Attorney Petitions SCOTUS Regarding Former Client’s Defamatory Yelp Reviews
By Anne Bolamperti and David G. Barker
A California attorney and her law firm filed a petition on October 18, 2018, asking the Supreme Court of the United States (“SCOTUS”) to review the California Supreme Court’s ruling that reversed an injunction that would have required Yelp, Inc. to remove defamatory reviews from its website.
Dawn Hassell and Hassell Law Group represented Ava Bird in a personal injury case during the summer of 2012. Hassell withdrew less than one month after undertaking the representation due to Bird’s lack of responsiveness. Bird then posted two defamatory reviews of Hassell and her firm under different monikers on Yelp’s website. In addition to monetary and injunctive awards against Bird, the California Superior Court granted an injunction against Yelp that required it remove the reviews. On appeal, the California Court of Appeal affirmed the injunction, but the California Supreme Court reversed and held that Yelp was immune under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (“CDA”).
Section 230 prohibits courts from holding certain interactive computer service providers liable for content created or developed by third parties. 47 U.S.C. § 230 (f)(2). The California Supreme Court interpreted Section 230’s immunity from “liability” to include immunity from suits seeking damages and injunctive relief.
The California Supreme Court’s decision, coupled with Hassell’s petition, highlights a split of authority regarding Section 230’s applicability to injunctive relief.
If SCOTUS hears the case, its interpretation of Section 230 may have an impact on the way interactive computer service providers operate and monitor the content that third-party users contribute. This content is widespread, such as business reviews, social media posts, and blog comments.