California Supreme Court Rules Yelp Isn’t Required to Remove Negative Review of Law Firm

The Supreme Court of California made a decision by overturning a ruling made by San Francisco Superior Court, stating that Yelp Inc. does not have to delete negative consumer reviews from its website.

According to legalnewsline.com, the case dates back to 2012, when Ava Bird went to Yelp to leave a negative review about the law firm that represented her in a personal injury case. Hassell Law Group attempted to sue her after discovering the review.

Managing partner of California law firm Haight Brown and Bonesteel, David Evans, stated that the court was divided on the matter in spite of the final ruling, which took place on July 2, 2018. He explained that three judges believed Yelp should win the case, while another three disagreed.

Bird and the law firm had reached an agreement. However, there were emails back and forth between Dawn Hassell, the owner of Hassell Law Group, and Ms. Bird that resulted in the revelation that Bird was dissatisfied with the way the firm was handling her case. As a result of the exchanges, the law firm withdrew its representation.

Subsequently, the law firm discovered a review on Yelp from someone who had rated it one out of five stars. According to the Supreme Court, that review was posted by a user called “Birdzeye B” and that the individual said in the review that the law firm is not even worthy of one star and urged others to avoid it.

According to the opinion, Hassell believed that Bird was the person who posted that review. She then sent her an email and accused her of slander and trying to intentionally damage the reputation of the business.

This was not the only one-star review the law firm received on Yelp. In early February 2013, there was one from a user called “J.D.” from Alameda.

Two months later, the plaintiff Hassell filed a lawsuit against Bird in San Francisco Superior Court, claiming that she authored both negative reviews and that she was being libelous. Dawn Hassell also claimed emotional distress. Yelp was not named as a defendant in the case.

The opinion stated that, in the event that the plaintiffs later decided to add Yelp as a defendant, Yelp could claim immunity under section 230. Section 230 exists for the purpose of promoting free exchange of ideas or information on the Internet.

Evans stated that protecting websites like Yelp is a priority, but that the other side should also be considered. He said Yelp doesn’t want to be sued every time a user posts a negative review about a company and that was why section 230 was enacted.

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