Pierce & Mandell, P.C.

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Pierce & Mandell Counsel Curt Dooling Quoted In Mass Lawyers Weekly

Tuesday, May 07, 2019
Attorney Curt Dooling

Attorney Curt Dooling was recently quoted in a Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly article about the applicability of anti-SLAPP statutes to statements made on websites like Yelp and social media platforms like Facebook. https://masslawyersweekly.com/2019/01/24/west-roxbury-dentist-dodges-fee-order-in-spat-with-yelp/.

In the case on which Dooling commented, DiNapoli v. Yelp, Inc., United States District Court Judge Dennis Saylor held that Yelp is not immune from all lawsuits and is not always protected by anti-SLAPP statutes simply because it provides a forum for customer reviews.

Anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) statutes are intended to protect individuals from harassing litigation and from the burden of defending against retaliatory lawsuits based on statements made in public forums. Although anti-SLAPP statutes provide broad protections against lawsuits based on petitioning activity, the DiNapoli case showed that there are limits to the types of lawsuits that can be dismissed based on anti-SLAPP statutes.

Anti-SLAPP statutes are also intended to protect individuals from retribution for speaking publicly or petitioning the government. Based on DiNapoli, large companies like Yelp may have a difficult time utilizing anti-SLAPP statutes to get claims dismissed unless they can show that their own petitioning activity is the reason for the underlying claim, rather than simply hosting a platform for others to make public statements.

Curt has litigated several anti-SLAPP cases and has prevailed in filing special motions to dismiss based on the Massachusetts anti-SLAPP statute, G. L. c. 231, § 59H. He has also successfully argued anti-SLAPP cases before the Massachusetts Appeals Court. He can be reached at cdooling@piercemandell.com.

Negative Internet Reviews: Respond or Not?

Monday, May 06, 2019

By Robert R. Pierce

Over the last five years, the firm has received many calls from business owners who have received negative reviews from customers, or in some cases, non-customers. “What should I do?” They ask.

More often than not, my answer is to do nothing. When a customer gives a one-star review about the service rendered, it is simply a matter of opinion and there is no legal recourse. Some business owners, particular restauranteurs, respond with harsh rebuttals, sometimes doing what is essentially a negative review of the customer. While PR and marketing is not the firm’s bailiwick, I find it unlikely that a negative rebuttal would help the business. An approach I do like, however, is when a business owner sincerely apologizes for the customer’s negative experience, and offers to the customer an opportunity to make things right.

But, what if the negative review is factually false, or, the reviewer was not even a customer? Then, a lawyer may have a role.

Making false statements that cause harm can be actionable as slander (spoken statements) or libel (written statements). Recently, the firm was contacted by a dental practice which received a negative review from a person who had never been to the practice. The motivation was unclear. This one star review certainly dragged down the rating of the practice, which had about 15 reviews. The firm sent a letter to the customer demanding that the review be removed, and it was. But, once again, getting a lawyer involved should be the exception rather than the rule. Could you file suit against a bad reviewer? Only in the most extreme case. Recently, a lawyer on Cape Cod received a horribly negative review on Facebook with numerous false allegations including that he bribed court officials and other attorneys in a number of cases. The lawyer and his firm sued the complainant in 2015, and the case went to trial in February 2019. The jury eventually awarded the aggrieved lawyer $100,000.00 in damages. Even then, this further emphasizes the need to file suit only in the most extreme cases, as the review and its effect lasted roughly four years until resolution.

What I hope business owners take away from this piece are as follows:

  1. Provide superb, friendly service, and you will receive great reviews.
  2. If you get to know a customer on a personal level, feel free to ask them to post a review.
  3. Don’t attack the reviewer. It only makes you look petty and often brings on more negative reviews.
  4. If the review contains demonstrably false allegations, then consider legal action.

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