FindLaw & Law Firm Fight It Out in Court

     MINNEAPOLIS (CN) – FindLaw on Thursday asked a federal judge to enjoin what it called a “basic breach of contract” dispute in response to a law firm’s complaint of fraud, breach of warranty and negligence.
     Ogletree, Abbott, Clay & Reed sued FindLaw, West Publishing Corp., and Thomson Reuters Holdings in February.
     Ogletree claimed its business “plummeted” and it was forced to lay off employees after it hired FindLaw to redesign its websites and search engine.
     In a 20-minute long Thursday hearing before U.S. District Judge Richard Kyle, FindLaw claimed that Ogletree lacked specificity in its complaint of fraud. FindLaw also claimed that it had no duty to Ogletree under its services contract, so Ogletree’s negligence claim should be disregarded too.
     FindLaw’s attorney, Tiffany Blofield with Winthrop and Weinstine, said Ogletree filed an affidavit and attachments that totaled more than 150 pages rather than relying on its complaint. She said that reiterates Findlaw’s point that Ogletree’s complaint is not sufficient to withstand the motion to dismiss.
     In FindLaw’s memorandum in support of its motion to dismiss, Blofield said it was “not appropriate for [Ogletree] to state that it read a Web site with 146 pages and that there is fraud somewhere in it.”
     During the hearing, Blofield said that Ogletree’s lawsuit is simply a “basic breach of contract” dispute and that Ogletree is claiming “dissatisfaction” in an attempt “to get around a disclaimer in the contract.”
     In its memorandum, FindLaw states that “[Ogletree’s] fraud and fraudulent misrepresentation claims should be dismissed. First, because they do not meet the requirements of [Federal Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 9(b).] Second, they relate to the future or are mere puffery. Third, the claim inappropriately seeks exemplary or punitive damages.”
     Blofield said FindLaw was willing to “only leave the breach of contract claim to move forward.”
     In court, Thomas Handorff, representing Ogletree, said the complaint is sufficient because the “core idea” presented in the complaint supports the fraud and fraudulent misrepresentation claims.
     Blofield said that Ogletree’s breach of warranty and negligence claims should be disregarded too because there is no implied warranty services contracts in Minnesota. She said the negligence claim is improper because “computer programmers are not licensed and not regulated, so a professional negligence claim is inappropriate.”
     In response, Handorff said the reason why the implied warranty claim applies to this case is because “every time Ogletree said you are not giving us what you promised, there was implication that they would fix the issues.”
     He added: “It is clear that these sophisticated defendants knew there was problem.”
     In an interview outside the courthouse, Handorff said he has received “phone calls from law firms all over the country – in New York, Boston, Arizona and North Carolina, experiencing similar issues with FindLaw’s services.”
     He said it’s “the smaller law firms, with six to eight attorneys or [sole practitioners] that have been recently contacting me.”
     Handorff said that smaller law firms need advertising services but have become “distraught” over services they received from FindLaw because they “can’t cover the overhead costs.”
     He told Courthouse News that law firms pay “$1,500 to $7,000 per month for FindLaw’s services, and are under contract for approximately three years.”
     “My gut is that the services are outsourced and the [FindLaw] program is having issues linking up to Google,” Handorff said.
     Handorff said during the hearing that he has expertise in engineering, and told Courthouse News that he holds a Master’s Degree in Aeronautical Structure Engineering from the University of Washington.
     Judge Kyle has taken the motion under advisement for 30 days.

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