Initially filed as a class action suit in October 2010 against the USGBC, Henry Gifford’s lawsuit took a turn this week when he filed an amended complaint. The original lawsuit alleged violations of the Sherman and Lanham Acts for “deceiving users” of the LEED rating system. The lawsuit questioned whether "LEED buildings use less energy than conventionally-built buildings.”
Gifford’s amended complaint ([pdf) focuses on claims of false advertising under the Lanham Act and state law, as well as a claim for deceptive trade practices under state law. Again, it is no longer a class action, but instead alleges certain damage to Gifford and a few others as professionals in the industry. The amended complaint states:
USGBC’s false advertisements divert customers from Plaintiffs to professionals accredited by USGBC and/or its affiliates who provide advice about how to obtain LEED certification. Plaintiffs are losing customers because USGBC’s false advertisements mislead the consumer into believing that obtaining LEED certification incorporates construction techniques that achieve energy-efficiency.
Should Owners and Contractors Worry about Gifford’s Suit Against USGBC? At this point, the answer is a simple … No … While it is interesting to follow the legal commentary about the lawsuit, the claims are in their infancy stage. The USGBC will be afforded an opportunity to challenge Gifford and his co-plaintiffs’ standing to bring the law suit. "Standing" is one of those Law School 101 principles that says a party must demonstrate to the court sufficient connection to and harm from the action challenged. In other words, they must have a dog in the fight.
Whether you are an owner-developer or contractor working with a green project, the real lesson from the Gifford show is to address LEED certification and energy performance in your contracts. As an owner, you may want the LEED certification from the USGBC and you may want your building to achieve a certain energy performance. As a contractor, you cannot guarantee certification, but you may be obligated to construct the building with certain performance guarantees.