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  1. #1
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    Default Defamation Lawsuit Over a Yelp Review

    My question involves defamation in the state of: California

    I posted a one star negative review of an MD on Yelp, where I related my experiences, observations and dissatisfaction with the visit. The MD tried to get me to take the post down (as he has tried to do with other people who posted negative reviews), which I refused to do.

    He then sued me in California small claims court for defamation and libel in the amount of $10k (maximum allowable amount).

    We had our date in court and the plaintiff complained about two specific statements in my post. I thought I did a good job in showing that none of what I wrote was patently false, which I am led to believe is the legal standard that has to met for a defamation claim to succeed. Additionally, the plaintiff could not document any financial losses when queried by the judge.

    At the end, the judge said her judgment would be mailed to us.

    A few weeks later, I received the judgment, which was apparently against me (defendant) because it stated that I shall pay $1 principal + $75 for the plaintiff's filing fee. This was communicated via a checkbox on form SC-130.

    There were no other attachments, explanations or anything else explaining why or how the judge arrived at this decision, so I have no idea what she found to be defamatory.

    As this is the first time I have ever been in court, is this normal process small claims court or for such a suit? Do small claims court judges have to follow the rule of law? Can I request detail as to how this judgment was arrived at?

    I am leaning towards an appeal as I am certain that I did not make any false statements in that review and don't want this apparently losing judgment on my record forever.

  2. #2
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    Mar 2013
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    Default Re: Yelp Review Leads to Defamation Small Claims Suit

    The whole idea of small claims court is that it's informal and the rules are relaxed. You can go to the courthouse and review the case file to see if the judge wrote any notes regarding her decision.

    You're right. As innocuous as this judgment is, it will turn up in a credit search for a good many years to come.

    Whether you appeal or not is up to you. If you choose to appeal, understand that it's a "do over" and the next judge will have no knowledge of the previous trial so you'll have the opportunity to fix whatever mistakes you made in the first trial and present evidence that you might have overlooked.

    You have 30 days from the date that the judgment was mailed to you.

    Read this:

    http://www.courts.ca.gov/1016.htm

    I suggest that you study up on the elements of defamation to see if you can figure out where you went wrong. The following search results have several articles pertaining to California, including jury instructions:

    https://duckduckgo.com/?q=defamation...ia&t=hj&ia=web

    Optional: Post your review (without identifying information) word for word in its entirety and you may get some helpful comments.

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Yelp Review Leads to Defamation Small Claims Suit

    Quote Quoting jalan99
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    I thought I did a good job in showing that none of what I wrote was patently false, which I am led to believe is the legal standard that has to met for a defamation claim to succeed.
    The term "patently false" is not used in California defamation law. The plaintiff must prove, among other things, that the defendant made a false statement of fact.
    Quote Quoting jalan99
    View Post
    A few weeks later, I received the judgment, which was apparently against me (defendant) because it stated that I shall pay $1 principal + $75 for the plaintiff's filing fee.
    The court found that you did defame the plaintiff and awarded nominal damages, plus costs of suit.
    Quote Quoting jalan99
    View Post
    As this is the first time I have ever been in court, is this normal process small claims court or for such a suit?
    Yes, it's normal for small claims court, although some small claims judges will provide statements explaining their decisions.
    Quote Quoting jalan99
    View Post
    Can I request detail as to how this judgment was arrived at?
    Anyone can request anything from anyone. However, there is no mechanism in The Small Claims Act for making such a request.

  4. #4
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    Jun 2014
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    Default Re: Yelp Review Leads to Defamation Small Claims Suit

    Are doctors and other businesses notified when reviews are posted ? Doctors have countless patients. Unless the situation was out of the ordinary. How did the doctor know who posted the review ? Assuming the OP did not use his or her real name.

  5. #5
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    Default Re: Yelp Review Leads to Defamation Small Claims Suit

    Quote Quoting Mercy&Grace
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    Are doctors and other businesses notified when reviews are posted ? Doctors have countless patients. Unless the situation was out of the ordinary. How did the doctor know who posted the review ? Assuming the OP did not use his or her real name.
    AFAIK, Yelp notifies business subscribers when a new review or update is posted.

    The judge asked the question of the plaintiff and he said that he put the details I used in my review, time of review plus my user name to conclude it was me. I never considered not acknowledging that I was the poster as I did not take this very seriously. My mistake!

    Quote Quoting pg1067
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    The term "patently false" is not used in California defamation law. The plaintiff must prove, among other things, that the defendant made a false statement of fact.
    I do not believe that anything I posted was not factual. Apparently, the judge disagreed. I really did not get the time to respond.

    The judge would not take my paper evidence at the time we were called up. The plaintiff, apparently based on his previous experiences in court, knew that he should give his paperwork to the judge via the bailiff in advance. So she had his paperwork and a summary document he put together but did not get mine until the case was ended. So that was a disadvantage for me.

    Then the procedure she followed was the plaintiff made his introduction, I was then allowed to make mine and respond, then the plaintiff got to speak again, say everything I had said was wrong but I did not get any further opportunity to contend against what he said in his 2nd speaking opportunity, which is not what I expected.

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Yelp Review Leads to Defamation Small Claims Suit

    Well, you haven't showed us your review so I don't know how much more help we can be.

  7. #7
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    Default Re: Yelp Review Leads to Defamation Small Claims Suit

    Quote Quoting adjusterjack
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    Well, you haven't showed us your review so I don't know how much more help we can be.
    I don't mind sharing but I am concerned that doing so would open up all my personal information to anyone who chose to look it up through the court case.

    I would be willing to share privately or offline if that is possible. Just tell me how to work that.

    Why does this software insist on adding new posts to my previous post? Am I doing something wrong? I tried using "Go Advanced" and even going to another browser but subsequent posts STILL get posted inside this last post, which creates one big mess. It seems the only way to avoid this is to wait until someone else posts.

  8. #8
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    Default Re: Yelp Review Leads to Defamation Small Claims Suit

    Quote Quoting jalan99
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    Why does this software insist on adding new posts to my previous post? Am I doing something wrong? I tried using "Go Advanced" and even going to another browser but subsequent posts STILL get posted inside this last post, which creates one big mess. It seems the only way to avoid this is to wait until someone else posts.
    If you post and then try to post again with no one posting in the interim, the forum software groups it together since it makes no sense to have separate posts one after another from the same poster. As long as you quote properly, it doesn't change anything about the posts.

  9. #9
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    Default Re: Yelp Review Leads to Defamation Small Claims Suit

    Quote Quoting jalan99
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    I do not believe that anything I posted was not factual. Apparently, the judge disagreed. I really did not get the time to respond.
    Just to clarify, what I wrote was that the plaintiff must prove, among other things, that the defendant made a false statement of fact. A statement of fact may be true or false. It is contrasted with an opinion, which is not susceptible of being true or false. For example, "today is Wednesday" is a statement of fact. It is either true or false (depending on when the statement is made). On the other hand, "Wednesdays suck" is not a statement of fact. It is not susceptible of being true or false. It is nothing but an opinion. I might think Wendesdays suck, but you might think otherwise. The fact that the court entered judgment against you is a clear indication that the court believed that the plaintiff proved that you made a false statement of fact.

    One thing to keep in mind regarding an appeal: Not only is it a "do over" (although the statement in the first response that "the next judge will have no knowledge of the previous trial" is not necessarily correct), but the parties may be represented by attorneys (as opposed to the initial small claims trial).

    Quote Quoting jalan99
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    I don't mind sharing but I am concerned that doing so would open up all my personal information to anyone who chose to look it up through the court case.
    Why not just pull up the review, copy the text, and paste it into a post here (with any identifying information removed or changed)?

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Yelp Review Leads to Defamation Small Claims Suit

    I called the court clerk on Tuesday and she said there was no transcript or notes available. She said that is the way small claims court is run and basically "it is what it is". She said I could write to the judge and ask if she could/would provide me with further details but that I should not count on a response. I could also file a complaint with [I think she said] the Chief Justice.

    Since there is no transcript or court notes available if I appeal, it will be a whole new trial with no connections to the past case.

    This raises a number of questions for me that I hope someone can address:

    1. Do I now become the plaintiff and the old plaintiff becomes the defendant? How does this reverse role change the process? Do I get to speak first and last this time around as the original plaintiff did?

    2. Even though there is no apparent record or transcript of the first trial, can still I refer to anything that was said/shown in the prior trial? Can I use the summary document the plaintiff provided me and that he gave to the judge? Can I say that the plaintiff formerly said that he could not document any financial damages from my posting?

    3. Can the former plaintiff change the things he was complaining about or add new examples that he has discovered he is now also unhappy with?

    4. Could he now, for example, say that he had $2850 in damages and that he arrived at that number by comparing last years revenues to this years over a 3 month period following the review?

    5. Does the $10k damage amount (my exposure) still stand?

    6. Speaking of which, in California, businesses are limited to suing for a max of $5000. My review was against his business, which the MD happens to own. Shouldn't $5000 be the maximum limit he could sue me for? I wasn't criticizing his personal character or reputation but the service I received from him through the business.

    Quote Quoting free9man
    View Post
    If you post and then try to post again with no one posting in the interim, the forum software groups it together since it makes no sense to have separate posts one after another from the same poster. As long as you quote properly, it doesn't change anything about the posts.
    I would disagree strongly. As you can see from my replying to your post, which has nothing at all to do with the subject but still will get appended to my last post. In all the many forums I have used over the years, this is the 1st time I have across something like this. Is there a setting to turn this action off?

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