We previously published an article here titled “Negative Reviews On Yelp Hurting Your Business?” in which we explained that, under appropriate circumstances, a business owner may want to consider filing a suit for defamation against persons publishing false negative reviews on Yelp or similar consumer review websites.
THE YELP CASE
Now the issue of defamatory content on Yelp is all over the news, especially here in California, as Yelp has gone all the way to the California Supreme Court protesting an order directing it to remove a negative consumer review. The appellate decision now up for review by the California Supreme Court is Hassell v. Bird, 247 Cal. App. 4th 1336 (Court of Appeal Case No. A143233).
Dawn Hassell is an attorney who sued a former client, Ms. Ava Bird, for posting allegedly false and defaming comments in a review on Yelp. Ms. Hassell got a judgment against Ms. Bird, who defaulted in the case, but Ms. Bird then failed to comply with the Court order directing her to remove her defamatory review from Yelp.
Hassell had not included Yelp as a defendant in the case, but when Bird failed to remove her review, Hassell sought an order from the Court directing Yelp to remove the defamatory review, which was granted.
One might think that Yelp would be happy to comply in removing consumer reviews that have already been determined, in a legal proceeding, to have been defamatory. But that is NOT so. Instead, Yelp appealed the order to the First Appellate District of the Court of Appeals. Yelp argued that it should not be bound by a judgment in a case in which it was not a party, especially an uncontested default judgment. Yelp also argued that the order interfered with the freedom of the Internet, and the First Amendment Free Speech, and the Federal “Communications Decency Act”, which protects Internet Companies from liability for the content consumers post on their websites. And Yelp lost again!
Now the California Supreme Court has agreed to hear Yelp’s appeal, and it’s a big to-do, with lots of publicity and comment. The defenders of unbridled free speech on the Internet are all worked up and are rooting Yelp on. It will be interesting to see how the California Supreme Court rules.
TAKEAWAY FOR THE DEFAMED BUSINESS OWNER
In the meantime, Business Owners who are considering filing a defamation lawsuit based on false and defamatory postings on Yelp, or similar Consumer Review websites, should think very carefully before proceeding against a fictitious (DOE) defendant, or a potentially indigent defendant. You certainly don’t want to have to litigate against Yelp, and if you don’t have a real defendant, with sufficient assets that they will have to participate in trial, and obey Court judgments, you are probably better off not suing. Instead, you are probably better off just filing appropriate responses on Yelp, or wherever, explaining your side of the story.
The business attorneys of Gehres Law Library will follow this appeal and comment again in this Blog when the California Supreme Court decides the case.