Review Website Alleges Scheme to File False Defamation Suits

Consumer review website Pissed Consumer posted on its blog the results of an investigation that, it says, suggest that attorneys in California are filing suspicious defamation lawsuits in an attempt to help their clients remove unfavorable reviews from major search engines.

According to the post, at least 11 lawsuits have been filed in Contra Costa County, California in the past six months by plaintiffs that either do not appear to exist, or, in one case, by a plaintiff that was formed the day the lawsuit was filed.  All 11 lawsuits were brought against individuals who had posted allegedly defamatory anonymous reviews on various review websites.  Curiously, none of the plaintiffs are the targets of the allegedly defamatory statements — each lawsuit was brought to benefit a nonparty, the company actually discussed in the complained-about reviews.

Odder still, according to the post, is the quick resolution to each case.  Despite the supposedly anonymous nature of the complained-about postings, defendants were identified without any subpoena being filed against the websites where the reviews were posted.  In each case, very shortly after each suit was filed, plaintiffs somehow managed to locate their respective defendants and obtain from them statements admitting their guilt.  Again in each case, final judgment followed, and those judgments were sent to Google seeking (and, at least initially, obtaining) removal from search results certain links to the purportedly offending reviews.

Pissed Consumer noted that, at least with respect to reviews posted on its own site, if a prospective plaintiff actually knows their defamer, they can provide a notarized letter seeking removal of a review without going to the trouble of filing a lawsuit and obtaining a court order.  The blog post speculated that the real goal of these lawsuits is to remove not just single defamatory reviews, but rather entire search listings for the nonparty beneficiary on the websites in question (i.e., to remove not just one review about the beneficiary on Pissed Consumer, but to remove all reviews about the beneficiary on Pissed Consumer from Google search results).  Indeed, the court orders resulting from the settlements of these cases have resulted in such wholesale delistings.

Pissed Consumer’s post has gained some traction.  As of April 1, an update to the original blog post states, Google had re-listed approximately 20 links in response to the posting.  What further steps others may take remains to be seen.