Wrong Number, Wrong Lawsuit

By: Michael Seinberg

Most people get the occasional wrong number call and are able to survive the experience. But not Michael Nasser Sr. of Virginia. It seems that White Pages incorrectly listed his number as belonging to Comcast Phone of Virginia, so very close to the spelling of Nasser. Well, you know what happened next and no, he didn’t get free cable. Instead, he got thousands of unwanted calls from folks trying to reach Comcast.

So what does a smart person do in such a case? Change your number? Call White Pages? Well, Nasser did call White Pages, but they never fixed the problem and then sold their listings to Yellowbook which published the wrong listings in the 2011-2012 Yellowbook for the Northern Shenandoah Valley Area. This is where the story really gets silly.

Nasser filed a Federal lawsuit and claimed that the mistaken listing caused him extreme emotional distress, which caused insomnia, elevated blood-sugar, ringing in his ears (sure it wasn’t the phone?), reoccurrence of stuttered speech and headaches. He was so distracted by all this he still didn’t manage to unplug the phone or have his number changed. But, he did manage to file the suit seeking $500,000 in compensatory and punitive damages. Pretty amazing for a stuttering insomniac with a bad headache and elevated blood sugar.

But here’s the real punchline. U.S. District Judge Michael Urbanski dismissed the case last week for failure to state a claim. A report from the U.S. Magistrate Judge B. Waugh Crigler found that the White Pages were shielded by federal immunity under the Communications Decency Act, which bars suits that seek to hold online services liable as publishers when information comes from a third party user.

Nasser felt the immunity defense wasn’t solid because he alleged that White Pages altered the listings and he felt they had a duty to remove the faulty information when they were informed by him and the state court. Crigler disagreed saying that immunity holds when the service provider, “solicits, pays for, edits, and generally maintains active control over the content of its website.”

All legalese aside, I think the half million claim and the overwrought medical issues may have been a contributing factor. If you’re together enough to file a suit you should also be together enough to simply change your phone number. It’s not exactly rocket science, even if you’ve been losing sleep.

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