Business of Law

Law firm can't sue Better Business Bureau for 'F' grade under Lanham Act, federal judge rules

A law firm that says it lost clients over disparaging reviews published by the Better Business Bureau of Central Florida Inc. lacks a basis for filing suit under the Lanham Act, a federal judge in Orlando has ruled.

Because the BBB is not a competitor of the plaintiff, Kaufman, Englett & Lynd, there is no basis for a Lanham Act suit over the BBB reviews, which included at least one “F” grade, as U.S. District Judge John Antoon II explained in his order (PDF) last week dismissing the Middle District of Florida case. However, the law firm can still pursue a pendent state-law claim for breach of contract in state court, Courthouse News reports.

The Florida-based firm, which does business in 20 states, according to Courthouse News, also contended that the BBB, its local president and the Council of Better Business Bureaus Inc. breached a ratings contract with Kaufman, Englett and its own standards by inaccurately portraying the firm’s work.

“That KEL’s current and prospective clients may have taken their business to competing law firms on the basis of BBB and Pepper’s alleged misrepresentations does not, however, place BBB and Pepper themselves in commercial competition with KEL,” Antoon wrote in nixing the Lanham Act case. He noted that he did not have personal jurisdiction over the council, because it is a foreign corporation that neither owns nor controls the BBB.

Additional coverage: “After F Grade, Firm Sues Better Business Bureau in Federal Court Over Rating System” “Better Business Bureau Asks Federal Judge to Dismiss Suit Filed by Law Firm Over F Grade”

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