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Ogletree, Abbott, Clay & Reed Law Firm, Llp v. Findlaw, West Publishing Corp.

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

June 11, 2014

Ogletree, Abbott, Clay & Reed Law Firm, L.L.P., Plaintiff,
v.
FindLaw, West Publishing Corporation, and Thomson Reuters Holdings Inc., Defendants.

Thomas F. Handorff, Handorff Law Offices, P.C., St. Louis Park, Minnesota, for Plaintiff.

Tiffany A. Blofield, Craig S. Krummen, Winthrop & Weinstine, PA, Minneapolis, Minnesota, for Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

RICHARD H. KYLE, District Judge.

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Ogletree, Abbott, Clay & Reed Law Firm, L.L.P. ("Ogletree") hired Defendants FindLaw, West Publishing Corporation, and Thomson Reuters Holdings, Inc. (collectively referred to as "FindLaw") to develop three of Ogletree's websites to increase traffic from search engines. Rather than enhance the quality of the websites, Ogletree alleges Findlaw diminished it and injured Ogletree's business as a result. After the parties failed to resolve their dispute amicably, Ogletree filed the instant action against FindLaw asserting six claims. FindLaw now moves to dismiss five of the six claims. For the reasons explained below, its Motion will be granted.

BACKGROUND

FindLaw provides online advertising services to attorneys. One of its services is website development, aimed at helping attorneys increase their exposure to potential clients online. Ogletree is a law firm specializing in personal-injury matters. In 2012, it hired FindLaw to help develop three of its websites: www.ogletreeabbott.com, www.1800jonesact.com, and www.complawyers.net (collectively, the "Ogletree Websites").

Between November 2012 and June 2013, FindLaw and Ogletree entered into a series of contracts to redesign and improve the "search engine optimization" ("SEO")[1] of the Ogletree Websites. Ogletree paid FindLaw $61, 965.69 for its services. FindLaw launched the revised Ogletree Websites in late April and early May 2013. Ogletree was not satisfied with the revised websites and alleges that their quality and SEO deteriorated rather than improved.

Ogletree alleges FindLaw did not utilize and migrate all of the existing indexed content and webpages from the original Ogletree Websites to the revised sites. For example, the number of indexed webpages was reduced from 612 pages to 184 pages on www.ogletreeabbott.com, from 598 to 81 on www.1800jonesact.com, and from 1, 358 to 157 on www.complawyers.net. (Compl. ¶ 14.) The more indexed pages with quality content on a website, the more opportunities there are for the website to be relevant to a user's search terms, potentially increasing a website's page ranking in Google and thus its visibility in the search results. (Id. ¶ 15.)

When redesigning the Ogletree Websites, Ogletree alleges that FindLaw ignored its webpage-naming conventions, creating error messages when users followed inbound links set to the prior page names. (Id. ¶ 16.) For example, it alleges www.complawyers.net contained 234 "page not found" errors. (Id.) If the information at the old webpage address was useful to users, FindLaw's changes and resulting errors would "cause the Ogletree website to lose the beneficial page rank that... inbound links [to those pages] would have otherwise provided." (Id.)

FindLaw also added software code to the Ogletree Websites that required users to download a large amount of data in order to view certain pages. Whereas the previous websites required users to download only.5 MB of data to view them, the revised websites required users to download more than 1.5 MB of data in some instances. (Id. ¶ 18.) The revised websites also required users to load twice as many files as the previous websites. (Id.) This affected the websites' load time, which is a factor for Google's ranking. (Id. ¶ 19.) In addition to adversely impacting Google rankings, these changes resulted in users abandoning the Ogletree Websites before they had loaded, causing Ogletree to lose out on potential clients. (Id.)

Ogletree alleges it told FindLaw not to place outbound links on its websites, but in October 2013, it discovered that FindLaw had "secretly inserted at least one outbound link on every page of the Ogletree websites which were directed to FindLaw's website." (Id. ¶ 20.) As outbound links are generally beneficial to the site that receives them and may decrease the value of the website that posts it, these links diminished the value of Ogletree's Websites and improved the SEO of FindLaw's. (Id.) When Ogletree demanded FindLaw remove the outbound links, it did so, but offered no acknowledgement of or explanation for its conduct. (Id.)

FindLaw "represented that it would build inbound links to the Ogletree Websites that would meet and conform to Google's SEO Guidelines." (Id. ¶ 21.) But Ogletree alleges FindLaw obtained paid links to the Ogletree Websites, which violate Google policy. As a result, it alleges Google has "significantly penalized the Ogletree websites." (Id.)

Finally, Ogletree used Google Analytics to track its website performance, such as how many visitors used the websites, where the users had navigated from, and what they were doing on the websites. Ogletree used this information to improve its websites and attract more users (potential clients). When FindLaw launched the revised Ogletree Websites, the sites did not have ...


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