Weight-loss marketer Roca Labs has been ordered to pay more than $25 million for engaging in unfair and deceptive practices, including attempting to prevent consumers from writing bad reviews.
In an order issued Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Mary Scriven in Tampa, Florida also directed Roca Labs to permanently refrain from attempting to suppress reviews, among other illegal practices. The order brings an end to a lawsuit brought by the Federal Trade Commission in 2015, when the agency alleged the company engaged in a host of deceptive and unfair business practices.
Roca Labs, which touts its weight-loss products as more effective than gastric bypass surgery, allegedly said in a prior version of its sales terms that any negative online reviews would be considered defamatory. The company also told consumers they would be subject to $100,000 in damages for posting reviews, and followed up on its threats by suing at least four customers, according to the FTC.
The agency's complaint also included allegations that Roca Labs paid users to post positive reviews, and violated consumers' privacy by disclosing their personal health information in court filings and other documents.
After the FTC filed suit, Congress passed the Consumer Review Fairness Act, which invalidated standardized terms of service that restrict consumers' ability to post reviews.
Roca Labs attempted to defend itself by arguing that it wasn't illegal to suppress bad reviews before the Consumer Review Fairness Act took effect. The company also contended that its alleged review-squelching effort didn't harm consumers.
Scirven rejected those arguments last year. "The record demonstrates that some consumers paid hundreds of dollars for the Roca Labs products and unsuccessfully sought refunds because of defendants’ practice of issuing threats under the guise of enforcing the gag clause," she wrote last September, in an order awarding the FTC summary judgment.