Yelp Can't Be Ordered to Remove Negative Reviews

By William Vogeler, Esq. on July 03, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Whoever said 'even bad publicity is good publicity' was wrong.

At least it didn't work out so well for attorney Dawn Hassell. After she obtained a default judgment and an appeals court ruling in a defamation case, the California Supreme Court reversed.

In Hassell v. Bird, the online review site won a split decision for freedom of speech. The state supreme court said Yelp could not be ordered to take down a user's negative reviews.

Bad User Reviews

Hassell, a San Francisco lawyer, sued a former client for giving her bad reviews. She won a $550,000 award against the client, but wanted more.

She tried to get Yelp to take down the reviews, but the company refused -- even after two courts ordered it. Instead, Yelp petitioned the state supreme court for review.

In oral arguments, Yelp attorney Thomas Burke argued that it was about free speech and the Communications Decency Act. The CDA grants immunity to internet service providers for third-party communications.

In a 4-3 decision, California's highest court agreed. The internet is forever, it seems, because you can't kill free speech.

Should Have "Moved On"

Hassell, for her part, should have left well enough alone. Yelp said her firm had "always been a highly-rated business on Yelp." The lawsuit, not so much.

"As we have observed before, litigation is never a good substitute for customer service and responsiveness, and had the law firm avoided the courtrooms and moved on, it would have saved time and money, and been able to focus more on the cases that truly matter the most -- those of its clients," the company said.

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