Judges Rules in Favor of Robot Lawyer DoNotPay

On Friday, November 17, 2023, Chief U.S. District Judge Nancy J. Rosenstengel ruled in favor of robot lawyer DoNotPay in a lawsuit concerning the unauthorized practice of law.

DoNotPay “is an online subscription service that uses artificial intelligence to provide a variety of legal services, although it is not licensed to practice law and does not employ licensed attorneys.” DoNotPay markets itself as “The World’s First Robot Lawyer,” charging customers $36 for two months of service. As of January 2023, DoNotPay’s founder and CEO, Joshua Browder, claimed that the company “had ‘processed over 2 million cases’ and touted that [DoNotPay]’s ‘robot lawyer’ would soon represent someone in a courtroom by whispering in the person’s ear exactly what to say.” These plans for courtroom representation were postponed due to “threats from State Bar prosecutors.”

A Chicago law firm, MillerKing, LLC, filed its class action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois earlier this year, alleging false association and false advertising under the Lanham Act and Illinois state law. The complaint alleged (1) a violation of the Lanham Act for false affiliation, connection, association, sponsorship, or approval; (2) a violation of the Lanham Act for false advertising; (3) an Illinois state law claim for violation of the Illinois Uniform Deceptive Trade Practices Act; and (4) the unauthorized practice of law in Illinois.

DoNotPay filed a motion to dismiss under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). Judge Rosenstengel found that MillerKing “has not adequately alleged such an injury [as to grant standing under Article III of the U.S. Constitution to sue DoNotPay in federal court] and, thus, its complaint must be dismissed for lack of standing.” Judge Rosenstengel ruled that MillerKing did not sufficiently establish Article III standing since MillerKing “has not alleged any lost revenue or added expenditures as a result of [DoNotPay]’s conduct. Nor has it alleged that any client or prospective client has withheld business, has considered withholding business, or has even heard of [DoNotPay].” Judge Rosenstengel also found that MillerKing did not present any facts to support its claim that DoNotPay hurts MillerKing’s reputation or lessened its goodwill.

MillerKing argued “that a plaintiff’s lost sales or loss of goodwill can be inferred without specific allegations when the plaintiff pleads false or misleading representations by a ‘direct competitor’ about its products.” Judge Rosenstengel wrote that MillerKing “has conflated the injury requirement for a statutory cause of action under the Lanham Act claim with Article III’s injury-in-fact requirement, as evidenced by the cases it cites.” Judge Rosenstengel distinguished that “while the parties participate in similar industries, they are not selling identical products. Therefore, [MillerKing]’s argument that the parties are ‘direct competitors’ fails, and the Court will not presume a commercial injury for purposes of Article III standing.”

“In sum, [MillerKing] has not plausibly alleged that it has suffered a diversion of clients or reputational harm as a result of [DoNotPay]’s actions. Thus it lacks Article III standing to pursue its Lanham Act [and IUDTPA] claims. . . The same can be said for [MillerKing]’s claim in Count IV that [DoNotPay] has engaged in the unauthorized practice of law in Illinois, where [MillerKing] has alleged no particularized harm to it whatsoever.” Judge Rosenstengel dismissed the complaint without prejudice, granting MillerKing leave to file an amended complaint on or before December 18, 2023.

Additional Reading

Judge tosses UPL suit against ‘robot lawyer’ DoNotPay, saying law firm plaintiff was not harmed, ABA Journal (November 21, 2023)

MillerKing, LLC v. DoNotPay, Inc. (Case No. 3:2023cv00863)

Memorandum and Order in MillerKing, LLC v. DoNotPay, Inc

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