Cal Appeals Court Upholds Yelp Review Removal Order

Yelp Loses Challenge to Removal Order

In a major victory for defamation plaintiffs, a Calfornia Court of Appeal has upheld an order requiring Yelp to remove defamatory reviews.  Dawn Hassell and the Hassell Law Group (“Hassell”) obtained a judgment holding defendant Ava Bird liable for defamation and requiring her to removdefamatory reviews she posted about Hassell on Yelp.  When Hassell asked Yelp to honor the judgment, they objected to the order and refused to comply to the extent it included Yelp since
  • Yelp was a non-party to the litigation;
  • Yelp was immune from liability under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act; and
  • arguing that the court permitted substitute service on Bird was improper.
 Yelp further responded by highlighting some of the defamatory reviews as  “Recommended Reviews”, which will only fan the flames for some of its critics.
Yelp ultimately moved to vacate the judgment, but the California Court of Appeal upheld most of the order requiring Yelp to remove the offending reviews.  Yelp could properly be named in an order as a third party, since
it is well established that ‘injunctions are not effective against the world at large.  On the other hand, the law recognizes that enjoined parties ‘may not nullify an injunctive decree by carrying out prohibited acts with or through nonparties to the original proceeding. Thus, an injunction can properly run to classes of persons with or through whom the enjoined party may act.
 The Court also rejected Yelp’s argument that the Order violated its First Amendment right (except to the extent the order covered future reviews).  Finally, the court rejected Yelp’s Section 230 claim since
sanctioning Yelp for violating a court order would not implicate section 230 at all; it would not impose liability on Yelp as a publisher or distributor of third party content.
Yelp released a statement criticizing the ruling, stating it

 undermines the free speech and due process rights of consumer reviewers and the online platforms that host their content.  It gives those who dislike certain speech — here, a lawyer who was upset at reviews from her clients — the ability to require their removal while denying the website hosting that speech the ability to defend its editorial rights to publish the speech or rebut the claims.