Serial spam litigation backfires on plaintiff

by David Nieporent on August 3, 2007

I think it’s fair to say that serial spam litigation is less lucrative than serial ADA litigation. Walter discussed the setback suffered by plaintiff James Gordon (June 2007), in which a federal court ruled that Gordon, who makes his entire living using anti-spam laws to sue emailers, had no legitimate claims because he had not suffered any damages (and indeed, could not, since his only “business” was filing lawsuits for receiving spam).

The court was clearly disgusted by Gordon and his attempt to manipulate the CAN-SPAM act to extort millions of dollars from an emailer, because not only did it rule against him, but this week it awarded attorneys’ fees to his victim. Now, regular readers of Overlawyered know that one of my pet peeves is that even when courts order sanctions, they often award mere token amounts which are inadequate to deter plaintiffs or reimburse defendants for their troubles. That wasn’t the case here; the court awarded $110,440 in fees and costs to the victorious defendants. (This was actually significantly less than the defendants had requested — half a million dollars — but the court found that this was grossly inflated and not substantiated by the defense counsel’s own billing records. Still, $110,000 is nothing to sneeze at.)

So this case provides lessons for both sides about being greedy:

  • If you’re going to try to become a professional plaintiff, try to suffer actual damages — if possible, physical damages — rather than demanding millions of dollars for receiving emails. If you insist on suing without having been injured, at least try to be a sympathetic plaintiff in a wheelchair who can’t use public restrooms, rather than being a guy who sits around his living room in his pajamas looking at spam.
  • If you’re up against an unsympathetic professional plaintiff, don’t squander the court’s goodwill by demanding far more in legal fees than you’re entitled to. And if you’re going to pad your fee request to the court, at least make sure that the bills you submit to substantiate your demands actually match the numbers you’ve told the court. Judges don’t like it when you claim that you spent 2,000 hours and your own records show that you’ve only spent 1,500 hours. The judge was so annoyed here that after he re-calculated the legitimate bills, he determined that they were grossly overinflated and slashed them by an additional 70%.

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Unsolicited-email plaintiff John Ferron
10.19.08 at 1:44 am

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1 Peter 08.03.07 at 1:13 pm

Lawsuit abuser vs. spammer… Hmmm, I’m having a hard time figuring out who to root for here… Can’t we just throw both of them into a dungeon and throw away the key?

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