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ICANN sued by irate RegisterFly customer, as class action rumble begins

And let's not forget the $6,000 chihuahua

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ICANN Lisbon The Dummit Law Firm announced today on its website that it has filed a class action lawsuit against internet registrars Registerfly and Enom, as well as internet standards body ICANN.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Anne Martinez, a Registerfly customer and the registered owner of GoCertify.com, which provided the main source of income for her and her children. The lawsuit was unsealed on March 23 and officially announced by the plaintiff and her attorney's today.

According to the site, "the lawsuit (Anne Martinez v RegisterFly, ICANN et. al.) filed by Attorney E. Clarke Dummit alleges that RegisterFly has systematically defrauded its customers who attempted to register or renew Internet domain names, causing them to lose their domain names, finances, and even entire businesses. The lawsuit was initially sealed due to fears of retribution by RegisterFly.com towards plaintiff Anne Martinez for filing the suit, but since then other concerns have become more pressing, and the case was opened to the public."

Plaintiff Martinez initially sought a temporary restraining order (TRO) against RegisterFly, which the court rejected on the grounds that ICANN had already obtained sufficient data from RegisterFly to protect the interests of the plaintiff. Thus, the standard of immediate and irreparable harm required for a TRO had not been met. Ms. Martinez responded by going public with her complaint in the hopes of discovering enough similarly-situated potential plaintiffs to receive class-action certification.

The RegisterFly fiasco has proven to be a major public relations and operational headache for ICANN, the nonprofit corporation responsible for determining the technical standards for internet communication. It has been a major topic of discussion at the current ICANN meeting in Lisbon, and has provoked a lot of soul-searching about just what ICANN's quasi-regulatory role should be. The filing of the class action suit - the service of which on ICANN tellingly happened the day before ICANN finally decided to revoke RegisterFly's accreditation is sure to fan the flames against ICANN itself.

It also threatens to overwhelm substantive discussions currently going on between ICANN and its varied stakeholders regarding important issues such as the internationalization of domain names and revisions of the current Whois database, which provides important contact information regarding domain holders, and has privacy implications for all internet users.

RegisterFly began as a domain name reseller for ICANN-accredited registrar Enom. Even prior to receiving its own accreditation from ICANN - which is itself the matter of considerable finger-pointing - RegisterFly had been the subject of relatively large numbers of customer service complaints. Although never formally approved by ICANN, since it received its accreditation through purchase of another accredited registrar, RegisterFly did post an ICANN accreditation logo on its site, and ICANN acquiesced. That logo is still on the RegisterFly site, and the company allegedly continues to register domains.

ICANN today protested the continued use of that logo on its blog, though the blog studiously declines mention of any ongoing litigation with RegisterFly customers. ICANN was served process two weeks ago - is this just more self-serving obfuscation by an organization notorious for exactly that?

Although ICANN has been receiving complaints about RegisterFly for nearly two years, apparently it takes a lawsuit against ICANN, not by it, to get anything done. The RegisterFly mess was publicized for a year on a customer gripe site, Registerflies.com. But it only received widespread attention after a particularly bitter and personal lawsuit between two of the founders revealed allegations of liposuction, escorts, and a $6,000 chihuahua on the corporate tab.

Customers were being double or triple-charged for registration services that were never performed, as the company CEO Kevin Medina lived a lavish lifestyle in a Miami Beach penthouse, which the company apparently also covered. Enom's role in this new twist remains somewhat obscure, although the suit alleges that Enom engaged in some of the same sketchy billing activity as RegisterFly during a transitional period where RegisterFly registered domains itself while continuing to act as a reseller for Enom.

It seems that it takes a class action lawsuit to teach ICANN a lesson - with other suspect registrars recently acknowledged by ICANN, it might not be the last.®

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