Defendants In Suit Over Yelp Complaint Ask For Dismissal
Tai Jing and Jia Ma were sued after complaining on Yelp that pediatric dentist Yvonne Wong of Foster City, Calif. gave their son laughing gas and also filled a cavity with an amalgam containing mercury. Wong alleged that the post libeled her and also caused her emotional distress. The lawsuit was filed in Santa Clara Superior Court.
Last week, the parents asked the court to throw out the case under California's broad anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuits against public participation) law. That measure aims to protect people who are hauled into court for speaking about matters of public interest. The statute provides for the rapid dismissal of such cases and authorizes judges to order plaintiffs to pay defendants' legal fees.
"It is clear that dental care, including the quality thereof and patients' informed access to it, and the use of amalgam fillings, are issues of widespread public interest," the parents argued in court papers filed by the public interest law firm California Anti-SLAPP Project.
Wong's lawyer, Marc Ter Beek, said the parents' review, written last September, defamed his client because it implied that she had used mercury in the filling without first obtaining the parents' informed consent.
Wong also sued Yelp, which likewise argued that the case against it should be dismissed. The federal Communications Decency Act immunizes sites like Yelp from libel claims based on material submitted by users.
In addition to Wong, at least four other business owners, including another dentist, in California have sued Yelp reviewers. One dispute, between Yelp user Christopher Norberg and San Francisco chiropractor Steven Biegel, recently settled through mediation. Another case was dismissed because it was not filed until more than one year after the review went live, which was beyond the statute of limitations.
But one case resulted in a partial victory for the business. Last August, a California appeals court declined to dismiss a lawsuit brought by the owners of the Sandra Caron European Spa after an ex-employee, Malgorzata Kerber, allegedly wrote negative reviews on Yahoo and Yelp. There, the court ruled that the posts were "essentially phony customer reviews" and also said they did not involve a matter of public interest.