July 07, 2014

Firm Defeats Email Spam Class Action Plaintiff, With Dismissal With Prejudice on Motion to Dismiss

Kronenberger Rosenfeld recently prevailed on behalf of its client in a putative class action alleging violations of California’s spam law. The plaintiff in the lawsuit alleged that the firm’s client, a merchant of personalized consumer goods, sent over 10,000 emails with subject lines that falsely stated that the recipient s had won an award. The plaintiff asserted claims under California’s spam statute along with claims under California’s unfair competition law, false advertising law, and the Consumers Legal Remedies Act.

After removing the case to federal court, the firm filed a motion to dismiss all of the claims. After full briefing and argument by both parties, the Honorable Margaret M. Morrow granted the motion in its entirety. In the most thorough discussion of email subject lines to date, Judge Morrow found that the subject lines at issue would not deceive a reasonable consumer as a matter of law. More specifically, the subject lines stated, "Lawyer Media, Top Lawyers in California," and the body of the email contained details of a commemorative plaque that plaintiff could receive for a fee. The Court found that while the subject lines at issue stated that the recipient had been recognized in his/her industry, the subject lines were not deceptive because they were consistent with the statements contained in the body of the email and because the subject lines did not state that plaintiff would receive an award if he merely opened the email. As a result, the Court granted the firm’s client the extreme remedy of dismissing the plaintiff’s section 17529.5 claim with prejudice.

Judge Morrow’s decision is perhaps the most thorough discussion of email subject lines to date in U.S. jurisprudence, and expands on the ambiguous decision in Hypertouch, Inc. v. ValueClick, Inc., 192 Cal. App. 4th 805 (2011). Judge Morrow’s opinion defines the landscape of what will constitute a misleading subject line. It also stresses that not every statement in a subject line that might be subject to different interpretations will give rise to a multi-million dollar class action.

The Court also granted the firm’s motion to dismiss the plaintiff’s claims under California’s unfair competition law, false advertising law, and the Consumers Legal Remedies Act. More specifically, the Court found that the plaintiff had not adequately alleged that he had relied on the supposedly deceptive subject line or that he suffered any injury in fact or lost money or property as a result of the supposedly deceptive subject line.

The Court’s decision increases the threshold that plaintiffs must satisfy to pursue a spam complaint, even at the pleading stage. The Court’s decision also increases the roadblocks for would-be class action plaintiffs to using California’s spam laws to create a massive liability through the aggregation of countless recipients of emails.

A copy of the order on Defendant's motion to dismiss is here. Botranger v. Showmark Media, LLC, et al., Case No. CV 14-01144 MMM (District Court for the Central District of California). Oppsoing counsel: Law Offices of L. Paul Mankin, IV.

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