Facebook Appeals Pro-User Ruling To Recoup Legal Fees

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Facebook is pressing its claim to recover $700,000 in legal fees from consumers who unsuccessfully sued the company for allegedly misappropriating their names and images in ads.

In papers filed last week with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, Facebook says it will ask appellate judges to rule that U.S. District Court Judge Richard Seeborg incorrectly rejected the company's bid for reimbursement of legal expenses.

"The main issue on appeal is whether the district court properly ruled that attorneys’ fees are unavailable as a matter of law in this case," the social networking service wrote.

Last month, Seeborg ruled that the social networking giant wasn't entitled to recover attorneys' fees from five users -- Robyn Cohen, Shannon Stoller, Christopher Marshall, Bryan Siglock and Debra Lewin -- who sued over ads for Friend Finder. The users argued that Facebook's campaign for Friend Finder violated a California law that bans companies from using names or photos in endorsements without people's consent. 

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Friend Finder searches people's email contacts to determine which ones are on Facebook and then suggests them as friends. Cohen and the other users alleged that Facebook wrongly promoted Friend Finder by displaying members' names and photos in ads for the feature.

Seeborg dismissed the case last October on the theory that Cohen and the other users hadn't shown they were injured by Friend Finder. Without economic harm, the users didn't have "standing" to proceed in federal court, Seeborg ruled. He didn't rule on whether ads for the tool actually violate California's misappropriation law.

The consumers who sued appealed the dismissal to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, where the matter is pending.

In addition, Facebook filed a motion with Seeborg asking for an order requiring the consumers pay more than $706,000 for its attorneys' work on the case. Facebook said the amount was "reasonable," given that users sought more than $100 million in damages. (California's misappropriation law provides for damages of $750 per incident.)

Winners in litigation typically aren't entitled to reimbursement for their legal bills. But the California misappropriation statute at the center of the lawsuit says the prevailing party is entitled to recover attorneys' fees.

Seeborg rejected Facebook's argument on that point. In a decision issued last month, he wrote that even though he dismissed the potential class-action lawsuit, he hadn't decided whether Facebook violated the California law. Therefore, he said, Facebook didn't prevail in a way that would entitle it to recoup its legal costs.

Facebook filed a notice of appeal of that ruling earlier this month. Last week, the company specified that it intends to argue that Seeborg wrongly interpreted the law.

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