Judge jettisons lawsuit challenging Gartner's Magic Quadrant

Ruling dismisses baseless arguments made by ZL Technologies

In a ruling that should surprise no one, California Ninth Circuit Court Judge Jeremy Fogel has dismissed a lawsuit filed by ZL Technologies that accused Gartner of committing a host of illegalities simply through its placement of ZL's e-mail archiving software in the "niche" box of Gartner's famously controversial Magic Quadrant.

In essence, this case boiled down to a question of whether the Magic Quadrant is an objective presentation of quantifiable facts, or -- as Gartner argued and should be obvious to all -- simply Gartner's opinion based on its research.

Whatever one may think of Gartner or its fabled Magic Quadrant, this lawsuit -- more accurately described as a legal fit of pique -- was as frivolous as they come. Here's my post from last month that includes all of the necessary links should anyone be inclined to read the back-and-forth filing that preceded the judge's tidy dismissal.

From the judge's ruling filed yesterday:

The Court agrees with Gartner that the general tenor of the MQ Report negates the impression that Gartner is asserting an objective fact by assigning ZL a "Niche" status. The cover page of the email archiving review states specifically that, "The opinions expressed herein are subject to change without notice."

... Finally, ZL argues that Gartner's representation that it provides "highly discerning research that is objective, defensible, and credible to help [customers] do their job better" implies that its Reports contain objective assertions of fact. Gartner notes that this language appears not in the MQ Report but on its website and that the language describes Gartner's research services generally rather than the MQ Report in particular.

More to the point, the terms "objective, defensible, and credible" do not imply the assertion of factual information. Gartner argues convincingly that even if its self-description did refer to the statements within the MQ Report, its "sophisticated readers" - corporate and government executives and professionals - would not infer that Gartner's rankings were anything other than opinion. Gartner contends that its use of the word "objective," reasonably represents that its rankings are arrived at through "independent and unprejudiced" methods. Gartner also argues persuasively that the word "defensible" simply means "capable of being defended." While its use of the word "credible" reflects Gartner's belief that its ratings are trustworthy, such use cannot reasonably be understood as a statement of fact.

While dismissing each and every one of ZL's five allegations -- "defamation, trade libel, false advertising, unfair competition, and negligent interference with prospective economic advantage" -- the judge did reluctantly allow ZL another bite at the apple by giving the company 30 days to come up with something more credible. And, unfortunately, it appears as though ZL is committed to trying.

Here's part of statement e-mailed to me by ZL's public relations firm:

While we are disappointed that the court has dismissed our lawsuit as filed, we are pleased that it has given us leave to amend our complaint, over Gartner opposition. We believe the market should take note that the defense on which Gartner prevailed was its argument that its reports contain "pure opinions," namely, opinions which are not based on objective facts.  In ZL's view, that is directly contrary to the statements Gartner makes to its customers when selling its allegedly sound research. ZL intends to amend its complaint and refile within 30 days."

And hopefully Judge Fogel will send them a bill for wasting the court's time.

(Update: Gartner's ombudsman reacts to the decision here.)

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