Supreme Court Shouldn't Hear Battle Over Bad Reviews, Yelp Says

Yelp is asking the Supreme Court to turn away attorney Dawn Hassell, who is seeking to force the site to remove negative posts.

The petition filed on Hassell's behalf “presents no issue worthy of this Court’s review,” Yelp writes in papers filed with the court Friday.

The dispute centers on whether judges can order Yelp to remove defamatory reviews. Earlier this year, California's highest court ruled 4-3 that Yelp can't be required to take down bad reviews. A plurality of those judges said Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which immunizes online platforms from liability for content created by users, protects Yelp from takedown orders.

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In October, Hassell's lawyers asked the Supreme Court to review that decision. They argue that people who have been harmed by online material -- ranging from “revenge porn” to the posting of private addresses, to defamatory reviews -- should be able to have the content removed.

Yelp counters that the California Supreme Court correctly decided the case.

“The lower court’s decision is consistent with uniform federal and state law,” the company argues.

“At bottom, [Hassell's] petition is premised on Petitioners’ claim that the Internet is an unregulated abyss, affording no recourse to people purportedly harmed by third-party speech posted there. But this is simply not true,” Yelp writes.

The battle dates to 2013, when Hassell sued a former client over reviews posted to Yelp. The ex-client didn't appear in court to defend herself, and Hassell was awarded a default judgment of more than $500,000.

The trial judge also directed Yelp to take down the posts, even though Yelp wasn't named as a defendant in the lawsuit. After Yelp learned of the order, the company asked the judge to vacate the injunction. Yelp argued that it should have been present in court, where it could have defended its right to display the posts.

The trial judge rejected Yelp's argument, as did an appellate court. Yelp then successfully appealed to California's Supreme Court. 

The company now suggests that a Supreme Court ruling in favor of Hassell would spur other people to sue over bad reviews, obtain default judgments, and then obtain takedown orders against companies that weren't parties to the case.

“This court’s blessing of the injunction entered against Yelp ... would create a gaping hole in the broad immunity adopted by Congress in Section 230, that future plaintiffs would quickly exploit,” the company writes.

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