Yelp Can Slapp In California

Wait a minute, isn’t “yelp” the sound you make when someone slaps you? And since when is “slap” spelled with two p’s? Are you confused? Don’t be. is an Internet service that allows users to post reviews of local services. SLAPP is an acronym for a “strategic lawsuit against public participation.” A person or a group of persons may file a SLAPP suit primarily to shut down public criticism. California, along with 26 other states, has adopted an “Anti-SLAPP” statute. The “Anti-SLAPP” statute provides for a quick dismissal of SLAPP suits, along with an award of attorney fees to the defendant. The goal is to deter potential SLAPP plaintiffs from filing the suit in the first place. Yelp found itself in a California lawsuit filed by a pediatric dentist (Wong v. Jing) who was upset about some critical comments posted on Yelp by the father of a former patient. The former patient’s father and mother were also named defendants. All three filed an anti-SLAPP motion. The dentist dismissed Yelp before the court ruled. The question before the court was whether the comments were a matter of public interest. If so, the next question was whether the plaintiff could establish a probability that it would prevail on the claim. The court determined that the comments were a matter of public interest, but mainly because certain of the comments discussed the dentist’s alleged use of mercury in fillings. Blogger Eric Goldman argues that the court was too narrow on the concept of “public interest” – arguing that a review of a dentist is a matter of public interest in itself. Having determined that the speech concerned the public interest, however, the court found that the dentist did establish a probability of success in her defamation claim against the dad. His post was more than just opinion (which wouldn’t have supported a defamation claim) because it alleged as a fact the dentist used mercury in fillings. So the court denied the dad’s anti-SLAPP motion. But the court ruled that the mom had the right to pursue the anti-SLAPP motion because she apparently had nothing to do with the posting. And finally the court ruled that Yelp could stay in the case to argue for its fees even though the dentist had dismissed it. Yelp is clearly immune from a defamation claim under these circumstances, thanks to the federal Communications Decency Act, which protects Web sites from claims based on content supplied by a third party. The dentist couldn’t escape responsibility under the anti-SLAPP statute just because it let Yelp out of the suit. Guess this is one of those rare cases where the dentist is the one who says “ouch.”