Court Allows Dentist To Sue Writer Of Bad Yelp Review
Judge William Elfving of the Santa Clara County Superior Court found that Wong had shown "a probability of success on the merits" against Tai Jing and Jia Ma. The ruling doesn't mean that Wong will win the lawsuit, only that she has alleged sufficient facts to move forward to trial.
The couple's lawyer, Paul Clifford of the California Anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) Project, said his clients are inclined to appeal Elfving's ruling.
"We don't agree with the way he analyzed it. That's why we have courts of appeal," Clifford said.
Wong alleged in her lawsuit that the couple defamed her by complaining on Yelp about the treatment their son received when he was 4 years old. The post said that the boy was lightheaded from laughing gas and that he received a filling containing mercury.
Wong said those statements libeled her and caused her emotional distress. Her lawyer, Marc TerBeek, argued that the post implied that Wong had not sought the parents' informed consent.
The parents had tried to get the case dismissed under California's consumer-friendly anti-SLAPP law, which provides for dismissal of lawsuits that aim to stifle discussion on matters of public importance. The state also allows defendants to recover their attorneys' fees in such cases. Among other reasons, the parents argued that their motion should be granted because the safety of mercury fillings was a topic of public interest.
Wong also initially sued Yelp, but the federal Communications Decency Act immunizes the site from libel lawsuits stemming from user comments. Wong's lawyer eventually withdrew that case, but not before Clifford filed a motion to dismiss. Elfving didn't address Yelp's argument in his ruling--presumably because the case had already been withdrawn. But Clifford says that Yelp was still entitled to official vindication, and has already directed him to appeal Elfving's failure to dismiss the lawsuit.