A Cook County man’s lawsuit, which alleges the Ashley Madison adultery website not only failed to protect personal information from hackers, but also two-timed male members through fake female profiles, could be headed from circuit court to Chicago federal court.
In September, Matthew Lisuzzo filed a 10-count putative class-action suit in Cook County Circuit Court against Avid Life Media Inc., and the company’s law firm, Barnes & Thornburg, as well as against a lawyer with the firm, Leslie Weiss. The suit alleged fraud and unjust enrichment, as well as violations of state data breach and consumer fraud statutes.
Avid Life operates the Ashley Madison website, which is an online service ostensibly designed and marketed to facilitate adulterous affairs. The company is based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and launched Ashley Madison in 2002, eventually claiming to have 39 million members. Barnes & Thornburg is based in Indianapolis, with offices throughout the U.S., including Chicago.
On Dec. 16, Avid Life filed a motion in Chicago federal court, asking the case be moved to that court, saying the case properly falls under federal jurisdiction.
According to Lisuzzo, he was a member of Ashley Madison who was allegedly duped by statements made by Avid Life Media that created a “general impression that ALM provided the utmost security to Ashley Madison members to protect the members’ identity, personal Information and financial information.”
Lisuzzo’s eyes were purportedly opened in summer 2015, after hackers gained access to Ashley Madison databases and systems, leaking private information, which included members’ names, addresses and sexual preferences. Lisuzzo asserted Avid Life delayed telling members of the breach for eight days.
According to Lisuzzo, Avid Life executives, including Vice President of Operations Kevin MacCall, fretted prior to the security rupture that security had become “critical,” because of a “lack of security awareness across the organization.”
The security break allegedly revealed that thousands of the female profiles on Ashley Madison were phony, having been fabricated by Ashley Madison employees at the company’s direction, according to Lisuzzo. The alleged purpose of the bogus profiles was to lure men into paying to upgrade their membership status and to purchase credits from the company, so they could electronically communicate with the supposed flesh-and-blood women.
Lisuzzo said he regretted spending money communicating with women who did not exist.
“Had plaintiff known the truth about defendants’ misrepresentations, plaintiff would not have joined ALM’s website or would not have purchased credits,” Lisuzzo’s complaint said.
Lisuzzo alleged Avid Life's program of sending messages to male members, via false female profiles, was called Ashley’s Angels. Almost half of Avid Life’s revenue was generated by bots and sham profiles contacting members, Lisuzzo claimed.
Lisuzzo pointed to a 2012 suit against Avid Life by a former Avid Life employee, in which the former employee claimed she developed repetitive strain injury after being directed to input about 1,000 dummy female profiles. Avid Life contested the injury claim, but did not deny the fake profile charge, according to Lisuzzo.
Lisuzzo also said questions about the authenticity of female profiles came to the attention of the California Attorney General's Office about four years ago, prompting that agency to make an inquiry. Avid Life told the office that any such profiles were created by outside "criminal elements,” according to court documents cited by Lisuzzo.
However, to mislead site users, Avid Life allegedly connived with Leslie Weiss, of Barnes & Thornburg, to come up with a terms-and-condition disclosure that acknowledged some profiles were “fictitious" and created for the purpose of entertaining users, Lisuzzo contended. Later, the word “fictitious” was replaced by “exaggerated or fantasy.” Nonetheless, Lisuzzo said these disclosures fell short of full transparency, with fraud continuing to be perpetrated on members.
Lisuzzo, who registered with Ashley Madison in 2008, maintained he still wishes to make use of his membership, expend credits he bought and buy more credits. However, Lisuzzo said he cannot do so, because he cannot trust Avid Life to protect his personal information.
Lisuzzo is represented by Zimmerman Law Offices, of Chicago and Ferrill Law Firm, of Clarendon Hills. Defendants are represented by Barnes & Thornburg.