California Supreme Court Rules Yelp Cannot Be Ordered to Remove Posts

In a 4-3 opinion, the California Supreme Court ruled yesterday that cannot be ordered to remove negative posts against a San Francisco law firm that another judge determined were defamatory. The decision overturns a lower court’s ruling against Yelp, and affirms rules that protect internet platforms from legal liability over users’ posts.

Attorney Dawn Hassell obtained a removal order against Yelp when a disgruntled former client of hers posted false claims on Yelp about her law firm’s services. San Francisco Superior Court Judge Donald Sullivan found the postings to be defamatory, and ordered Hassell’s client and Yelp to remove them. When Hassell’s client failed to answer the lawsuit or remove the posts, she had to seek a court order to demand Yelp to do it instead. A second judge and a state appeals court upheld the ruling.

Yelp, however, argued that the removal order violated the protections granted by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which courts have interpreted as shielding internet companies from liability for their third-party users’ posts. Although the lower courts agreed that the removal order did not directly threaten Yelp with liability, the Supreme Court found that interpretation to be too narrow. While a removal order like the one against Yelp could “interfere with and undermine the viability of an online platform,” Hassell’s Yelp reviewer is still legally required to take the review down, and must pay damages to the law firm. The firm is considering an appeal to the US Supreme Court.

See Hassell v. Bird on Justia.

Additional Reading

Yelp can’t be forced to take down libelous reviews, court rules, The Verge July 3, 2018

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