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Avvo’s Online Directory Is Protected by the First Amendment

I have written before about Avvo and how frustrating it can be to be reviewed on Avvo. Often the reviews are baseless angry rants. Indeed, one of the reviews on my own Avvo profile is by a person who never engaged me (and I believe never spoke to me). My advice to lawyers who received a negative Avvo review is this: “Suck it up and deal with it.” The reason for my advice is that the lawyer is bound to hold client confidences confidential and therefore cannot really respond to an Avvo review. If you reveal a confidence, you can expect a disciplinary complaint.

It turns out that my advice was probably correct.

The case is captioned John Vyrdolyak v. Avvo, Inc., 16 C 2833. Judge Robert Gettleman has dismissed Vyrdolyak’s complaint alleging that Avvo was wrongfully “using plaintiff’s identity for commercial purposes without plaintiff’s consent” in violation of the Illinois Right of Publicity Act (IRPA), 765 ILCS 1075/1 et seq. Vyrdolyak also objected that Avvo would place ads on his profile page and profit from them. Vyrdolyak compared his situation to that of ¬†former Bulls star, Michael Jordan, who successfully stated a claim that Jewel was seeking to profit from his name. Jordan v. Jewel Food Stores, Inc., 743 F.3d 509, 515 (7th Cir. 2014).

Vyrdolyak, the son of the famous former Chicago alderman, sued to require Avvo to delete his name from the directory. Avvo moved to dismiss on the ground that the First Amendment protects Avvo’s speech. Judge Gettleman agreed. He held that Vyrdolyak was less like Jordan and more like the Yellow Pages, which have long been held to be commercially protected speech.

The court explained: “The court views what defendant does as more akin to the yellow pages directory, which receives First Amendment protection, than the advertisement that Jewel placed in Jordan. The court agrees with defendant that to hold otherwise would lead to the unintended result that any entity that publishes truthful newsworthy information about individuals such as teachers, directors and other professionals, such as a newspaper or yellow page directory, would risk civil liability simply because it generated revenue from advertisements placed by others in the same field.”

As much as I don’t care for Avvo, I agree that Avvo has a right to publish a directory and share online reviews, even if those reviews are sometimes unfair or misleading or even spurious.

Edward X. Clinton, Jr.

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