Tough Times For Online Defamation Plaintiffs

Online defamation plaintiffs have had about as much luck lately as Big 10 football teams in bowl appearances (looking at you Minnesota, Purdue, Michigan, Wisconsin and Nebraska). On December 28, the Virginia Supreme Court vacated a preliminary injunction that had required a homeowner to remove some negative postings from Yelp about the plaintiff’s home remodeling work. The Supreme Court’s order isn’t a complete loss for the plaintiff – the company can still recover damages if it can prove that the online comments were defamatory and caused harm. The Supreme Court’s order is more a recognition of the fact that an injunction, before a final judgment, is kind of the neutron bomb of libel law. It can be used only in the most extreme circumstances, and only when there is no other remedy. Here, the Virginia Supreme Court found that this was not such as extreme circumstance that the extreme remedy was warranted. And word out of California (although I have not seen a written opinion) is that the California Supreme Court declined to review a California dentist’s efforts to recover damages from an online reviewer who referred to the dentist as “the most painful ever.” The Supreme Court’s action means this decision will stand. And for Dr. Rahbar, the dentist in question, that has to be more painful than an extraction – the dentist is required to pay over $40,000 in damages to the reviewer, under a California Anti-SLAPP statute. Ouch.