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Estimates are Opinions, Not Fact and Not Actionable

The internet has unquestionably provided unparalleled access to information to the public, both consumers and businesses, not seen since Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press.  One such benefit of the access the internet has provided is in real estate.  Several websites now allow users to get estimates on almost every property imaginable.  Zillow is one of these websites which provides “Zestimates.” Although this knowledge can be useful to potential purchasers, some owners may take issue with these valuations.  This exact situation occurred in Patel v. Zillow, Inc.

In Patel v. Zillow, Inc., the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reviewed the dismissal of a lawsuit brought by homeowners who took issue with Zillow’s “Zestimate” of their property that they were trying to sell.  Before the lawsuit was filed, they learned that Zillow’s “Zestimate” of their property was below their asking price.  Zillow’s “Zestimate” listed the property at approximately $160,000 less than Plaintiffs’ listing.  Plaintiffs contended that the “Zestimate” scared away potential buyers.  Plaintiffs asked Zillow to increase the “Zestimate” or to remove them from the database.  Zillow declined.  Plaintiffs filed their lawsuit.

Plaintiffs brought suit under the Illinois Real Estate Appraiser Licensing Act contending that Zillow was appraising real estate without a license.  Plaintiff also filed claims under the Illinois Uniform Deceptive Trade Practices Act and under the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act.  Plaintiffs argued that Zillow’s “Zestimate” was unfair and misleading.  The District Court (the trial court) dismissed all of Plaintiffs’ claims.

The Seventh Circuit upheld the trial court’s decision.  The Seventh Circuit noted that the Illinois Real Estate Appraiser Licensing Act did not create a cause of action for a private citizen.  More importantly, as to Plaintiffs’ claims under the Deceptive Trade Practices and Consumer Fraud Acts, the Court stated that these acts deal with statements of fact and that Zestimates are opinions, not fact.  Accordingly, where a valuation is explicitly labeled as an estimate, there is no deception.

If your business has current litigation, including claims under the Illinois Uniform Deceptive Trade Practices Act or Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act, or your business would like a complimentary business “check-up” to help spot any potential liability under those acts, please contact Roenan Patt. (312) 368-010;  rpatt@lgattorneys.com or any of our business attorneys.

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Legal Tech Corner: Developing Laws to Fit the Internet of Things

In typical California fashion, the state is leading the charge toward developing law that would regulate the Internet of Things (“IoT”). IoT devices typically include any device that connects to the internet, such as phones, tablets, home security systems, Amazon “Alexa” and other similar convenience items, thermostats, baby monitors, and even connected home security systems.California SB-327 has passed the California House and Senate and looks like it may soon be signed into law by the Governor. Although not effective until January 1, 2020, the law requires that manufacturers of IoT devices implement certain reasonable security measures into the devices themselves. It also requires manufacturers to force users to customize the password for their device, among other things.

While the law has been recently criticized for being too broad (i.e. not defining “reasonable” security measures), lawyers and tech specialists recognize that a law that is too specific in dictating tech measures may not be a “fit” for all devices. Not to mention that such measures may be outdated solutions by the time the device enters the market. Thus, it seems a balance between vagueness and specificity in the law must be struck. We expect to see some tweaks to this law prior to the final version going into effect in 2020.

Though no other state has yet passed any similar laws to the California bill, Congress has proposed an IoT bill called the SMART IoT Act (H.R. 6032) which would force the Department of Commerce to conduct a study of the IoT industry, providing the precursor to perhaps a federal IoT law.

If you have additional questions about navigating the laws relating to IoT devices, or any other cyber security legal issue, please do not hesitate to contact us at 312-368-0100 or nremien@lgattorneys.com

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