Defamation Lawsuit Dismissed Thanks To Anti-SLAPP Legislation

Defamation Lawsuit Dismissed Under Washington Anti-SLAPP Statute

Seattle-based lawyer review website, AVVO.com, emerged victorious in an online defamation lawsuit filed by Florida lawyer, Larry Joe Davis, Jr. One of the first cases to fall under Washington state’s relatively new Anti-SLAPP statute, Davis v. AVVO barely got started before it was shot down.

AVVO.com: Online Review Site Being Sued For Defamation

A well-trafficked online portal, AVVO.com is half expert-answer database, half professional rating site. Consumers can head to AVVO to research a legal question, and they can also access the site’s extensive professional-ratings database of lawyers, doctors and dentists in the United States.

According to their website, “Avvo pairs an expert-only Q&A forum with the largest online directory of rated health and legal professionals to empower you with the information you need to confidently make the right decisions about your health and legal needs.”

AVVO.com executive, Mark Britton, summed up the company’s philosophy in one sentence: “People have a right to the information about the professionals they are seeking to hire.”

Lawyer Larry Joe Davis, Jr. Sues For Defamation

Imagine getting a call from a potential client who opens with: “I found you through a professional review website; you were listed dead last, so I figured you’d be desperate for work; what kind of deal can you give me?”

That’s exactly what happened to Larry Joe Davis, Jr. in 2010. A board-certified health law attorney in the state of Florida, Mr. Davis was appalled to learn of his lowly AVVO.com rating and took steps to rectify the situation. Unsatisfied with the results he was able to garner via available means, Davis decided to file a defamation lawsuit against AVVO.

At first, Davis filed a defamation lawsuit, but later amended his claim to remove the libel tort, and instead averred false light, false advertising and misrepresentation torts.

Judge Dismissed Defamation Lawsuit Under Washington’s New Anti-SLAPP Statute

Before Davis v. AVVO, Inc. could get in front of a jury, a judge dismissed the claim using Washington state’s new anti-SLAPP statute.

SLAPP stands for Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, and Washington recently passed a statute (Senate Bill 6395, Laws of 2010, Ch. 118, Section 1) because the legislators “expressed concern over lawsuits brought primarily to chill the valid exercise of the constitutional rights of freedom of speech and petition for the redress of grievances.”

Senate Bill 6395 states that “a party may bring a special motion to strike any claim that is based on an action involving public participation.” The law goes on  to assert that “any oral statement made…in a public place, to the public, or a public forum in connection with an issue of public concern” is protected from prosecution.

In the ruling statement for this defamation lawsuit, the court averred that it had “no difficulty finding that the AVVO.com website is an action involving ‘public participation,’ in that it provides information to the general public which may be helpful to them in choosing a doctor, dentist, or lawyer.”

As a consequence of loosing the defamation turned false light lawsuit, Davis now must pay AVVO’s legal fees, in addition to a $10,000 fine. It should be noted that this is the second defamation lawsuit wherein AVVO.com has emerged the victor. It just goes to show that the U.S. Courts are, indeed, serious in their protection of “vehicle[s] for discussion of public issues…distributed to a large and interested community.”

Disclosure: Aaron Kelly is an AVVO blogger.

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