A New York lawyer lost his false advertising case over Avvo Inc.'s rating system for lawyers.
Avvo runs an online directory of attorneys for prospective clients looking for legal help. Kevin Davis claims the company makes attorneys who pay the company for advertising look more qualified than nonpaying attorneys.
Paying attorneys, for example, receive a higher numerical “Avvo rating” than nonpaying attorneys, Davis said.
But the ratings are inherently subjective and count as opinions protected under the First Amendment and the New York State Constitution, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled Dec. 19.
Avvo decides what factors go into the rating and how to weigh them. Consequently, a reasonable consumer “would view an Avvo rating as just that—the defendant’s evaluation,” the court said.
Davis also contested the “pro” badge that appears on the profile picture of paying attorneys. This makes them seem more highly qualified, he said.
But Avvo’s website makes clear the badge simply indicates that an attorney has verified her or his profile information, the court said.
Even if the term “pro” is taken more colloquially by users, as indicating, for example, that an attorney is especially experienced or skilled, it would be “mere puffery” that wouldn’t be actionable in court, the court added.
Davis also asserted that Avvo, for paying attorneys, unfairly spotlights positive client reviews and hides negative ones.
But the website makes clear that attorneys can contest negative reviews, so users are on notice that not every client review is listed in a profile, the court said.
Moreover, even if some reviews are missing, that doesn’t make the remaining positive reviews are misleading statements of fact, the court added.
Finally, Davis failed to show that Avvo’s system harmed his reputation or resulted in lost business, the court said.
Davis had sought to make his case a class action.
The case is Davis v. Avvo, Inc., S.D.N.Y., No. 18-02835, 12/19/18.