Dentist must pay Legal Fees in anti-SLAPP suit
Yelp is a services review site where user can post reviews of businesses from restaurants to attorneys (I love all my clients very very much btw). Reviews can anonymously post anything they wish any business on this site. In general, Yelp tends to be fair. I have been involved in one incident where a company posing as a reviewer posted negative reviews about their rival company. Upon learning of the situation, Yelp removed the negative postings in a timely manner.
In this case, a reviewer posted a negative review stating their son was lightheaded after receiving anesthesia at the dentist office, and stating he received a filling containing lead. The dentist alleged emotional distress from the review. Unable to get to the reviewer, the dentist went after Yelp. The California court of appeals dismissed the case under California’s Anti-SLAPP law.
What is a SLAPP Lawsuit?
SLAPP is an acronym meaning “Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation”. Originally it referred to lawsuits by individuals, companies, and organizations for defamation and other suits intended to intimidate individuals from coming forward and criticizing them or their activities. Often times, these lawsuits had little merit, but were designed to cause defendants to incur large legal fees making them less likely to say anything negative in the first place. In order to prevent SLAPP lawsuits, states enacted “Anti-SLAPP” legislation which are supposed to limit SLAPP lawsuits by increasing their likelihood of dismissal before trial, providing for a quick and inexpensive dismissal to SLAPP lawsuits. They mostly by shifting burdens of proof. In anti-SLAPP motion, all the defendant has to do is show that the activity complained against was consitutionally protected, namely Free Speech. The burden shifts to the plaintiff to show that they have a more than reasonable chance of prevailing. If the judge denies the anti-SLAPP motion, the defendant can appeal, but if it is dismissed, the defendant is entitled to legal fees from the plaintiff. In general, the law makes SLAPP lawsuits an economically negative option.
In this case, because the lawsuit was dismissed vis-a-vis an anti-SLAPP motion from Yelp, the dentist plaintiff must pay Yelp the legal fees incurred in defending against the suit, $81,000 here. The irony is the initial legislation was supposed to protect the little guy from attacks by the big guy, but the law is a double edged sword which supposed to affect everyone equally. Here the little guy has to pay the big guy $81,o00. Legislator beware.