By Constantine Mittendorf
Want to remove bad reviews posted on Yelp that are hurting your business? Want to win a half million dollar judgment against a malicious reviewer? Here’s how one person did it – and they did it without suing Yelp.
The case of Hassell v. Bird began back in 2012 when Ava Bird consulted with a lawyer, Dawn Hassell, regarding a personal injury case. Hassell briefly represented Bird in the case, but she withdrew citing “trouble communicating” with Bird. Hassel v. Bird (Yelp, Inc.), C.A. 1st A143233 (June 8, 2016). Bird then posted several negative and false reviews about Hassell’s law firm on Yelp. Hassell asked Bird to take down the bad reviews, but Bird refused. So, Hassell sued Bird for defamation. And this is important – Hassell did not sue Yelp.
Bird completely ignored the lawsuit. Bird didn’t respond to subpoenas, Bird didn’t go to court, and Bird lost the case. In fact, Bird lost big-time. Hassell was able to secure a default judgment against Bird after proving defamation to the Court. The Court awarded $557,918 in damages, ordered Bird to take down the bad reviews, and issued an injunction stating “Yelp.com is ordered to remove all reviews posted by AVA BIRD … and any subsequent comments … within 7 business days of the date of the court’s order.”
Yelp was not happy. Yelp refused to take down Bird’s reviews and appealed the order. Yelp tried to have the whole case thrown out. It argued to the Appellate Court that Yelp wasn’t a party to the lawsuit, so it didn’t have a chance to defend itself. Earlier this month, Yelp lost its appeal.
The Appellate Court found that Yelp didn’t have standing to have the whole judgment thrown out, but it did agree to narrow the ruling slightly to only cover past libelous posts. However, the Appellate Court also ruled that if Yelp didn’t take down Bird’s defamatory reviews, then Yelp could be held in contempt of court.
In general, Yelp is protected by the First Amendment and Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. As we’ve reported earlier, Yelp does not and generally will not remove negative reviews. Scores of lawsuits have tried to force Yelp to take down bad reviews with limited success. The interesting thing about the Hassell v. Bird is that it shows you don’t need to sue Yelp to make Yelp take down defamatory and fake reviews. So if you’re thinking about suing Yelp over some fishy reviews of your restaurant, consider the case of Hassell v. Bird.