False Bad Yelp Review

Bad Review on Yelp? Sue Your Former Customer! — Well, Maybe.

Much has happened since last November when a home contractor filed a lawsuit for $750,000 against a former customer for defamation. If you read the headlines across the news agencies, you saw, “Contractor Files Lawsuit against Customer for Bad Review. This is very misleading because it implies that the only reason the contractor filed suit was because the review was negative–suggesting that it had nothing to do with whether the comments were true or not. The judge granted a preliminary injunction requiring the homeowner to remove some of the most egregiously inaccurate (as alleged) statements from the Yelp review. However, the lawsuit, itself, caused some bad press for the contractor, compounding the harm of the original posting.  What do you if you find an outright lie on Yelp? Certainly not what the contractor did, which was to post his own negative Yelp remarks, alleging that the homeowner had “stolen” his goods and services since she never paid him for the job. That move cost him his victory.  In June, a jury found that although the homeowner had defamed the contractor, his later remarks also defamed her. Forget the $750,000. There was no award.

Statement of Fact

This is where an online reviewer can skirt some liability by making statements of opinions instead of facts. This has a fine line. A statement of fact implies a provably false factual assertion while a statement of opinion does not. The main purpose of this distinction is to walk to the line of where freedom of speech begins and ends; however, spreading false opinions that imply the allegation of undisclosed defamatory facts as their basis is beyond free speech. Also of great importance is the context of the speech, what the reader is likely to conclude from the statements. For example, saying that this plumber is a “thief” because he charges an arm and leg is probably more of an opinion because there is no fact to prove false since whether a plumber is expensive is subjective and an opinion; compare that to a review that says this plumber is a “thief” and so I called the cops on him–this implies he is an actual thief, a provable (or disprovable) fact.

Damages

If argued properly, an injured business could not only get an order requiring the slanderous review to be removed but also obtain damages for the harm to reputation and even specific lost business opportunities if proved accordingly.

The Actual Review on Yelp Being Sued For

Here is the review in full from AngelsList.com:

Overall: F Price: F Quality: F Responsiveness: F Punctuality: F Professionalism: F Description of Work: Dietz Development was to perform: painting, refinish floors, electrical, plumbing and handyman work. I was instead left with damage to my home and work that had to be reaccomplished for thousands more than originally estimated. Member comments: My home was damaged’ the “work” had to be re-accomplished; and Dietz tried to sue me for “monies due for his “work.” I won in summary judgement (meaning that his case had no merit). Despite his claims, Dietz was/is not licensed to perform work in the state of VA. Further, he invoiced me for work not even performed and also sued me for work not even performed. Today (six months later) he just showed up at my door and ‘”wanted to talk to me.” I said that I “didn’t want to talk to him,” closed the door , and called the police. (The police said his reason was that he had a “lien on my house”; however this “lien” was made null and void the day I won the case according to the court.) This is after filing my first ever police report when I found my jewelry missing and Dietz was the only one with a key. Bottom line do not put yourself through this nightmare of a contractor.

Not exactly a glowing review. Highlighted above are statements that may be considered “statements of fact” and if false could definitely lead to damages against the reviewer. Included in these highlighted statements are ones the judge ordered removed after hearing only a small amount of testimony in a preliminary injunction. Notice that a majority of the comments can be construed as fact because they could be proved otherwise and it’s not a matter of opinion. Compare that to the letter grades given of straight F’s which are complete opinion.

Do Not Pay People to Write Positive Online Reviews

First and foremost, posting false positive reviews and paying for it will be against the terms of service of the website. For example, back in October of this year, Yelp announced that it would start showing warnings to users when they have found businesses that have paid for reviews. A “Consumer Alert” will appear on those listings. Yelp has said they have caught people red-handed trying to buy reviews for their business and they wanted to do something about it because buying reviews not only hurts consumers, but also honest businesses who play by the rules. Second, this is like paying for false testimonials. There are a number of statutes and regulations that vary state to state regarding advertising, but FTC guidance controls on this issue, prohibiting “unfair and deceptive acts or practices in commerce.” There may be a fine line between giving incentives for any reviews versus paying for them as the FTC has expanded its regulation to include online reviews requiring the authors to disclose they are being paid to do so (which of course would defeat its purpose).

Dealing with A False Customer Review

Another recent Virginia case deals with the perplexing problem of anonymous Yelp reviews that may be phony.  The legal fighting has not yet gotten to the issue of defamation. It remains about whether Yelp must disclose the identities of the individuals writing negative reviews. After it chose to stop advertising with Yelp, a carpet cleaning business suddenly began to rack up anonymous negative reviews. Many of the seven reviews in question used similar language and repeated similar themes about deceptive advertising and doubled prices. One was from a state in which the carpet cleaner conducts no business. The business claimed that it could not match these negative reviews with actual customers, and that the reviews were therefore in violation of Yelp’s Terms of Service which requires that users actually patronize a business before writing a review. In its defamation suit, the carpet cleaner further claimed that it cannot determine if the claims about price and advertising are false because it cannot tell who the customers are. There is, of course, some reason to believe that the claims about actual patronage are not true. Anonymous statements of opinion are protected under the First Amendment, and Yelp has fought fiercely against the subpoenas that would require it to disclose the identities of the negative reviewers, even to the extent of paying fines for being found in contempt of court. When the shoe was on the other foot, Yelp was successful in a lawsuit based on breach of contract, unfair competition and false advertising against authors of phony positive reviews. This could get interesting. The Virginia Supreme Court will hear the case in the near future. For some businesses, filing a lawsuit right away may sound good, but as we have seen it can backfire pretty quickly once people find out you are suing your former customers. As in all litigation matters, dealing with things before it is a problem is of utmost importance and when does become an issue, dealing it before it escalates is imperative. When you do get a bad review, see what you can do for the customer directly to address his or her concerns–in the long run it will make a significance difference. For some businesses, a few negative reviews here and there is the cost of doing business especially when you already have a bunch more positive reviews. For example, a restaurant bar and grill recorded their negative reviews and started playing them in their bathroom.  One pizzeria owner reportedly reprints nasty Yelp reviews on employee t-shirts. As a general rule, litigation should be a last resort. Most do not realize the expense and toll that it can play on the wallet and mind.

Why Not Just Sue Yelp?

Yelp itself is protected by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act and cannot be held liable for these kind of acts. Section 230 grants interactive online services of all types, including news websites, blogs, forums, and listservs, broad immunity from certain types of legal liability stemming from content created by others. This immunity covers defamation and privacy claims, as well as negligence and other tort claims associated with publication. Yelp or other review sites will not lose this immunity even if they edit the content, whether for accuracy or civility, so long as the edits do not materially alter the meaning of the original content.

Former Employee Spilling the Beans Online

Besides just negative reviews from customers, former employees of businesses may get into the mix. Notwithstanding a defamation claim as discussed, non-disparagement agreements with employees are generally enforceable, but the scope and in what circumstances may be severely restricted as to how the clause is drafted but most importantly by whistle-blower statutes and general rights of freedom of speech.

Anti-SLAPP Motion: A Scary Threat to Suing Your Customers for Defamation

SLAPP stands for strategic lawsuits against public participation. It is a tool in California and some other states that can be very useful for defendants in protecting freedom of speech; without an anti-SLAPP statute, a malicious business could inflict substantial expense and hardship upon someone in retaliation for their speech, even if their claim is without merit.  If done properly, such a motion shifts the burden on the plaintiff to prove that they are likely to win their case based upon the evidence provided. Losing such a motion would not only stop the lawsuit on its track but also expose the plaintiff to attorney’s fees–a scary threat to any defamation lawsuit.

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  • Kriticas

    Yelp is allowing false reviews from “unhappy” customers -But Yelp wasn’t there so Yelp DOES NOT know the details of the business transaction, therefore Yelp should investigate the bad reviews, or allow businesses to contest and provide proof of that the bad reviews are false -But Yelp Does Not care, Yelp people said to me that their policy is to provide “customer satisfaction” -but Yelp is hurting honest businesses, because they are allowing false reviews from bad and dishonest customers!

    • Angela O’Brien

      Its called “flagging a review”
      I have had problems with one particular customer who didn’t get her way and first posted a review as a friend and when it was flagged. She rewrote as herself stating false information and saying we were probably writing our own reviews or paying people to do so. It is a filtered review but again I flagged and if they don’t erase it this time, I will have to write a comment in defense. But after reading this article, I definitely won’t be suing her, unless she tried to sue me first

  • Free Speech

    Article by: ABBY SIMONS , Star Tribune

    Finding no harm done, justices toss out lawsuit by Duluth physician.

    Dennis Laurion fired off his screed on a few rate-your-doctor websites
    in April 2010, along with some letters about what he saw as poor bedside manner
    by his father’s neurologist. He expected at most what he calls a
    “non-apology apology.”

    “I really thought I’d receive something within a few days along the
    lines of ‘I’m sorry you thought I was rude, that was not my intent’ and that
    would be the end of it,” the 66-year-old Duluth retiree said. “I
    certainly did not expect to be sued.”

    He was. Dr. David McKee’s defamation lawsuit was the beginning of a
    four-year legal battle that ended Wednesday when the Minnesota Supreme Court
    ruled the doctor had no legal claim against Laurion because there was no proof
    that his comments were false or were capable of harming the doctor’s
    reputation.

    The unanimous ruling reverses an earlier Appeals Court decision and
    brings to an end the closely watched case that brought to the forefront a First
    Amendment debate over the limits of free speech online.

    It’s a frustrating end for McKee, 51, who said he’s spent at least
    $50,000 in legal fees and another $11,000 to clear his name online after the
    story went viral, resulting in hundreds more negative postings about him —
    likely from people who never met him. He hasn’t ruled out a second lawsuit
    stemming from those posts.

    “The financial costs are significant, but money is money and five
    years from now I won’t notice the money I spent on this,” he said.
    “It’s been the harm to my reputation through the repeated publicity and
    the stress.”

    He said he offered to settle the case at no cost after the Supreme Court
    hearing. Laurion contends they couldn’t agree on the terms of the settlement,
    and said he not only deleted his initial postings after he was initially
    served, but had nothing to do with subsequent online statements about McKee.

    The lawsuit followed the hospitalization of Laurion’s father, Kenneth,
    for a hemorrhagic stroke at St. Luke’s Hospital in Duluth. Laurion, his mother
    and his wife were also in the room when McKee examined the father and made the
    statements that Laurion interpreted as rude. After his father was discharged,
    he wrote the reviews and sent the letters.

    On at least two sites, Laurion wrote that McKee said that “44 percent
    of hemorrhagic strokes die within 30 days. I guess this is the better
    option,” and that “It doesn’t matter that the patient’s gown did not
    cover his backside.”

    Laurion also wrote: “When I mentioned Dr. McKee’s name to a friend
    who is a nurse, she said, ‘Dr. McKee is a real tool!'”

    McKee sued after he learned of the postings from another patient. A St.
    Louis County judge dismissed the lawsuit, saying Laurion’s statements were
    either protected opinion, substantially true or too vague to convey a defamatory
    meaning. The Appeals Court reversed that ruling regarding six of Laurion’s
    statements, reasoning that they were factual assertions and not opinions, that
    they harmed McKee’s reputation and that they could be proven as false.

    The Supreme Court disagreed. Writing the opinion, Justice Alan Page
    noted that McKee acknowledged that the gist of some of the statements were
    true, even if they were misinterpreted. Page added that the “tool”
    statements also didn’t pass the test of defaming McKee’s character. He
    dismissed an argument by McKee’s attorney, Marshall Tanick, that the
    “tool” comment was fabricated by Laurion and that the nurse never existed.
    Whether it was fabricated or not was irrelevant, the court ruled.
    “Referring to someone as ‘a real tool’ falls into the category of pure
    opinion because the term ‘real tool’ cannot be reasonably interpreted as
    stating a fact and it cannot be proven true or false,” Page wrote.

    Marshall Tanick said the ruling could present a slippery slope. “This decision gives individuals a license to make derogatory and disparaging statements about doctors, professionals and really anyone for that matter on the Internet without much recourse,” he said

    Jane Kirtley disagreed. The professor of media ethics and law at the
    University of Minnesota School of Journalism said the ruling stems from
    “an elementary principle of libel law. I understand the rhetoric, but this
    is not a blank check for people to make false factual statements,” she
    said. “Rather, it’s an endorsement that statements of opinion are
    protected under the First Amendment.”

    Laurion’s attorney, John D. Kelly, said the fact that Laurion’s speech
    was made online was inconsequential to the ruling, which treated it as a
    standard defamation case. “It’s almost as if things were said around the
    water cooler or perhaps posted in a letter to the editor,” he said.
    “I think the principles they worked with are applicable to statements made
    irrespective of the medium.”

    Full article:
    http://www.startribune.com/local/189028521.html?refer=y

    • Harry Nevus

      This is from an April 4, 2014, Buzzfeed article by Jake Rossen.

      David McKee, M.D., a Duluth, Minn., neurologist, was unaware of the
      Streisand phenomenon at the time he decided to sue Dennis Laurion. Laurion’s
      father, Kenneth, had suffered a stroke in April 2010; McKee was called in to
      assess Kenneth’s condition.

      According to the Laurions, McKee was oblivious to Kenneth’s modesty. “His
      son was right there,” McKee counters. “If he was concerned about the gown, he
      didn’t get out of his chair to tie it.”

      Dennis Laurion consulted with his family to see if his impression of the
      arrogant doctor was real or imagined. He fired off a dozen or more letters to a
      variety of medical institutions, including the hospital’s ombudsman, the
      Minnesota Board of Medical Practice, Medicare, and the American Medical
      Association.

      McKee sued Laurion for defamation. A local Duluth newspaper picked up on the
      story, favoring Laurion’s interpretation of events.

      In April 2011, the judge granted Laurion’s motion for summary judgment,
      ruling his comments were protected free speech. A user on Reddit.com posted the
      newspaper story. Almost overnight, dozens of “reviews” popped up on RateMDs.com
      and other sites with outlandish commentary on McKee, who was referred to as
      “the dickface doctor of Duluth.”

      McKee found no easy way to exit the situation. “You get drawn in,” he says,
      suggesting his lawyer ( * ) nudged him into further action. “It’s throwing good money
      after bad. … I wanted out almost as soon as I got in, and it was always, ‘Well,
      just one more step.’” McKee appealed, and the summary judgment was overturned.
      The case, and the measurable impact of being labeled a “real tool,” was now
      headed for the Minnesota Supreme Court.

      McKee was rated for several years as a top provider in Duluth Superior
      Magazine, but“From now until the end of time, I’ll be the jerk neurologist who
      was rude to a World War II veteran,” the physician says. “I’m stuck with it
      forever.”

      ( * ) Marshall H. Tanick

      • naspasha

        Thank you for the share. Classic situation. When you are paying an attorney to litigate on your behalf, he or she has an incentive to push you into litigation even if not in your best interest. Even the honest attorneys have this underline incentive.

    • Uranus

      [[ Marshall Tanick said the ruling could present a slippery slope. “This
      decision gives individuals a license to make derogatory and disparaging
      statements about doctors, professionals and really anyone for that
      matter on the Internet without much recourse,” he said. ]]

      From the American Health Lawyers Association: In this case, the court found the six allegedly defamatory statements were not actionable because the “substance, the gist, the sting” of
      plaintiff’s version for each of the statements as provided in deposition and
      defendant’s version essentially carried the same meaning, satisfied the
      standard for substantial truth, did not show a tendency to harm the plaintiff’s
      reputation and lower his estimation in the community, or were incapable of
      conveying a defamatory meaning (e.g., when a nurse told defendant that
      plaintiff was “a real tool”) based on “how an ordinary person understands the language used in the light of surrounding circumstances.”

      From the Business Insurance Blog: The Minnesota high court said, for instance,
      that Dr. McKee’s version of his comment about the intensive care unit was
      substantially similar to Mr. Laurion’s. “In other words, Dr. McKee’s account of
      what he said would produce the same effect on the mind of the reader,” the
      court said. “The minor inaccuracies of expression (in the statement) as
      compared to Dr. McKee’s version of what he said do not give rise to a genuine
      issue as to falsity.”

      From the Duane Morris Media Blog: The doctor said in his deposition that
      with regard to finding out if Mr. Laurion was alive or dead, “I made a
      jocular comment… to the effect of I had looked for [Kenneth Laurion] up
      there in the intensive care unit and was glad to find that, when he
      wasn’t there, that he had been moved to a regular hospital bed, because you
      only go one of two ways when you leave the intensive care unit; you either have
      improved to the point where you’re someplace like this or you leave because
      you’ve died.” The court said the differences between the two versions of the
      statements about death or transfer by both plaintiff and defendant were so
      minor that there was no falsity in the website postings. In other words, the
      court indicated that the allegation about the statement was true.

      In reply to an e-patients.net article “Minnesota Supreme Court sides with patient
      on social media defamation suit,” Attorney Marilyn Mann said, “I think McKee’s
      lawyer is incorrect. The case turned on standard principles of defamation law
      and doesn’t really break new ground.”

      According to the Duluth News Tribune, Minnesota Newspaper Association attorney Mark
      Anfinson, who watched the oral arguments before the Supreme Court in September,
      said that the justices made the right decision. Anfinson also told the News
      Tribune, “What this case really exemplifies is not so much legal precepts in
      libel law, but the impact of the Internet on the ability to publish
      unflattering comments about people.”

      The Mankato Free Press said in February 2013: “It’s puzzling
      why McKee’s defamation lawsuit — filed nearly four years ago — was still in
      court. It’s long been established that people may spout any opinion they want
      without fear of being sued . . . It’s unsettling that the Appeals Court earlier ruled to allow the suit to continue.”

      In his Technology & Marketing Law Blog, Eric Goldman said on February 4, 2013,
      “I’ve been tracking doctor v. patient lawsuits for online reviews. . . doctors
      usually lose or voluntarily drop these lawsuits. Indeed, with surprising
      frequency, doctors end the lawsuit by writing a check to the defendant for the
      defendant’s attorneys’ fees where the state has a robust anti-SLAPP law.
      Doctors and other healthcare professionals thinking of suing over online
      reviews, take note: you’re likely to lose in court, so legal proceedings should
      be an absolute last-resort option–and even then, they might not be worth
      pursuing.”

      Dan Hinmon, the principal of Hive Strategies, wrote for Health Care Communication, on
      March 21, 2013, “According to the Star Tribune, McKee is now ticked off at the people
      who posted hundreds more negative comments about him after the story went
      viral. Incredulously, the story reports that McKee ‘hasn’t ruled out a second
      lawsuit stemming from these posts.’ Yes, you read that right. After spending ‘at
      least $50,000 in legal fees and another $11,000 to clear his name online after
      the story went viral,’ McKee is considering suing the rest of the people who,
      exercising their right of protected speech, chimed in. I’m speechless.”

  • Jojo

    Yelp is not helpful , yelp will post negative reviews and hold back good reviews !!!!! Why ? Can they be sued for this?

    • http://www.bluewavewebdesign.com/ Blue Wave Web Design

      I noticed that too, good reviews tend to get hidden

  • Justin Olshan

    id love to get together with other people and file suite yelp, they called me to pay them for advertisement when i declined they took down my positive reviews and left the negative reviews inbox me if anyone is interested in jiont siute

    • http://www.bluewavewebdesign.com/ Blue Wave Web Design

      Yelp does hides positive results from real people when there is a negative result. I would focus on Google+, they are a lot better at handling fake reviews.

  • http://www.bluewavewebdesign.com/ Blue Wave Web Design

    Suing is expensive.

    My advice to business owners is that if you know who is posting
    lies about your business, they are being abusive and will not be reasonable
    when you approach them; you can expose the full name of the perpetrator and what
    they are doing in your reply.

    That information will show up in searches about them and can provide an incentive to
    stop.

    • naspasha

      Interesting suggestion.

      • http://www.bluewavewebdesign.com/ Blue Wave Web Design

        I did that once, and it worked.
        Some crook wanted to get work delivered without paying for it, and tried to force it by extortion. He placed nasty lies, I responded with the facts, stating that he was late on his bills, and the work would not be delivered until he pays his overdue bills. My response appeared on the 2nd page when searching his name. When he realized that, he took his lies (and my response) down.

        • Joseph Erle

          I like how you handle this. Good work getting paid. Have you changed your payment requirements since working with this guy?

          • http://www.bluewavewebdesign.com/ Blue Wave Web Design

            Yes, I now charge 30% upfront, I don’t take nags trying to get heavy price cuts, and contracted a collections agency.

          • Joseph Erle

            Good idea. Hopefully, businesses can learn from this story and not have to learn the hard way like you did.

  • Joseph Erle

    “Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act and cannot be held liable for these kind of acts. Section 230 grants interactive online services of all types, including news websites, blogs, forums, and listservs, broad immunity from certain types of legal liability stemming from content created by others.”
    -Thanks for sharing this info with me. I was unaware that this statute was in place. Like any statute, I’m sure that there are exceptions. In addition, just because there is a statute, it doesn’t mean you can’t get sued anyway. I would tell anyone with a popular blog, forum, or media outlet to get proper insurance. Counsel can use Section 230 to defend you, but at least you’ll have defense (included with the correct media insurance policy). A good Terms of Service (TOS) is also going to be your first line of defense. Team up with an experience law firm such as Pasha Law to get that done, so you can put to bed frivolous law suits quickly and move on with your business.

  • kristine08

    Attorneys are the biggest babies of all professions. One bad review and suddenly, they take interest in you, but never did while they were retained.
    The threats that ensues from these bullies is laughable at best. It is MY experience with your firm, and I have the documents to back up what I wrote. The best defense against libel is TRUTH.

    I am being told via email, that I have 15 days to remove my avvo, yelp and word press reviews, “or else I am going to file a lawsuit and you better not transfer your house to anyone.”

    They act like they give all of us the same due diligence. There is no ethics with attorneys. I learned that much.

    • baz

      thats not so bad, i once had the lawyer from hell, during my first face 2 face meeting with my lawyer while i was detained by the government my lawyer threatened my life, this was to warn me against reataliating against her in the future if i didnt like the way she represented me and or didnt like the outcome of my case, my lawyer later colluded with the opposition gov against me while representing me, she also gave me ridiculously bad advice that was obviously puropsly intended to get me into trouble if i followed her aevice such as telling me if the police or social services ever come 2 my home again that i shouild verbally abuse them and also throw a bucket of water or urine over them, my lawyer turned a blind eye 2 me being renditioned and she warned me against informing the authorities if i was beaten or raped by state workers while i was detained, my lawyer als tried to extort money from me and again gave me death threats before going and i never saw her again, she colluded with the authorities to leave me in custody without leghal reprsentation.

    • Dennis

      Good luck. I wish you success.

  • baz

    as a non jew athiest i dont like it that jews claim –

    1. jews claim there is a god and that them being circumsized is proof of this.
    2. jews claim that god likes and favours jews over non jews and god gave them a country.
    3. jews claim that god always saves jews such as saving them from hitler.
    4. that jews are willing to occupy a land and kill on the basis of their unprovable claims.

    in regards to number 2, isnt this defamation when jews make these claims that put non jews down and so can i/non jews sue jews/synogouges/state of israel.
    in regards to number 3, it is a known fact that the brit, US and russian militaries saved the jews and there is no proof that god saved them or assisted in the saving of them, as my british grandparents faught the germans in europe in ww2 then the jews unproven claims that god saved them offends me and smears my dead grandparents name and honour so can i sue jews/synogogues/state of isreal.
    inregards to 4, if jews r willing to seize another persons property and land and also be willing to injure and kill persons/non jews because of an unproven belief then shouldnt jews be incarerated in a mental asylum to protect non jews from them

  • Content Scraper

    “A Portland dentist is suing a former patient for what the dentist claims are defamatory reviews in online forums.”

    By Sam Stites, Willamette Week

    Dr. Mo Saleh, of Dental Dynamics, originally filed suit against Spencer Bailey in Multnomah Circuit Court on June 26 seeking $300,000 after Bailey wrote about Saleh’s dental skills on Yelp, DoctorOogle.com and Google. In his lawsuit, Saleh says Bailey posts caused damage to his reputation, loss of profits and emotional distress.

    The reviews cited in the complaint include statements saying Bailey implied ”improper and insufficient dental services by Dr. Saleh.” The complaint further alleges that Bailey wrote, “if Dr. Saleh tells you that you have a cavity — GET A SECOND OPINION.”

    According to the complaint. Bailey said he had never had a cavity in 32 years until Saleh found several. Bailey’s lawyers have responded by stating that Bailey went to Saleh for dental work and then went to another dentist after experiencing pain. They claim that the other dentist advised Bailey that some
    of the fillings were unnecessary and some were poorly put in.

    Bailey’s attorneys, Jeremiah Ross and Linda Williams, also claimed that Saleh contacted Bailey after he reviewed the dentist on various web sites, threatening him to remove them. They say Bailey removed the postings out of concern for his and his family’s safety. Even though Bailey removed the postings, Saleh is proceeding with his suit. (Saleh’s lawyer declined to comment.)

    As online commentary about all manner of topics has exploded, so too has the number of lawsuits unhappy targets have filed about such commentary. Saleh’s suit falls under what lawyers call a practice of Strategic Law Against Public Participation or SLAPP. SLAPP cases take aim at people making statements or
    publishing information that could be damaging to the plaintiff. Critics say these suits are sometimes little more than attempt to censor, silence and in intimidate the defendant.

    In a similar case, a Washington County pastor sued a former parishioner in June, claiming an online review of his church was defamatory. The defendant’s attorney, Linda Williams—who is also representing Bailey, the dental patient—employed an Oregon anti-SLAPP statute passed in 2001 aimed at frivolous SLAPP lawsuits. The judge ruled in favor of the Washington County defendant and said that the statements were made “in a public forum and concern an issue of public interest,” according to KATU.

    Earlier this month Bailey’s attornies filed a motion to strike Saleh’s lawsuit under the anti-SLAPP statute, declaring that Bailey’s online reviews are free speech in a public forum. “Spencer’s review was a protected opinion and the Plaintiff cannot prove their allegations,” Ross, Bailey’s co-counsel tells WW via email. “Nor can they prove $300,000 in damages for a post that was up for three weeks.”

    A judge will hear the anti-SLAPP motion on Sept. 5.

    http://www.wweek.com/portland/blog-29111-portland_dentist_sues_patient_over_internet_posts.html

  • Voglbauer V Llewellyn

    By Associated Press, 22 May 2014

    WHITEWATER, Wis. (AP) — A University of Wisconsin-Whitewater professor is suing a former graduate student who posted online comments and videos that the teacher considers defamatory.

    Anthony Llewellyn took a class last year from communications professor Sally Vogl-Bauer, but the experience didn’t go well, the Janesville Gazette reported (http://bit.ly/1hcjNmn ) Thursday.

    Llewellyn posted comments on professor-rating sites accusing the teacher of criticizing his academic abilities, grading him unfairly and causing him to fail out of school. He said he spoke with her in
    April about his concerns, two months before he was told he had failed her class.

    Vogl-Bauer contends the comments amount to defamation, while Llewellyn says his goal was simply to inform the public about how the professor treated him.

    Tim Edwards, the attorney representing Vogl-Bauer, said the comments could be especially damaging to someone in a small professional community. He said he and Vogl-Bauer agree that students should be
    allowed to express their opinions, “but when you go so far beyond that, into a concerted effort to attack somebody’s reputation because things didn’t go your way, that’s much different.”

    Edwards and Vogl-Bauer asked Llewellyn to take down his online comments and videos. They filed the lawsuit after he refused.

    Llewellyn said it’s important for the videos and comments to stay online so the public can remain informed.

    “I don’t feel I’ve (gone) too far with my videos and comments because everything posted basically communicates exactly how Sally Vogl-Bauer treated me,” Llewellyn said.

    The lawsuit seeks punitive damages and attorney and trial fees. The case is scheduled to go a jury trial in September.

    It’s not clear how successful the lawsuit will be, but a similar case in Minnesota ended with a ruling in favor of the person who posted the online rating. In the case (*), a doctor took offense when a patient’s son went on a rate-your-doctor website and called him “a real tool,” slang for stupid or foolish. The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled in January 2013 that the comment wasn’t defamatory because it was an opinion
    protected by free-speech rights.

    (*) David McKee MD vs Dennis Laurion
    Minnesota Supreme Court Case # A11-1154