98101-3045 Fax: (206) 757-7700 Case 2:07-cv-00920-RSL Document 6 Filed 06/28/2007 Page 19 of 34 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 journalism where [t]he challenged statements were evaluations of a literary work which appeared in a forum in which readers expect to find such evaluations. ).5 Average consumers do not rely on film reviews, restaurant ratings, and literary criticism to present facts rather, they rely on such material for subjective interpretations of fact. Similarly, those who visit Avvo would not assume that Avvo s opinions represent the objective Truth about attorney 5 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 The cases uniformly classify reviews and ratings as protected opinion. See Aviation Charter, Inc. v. Aviation Research Group/US, 416 F.3d 864, 871 (8th Cir. 2005) (assessment by publisher of air charter safety ratings that company had unfavorable safety record was not sufficiently factual to be provably false); Jefferson County School Dist. No. R-1 v. Moody s Investor s Servs., Inc., 175 F.3d 848, 855-56 (10th Cir. 1999) (bond rating agency s reporting of negative outlook on school district s general obligation bonds was protected opinion); Presidio Enter. v. Warner Bros. Distrib. Corp., 784 F.2d 674, 679 (5th Cir. 1986) (statement by producer that film would be a blockbuster not actionable under a state consumer protection statute, noting opinions and beliefs reside in an inner sphere of human personality and subjectivity that lies beyond the reach of the law and is not subject to its sanctions ); Mr. Chow of New York v. Ste. Jour Azur S.A., 759 F.2d 219 (2d Cir. 1985) (allegedly libelous statements in review were protected opinion); Hammer v. Amazon.com, 392 F. Supp.2d 423, 430-31 (E.D.N.Y. 2005) (bookseller s failure to remove consumer reviews of plaintiff author s books from its website lawful); Agora, Inc. v. Axxess, Inc., 90 F. Supp.2d 697, 703 (D. Md.) (rating of financial news letter as unpaid promoter was opinion based on clearly disclosed facts), aff d, 11 Fed. Appx. 99 (4th Cir. 2001); Thomas v. Los Angeles Times Communications, LLC, 189 F. Supp.2d 1005, 1015-16 (C.D. Cal. 2002) (statements in feature article questioning factual basis of book were protected opinion), aff d on other grounds, 45 Fed. Appx. 801, 803 (9th Cir. 2002); Trump v. Chicago Tribune Co., 616 F. Supp. 1434, 1435-36 (S.D.N.Y. 1985) (finding commentary by architecture critic absolutely privileged, noting one s opinion of another, however unreasonable or vituperative, since [it] cannot be subjected to the test of truth or falsity [is] entitled to absolute immunity from liability ) (citations omitted); Pegasus v. Reno Newspapers, Inc., 57 P.3d 82 (Nev. 2002) (finding statements in restaurant review to be privileged); Stuart v. Gambling Times, Inc., 534 F. Supp. 170, 172 (D.N.J. 1982) (statement that plaintiff s book was the #1 fraud ever perpetrated upon the gambling reader was protected opinion); Baker v. Los Angeles Herald Exam r, 721 P.2d 87 (Cal. 1986) (statements by television critic criticizing sex education documentary film were protected opinions); Mashburn v. Collin, 355 So.2d 879, 888-89 (La. 1977) (critical review of restaurant was protected opinion); Themed Restaur., Inc. v. Zagat Survey, LLC, 801 N.Y.S.2d 38, 39-40 (N.Y. App. 2005) (allegedly libelous statement by defendant ascribing restaurant nine out of possible 30 points was protected opinion); S & W Seafoods Co. v. Jacor Broad. of Atlanta, 390 S.E.2d 228, 230 (Ga. App. 1990) (noting as to restaurant review, [t]he expression of opinion on matters with respect to which reasonable men might entertain differing opinions is not libelous ) (quotation marks and citation omitted); Elite Funding Corp. v. Mid-Hudson Better Bus. Bureau, 165 Misc.2d 497, 502 (N.Y. Sup. 1995) (statement that brokerage had unsatisfactory record was opinion based upon stated facts and not actionable); Sharper v. Phila. Bar Ass n, 42 Pa. D. & C.3d 550, 553-54 (Pa. Com. Pl. 1986) (dismissing libel claim based on rating of judicial candidate by bar association as Not Qualified for Failure to File with the Judicial Commission because comment necessarily involves the use of subjective criteria indicating that the statement is an opinion ). DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS COMPLAINT (CV7 920 RSL) 9 SEA 2044802v3 0084269-000001 Davis Wright Tremaine LLP LAW OFFICES Suite 2200 1201 Third Avenue (206) 622-3150 Seattle, Washington 98101-3045 Fax: (206) 757-7700 Case 2:07-cv-00920-RSL Document 6 Filed 06/28/2007 Page 20 of 34 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 qualifications, particularly because Avvo uses subjective descriptive terms, such as Caution or Superb, to describe the meanings of the various numerical ratings. Third, Avvo has outline[d] the factual basis for [its] conclusion, meaning that its opinion merits absolute First Amendment protection. Partington, 56 F.3d at 1153; accord Cochran, 58 F. Supp.2d at 1122. Avvo discloses that its assessments are based on information contained in publicly available records, including years of experience, disciplinary sanctions, and professional achievements, as well as attorney websites and information attorneys provide to Avvo. See Shaak Decl., 2, Ex. A. at 11, 19-20. Indeed, although Mr. Browne purports to be upset at his average Avvo rating one he suggests no expert, lawyer or judge would find his anger is based on Avvo s opinion that his WSBA disciplinary admonition, the truth of which he does not dispute, contributed to the low rating. See, e.g., Compl. 5. The fact that Avvo disclosed the factual basis for its low opinion of Mr. Browne s abilities strengthens Avvo s First Amendment argument. As in Cochran, [b]ecause the factual referent is disclosed, readers will understand they are getting [Avvo s] interpretation of the facts presented. Cochran, 58 F. Supp.2d at 1123. Under the third Partington factor, plaintiffs cannot offer any statements by Avvo in its evaluations of how well a lawyer could represent you that are susceptible of being proven true or false. Many courts have found ratings and reviews are the classic context for opinions. Many more courts have found that statements about the ability of professionals, and attorneys in particular, constitute opinions which present no core of objective evidence for verification. Id. at 1125; see, e.g., Partington, 56 F.3d at 1159 ( [C]ourts should be reluctant to hold comments concerning the professional abilities of an individual actionable ).6 As the Ninth Circuit reasoned in Partington: 6 See Remick v. Manfredy, 238 F.3d 248, 260-63 (3d Cir. 2001) (statement by lawyer in letter to another lawyer that he was attempting to extort money was protected opinion because use of term extort is non-defamatory, rhetorical hyperbole, a vigorous epithet written in the context of two lawyers taking diametrically opposed legal positions ) (quotation marks and citation omitted); Murray v. Bailey, 613 F. Supp. 1276, 1282 (N.D. Cal. 1985) (statement that had [attorney] done his legal homework correctly, he probably wouldn t have tried that particular strategy was protected opinion); Owen v. Carr, 497 N.E.2d 1145, 1146 (Ill. 1986) DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS COMPLAINT (CV7 Davis Wright Tremaine LLP LAW OFFICES 920 RSL) 10 SEA 2044802v3 0084269-000001 Suite 2200 1201 Third Avenue Seattle, Washington 98101-3045 (206) 622-3150 Fax: (206) 757-7700 Case 2:07-cv-00920-RSL Document 6 Filed 06/28/2007 Page 21 of 34 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 Opinions vary significantly concerning what skills make a good trial lawyer and whether a particular individual possesses them. There is no objective standard by which one can measure an advocate s abilities with any certitude or determine conclusively the truth or falsity of statements made regarding the quality of his or her performance. Moreover, as the Supreme Court has noted, there is a wide variation in opinion concerning the appropriate trial strategy that should be pursued in a given circumstance: in the words of the Court, [t]here are countless ways to provide effective assistance in any given case. Even the best criminal defense attorneys would not defend a particular client the same way. Id. at 1157-58 (citation omitted) (emphasis added); see also Sullivan v. Conway, 157 F.3d 1092, 1097 (7th Cir. 1998) (statement that plaintiff is a very poor lawyer was protected opinion, because it would be unmanageable to ask a court to determine whether in fact [plaintiff] is a very poor lawyer ); Quilici v. Second Amendment Found., 769 F.2d 414, 420 (7th Cir. 1985) (statements that attorney s presentation before [the] court was poor, and may have sunk the appeal ; that he did not cooperate with other attorneys arguing on his side of the case; that he used more time for oral argument than had been allocated to him and, as a result, used up all of the rebuttal time ; and that his presentation was rambling and often pointless were protected opinion); Liberty Lobby, Inc. v. Dow Jones & Co., Inc., 838 F.2d (statement that attorney did not file his complaint in the interest of justice, but instead was trying deliberately to intimidate [a judge] and other judges in future cases involving [his client] was protected opinion); Morris v. Gray & Co., 378 So.2d 1081, 1083 (La. 1979) (statements that attorney refuse[d] to cooperate [with opposing counsel] and was merely intent on building [his] client s claim to the best of [his] ability were protected opinion); Guarneri v. Korea News, Inc., 625 N.Y.S.2d 291, 292 (N.Y. App. 1995) (statement that attorney was considered by various sources to have been unprepared and negligent, and that he lost an opportunity to appeal despite having being granted two extensions to do so was protected opinion); James v. San Jose Mercury News, 17 Cal. App.4th 1, 14-15 (Cal. App. 1993) (statements that plaintiff, a deputy public defender, apparently violated law in obtaining child s school records and that his tactics were common and sleazy were protected opinion); El Paso Times, Inc. v. Kerr, 706 S.W.2d 797, 800 (Tex. App. 1986) (statement criticizing government attorney s conduct during criminal trial to the effect that the burden [to prove guilt] is no excuse for cheating was protected opinion); Golub v. Esquire Publ g Inc., 508 N.Y.S.2d 188, 190 (N.Y. App. 1986) (statement that plaintiff was a loose-tongued lawyer who revealed his innermost secrets was protected opinion); Beinin v. Berk, 452 N.Y.S.2d 601, 601-02 (N.Y. App.) (statements that attorney is no good as a lawyer, that he is not handling [the case] right, and that he is not putting much effort into [the case] were protected opinion), aff d, 444 N.E.2d 1005 (N.Y. 1982); Anton v. St. Louis Suburban Newspapers, Inc., 598 S.W.2d 493, 499 (Mo. App. 1980) (editorial that refers to lawyer s sleazy sleight-of-hand in connection with change of membership on fire protection district s board of directors was not objectively verifiable assertion of fact). DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS COMPLAINT (CV7 920 RSL) 11 SEA 2044802v3 0084269-000001 Davis Wright Tremaine LLP LAW OFFICES Suite 2200 1201 Third Avenue (206) 622-3150 Seattle, Washington 98101-3045 Fax: (206) 757-7700 Case 2:07-cv-00920-RSL Document 6 Filed 06/28/2007 Page 22 of 34 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 1287, 1300 (D.C. Cir. 1988) (statements in editorial criticizing plaintiff s strategy in defending against libel counterclaim as crude, ugly, pernicious, and breathtaking in its daring were protected opinion); Coles v. Washington Free Weekly, Inc., 881 F. Supp. 26, 32 (D.D.C. 1995) (statements that attorney s trial presentation was vague, used confusion as a weapon, and failed to ask key questions were protected opinion); Bergen v. MartindaleHubbell, Inc., 285 S.E.2d 6, 7 (Ga. 1981) (First Amendment protects the Martindale-Hubbell ratings of attorneys); Ferlauto v. Hamsher, 74 Cal. App.4th 1394, 1403 (Cal. App. 1999) (statements that lawyer was Kmart Johnnie Cochran and a creepazoid attorney were protected opinion); Kirsch v. Jones, 464 S.E.2d 4, 6 (Ga. App. 1996) (statements in newspaper that attorney bungled the case and should not have touched the case with a tenfoot pole were protected opinions because they were opinions about which reasonable people might differ and which cannot be proved to be true or false ). Avvo s ratings are even less capable of being proven false than many of these statements.7 Indeed, the Avvo system closely resembles the one used by the defendant in Aviation Charter v. Aviation Research Group/US, 416 F.3d 864 (8th Cir. 2005). There, the defendant, Aviation Research Group/US ( ARGUS ), published safety ratings of air charter service providers, basing its methodology on a system with three main components: historical safety ratings, current aircraft and pilot data, and on-site safety audits. Id. at 866. Like Avvo, ARGUS searched publicly available records seeking relevant information, and assigned them 7 In a different context altogether attorney advertising the Supreme Court has noted the importance of conveying attorney information to consumers. See, e.g., Zauderer v. Office of Disciplinary Counsel of Supreme Court of Ohio, 471 U.S. 626, 646 (1985) ( The value of the information presented in [attorney] advertising is no less than that contained in other forms of advertising indeed, insofar as appellant s advertising tended to acquaint persons with their legal rights who might otherwise be shut off from effective access to the legal system, it was undoubtedly more valuable than many other forms of advertising. ); see also Peel v. Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Comm n of Ill., 496 U.S. 91, 105 (1991) (rejecting the paternalistic assumption that [consumers of legal services] are no more discriminating than the audience for children s television ); Bates v. State Bar of Arizona, 433 U.S. 350, 375 (1977) (noting the public is sophisticated enough to realize the limitations of advertising and is better trusted with correct but incomplete information than kept in ignorance and that for every attorney who overreaches through advertising, there will be thousands of others who will be candid and honest and straightforward and it will be in the latter s interest to assist in weeding out those few who abuse their trust ). DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS COMPLAINT (CV7 920 RSL) 12 SEA 2044802v3 0084269-000001 Davis Wright Tremaine LLP LAW OFFICES Suite 2200 1201 Third Avenue (206) 622-3150 Seattle, Washington 98101-3045 Fax: (206) 757-7700 Case 2:07-cv-00920-RSL Document 6 Filed 06/28/2007 Page 23 of 34 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 a score. Id. Like Avvo, ARGUS grouped each carrier into one of several ratings. Id. at 867. And, like Avvo, ARGUS did not purport to provide completely accurate information, noting in a disclaimer the ratings were based on information obtained from publicly available resources, and were advisory. Id. ARGUS gave the company a Does Not Qualify rating, and one of the plaintiff s planes crashed the following year, killing Senator Paul Wellstone. Id. The plaintiff sued. The Eight Circuit found that although ARGUS s comparison [of carriers] relies in part on objectively verifiable data, the interpretation of those data was ultimately a subjective assessment, not an objectively verifiable fact. Id. at 868 (quotation marks and citations omitted), 870. Here, too, the Avvo rating is a subjective interpretation of multiple objective data points leading to a subjective conclusion. Id. at 871. As such, it is not constitutionally actionable. C. The First Amendment Precludes the Unlimited Liability that Plaintiffs Seek Against Avvo. Plaintiffs cannot evade this constitutional bar through the expedient of alleging a claim under the Consumer Protection Act instead of a defamation claim. First Amendment protections are not peculiar to [defamation] actions but apply to all claims whose gravamen is the alleged injurious falsehood of a statement. Blatty v. New York Times Co., 42 Cal.3d 1033, 1042-43 (Cal. 1986) (emphasis added); see also Reader s Digest Ass n v. Superior Court, 37 Cal.3d 244, 265 (Cal. 1984) ( liability cannot be imposed on any theory for what has been determined to be a constitutionally protected publication ). In Hustler v. Falwell, the Supreme Court held that the First Amendment barred not only the Reverend Jerry Falwell s defamation claim arising from a satirical feature in Hustler magazine, but also his intentional infliction of emotional distress claim arising from the same publication. 485 U.S. 46, 50, 54-57 (1988). Following the Supreme Court s lead, courts nationwide have found that where the targeted speech constitutes protected opinion, plaintiffs may not raise a variety of other claims DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS COMPLAINT (CV7 920 RSL) 13 SEA 2044802v3 0084269-000001 Davis Wright Tremaine LLP LAW OFFICES Suite 2200 1201 Third Avenue (206) 622-3150 Seattle, Washington 98101-3045 Fax: (206) 757-7700 Case 2:07-cv-00920-RSL Document 6 Filed 06/28/2007 Page 24 of 34 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 arising from the same facts, including consumer protection. Jefferson County School Dist. No. R-1 v. Moody s Investor s Servs., Inc., 175 F.3d 848 (10th Cir. 1999) (intentional interference with contractual and business relations and antitrust); Unelko Corp. v. Rooney, 912 F.2d 1049 (9th Cir. 1990) (trade libel and tortious interference with business relationships); Deupree v. Iliff, 860 F.2d 300 (9th Cir. 1988) (intentional infliction of emotional distress); Presidio Enter., Inc. v. Warner Bros. Distrib. Corp., 784 F.2d 674 (5th Cir. 1986) (state consumer protection statute); Redco Corp. v. CBS, Inc., 758 F.2d 970 (3d Cir. 1985) (interference with contractual relations); Films

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