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The Courts Your Rights Online

Virginia Woman Is Sued For $750,000 After Writing Scathing Yelp Review 424

Posted by samzenpus
from the sticks-and-stones dept.
First time accepted submitter VegetativeState writes "Jane Perez hired a construction company and was not happy with the work they did and alleged some of her jewelry was stolen. She submitted reviews on Yelp and Angie's List, giving the company all F's. The contractor is now suing her for $750,000. From the article: 'Dietz, the owner of Dietz Development, filed the Internet defamation lawsuit filed last month, stating that "plaintiffs have been harmed by these statements, including lost work opportunities, insult, mental suffering, being placed in fear, anxiety, and harm to their reputations." Perez's Yelp review accused the company of damaging her home, charging her for work that wasn't done and of losing jewelry. The lawsuit follows an earlier case against Perez, which was filed in July 2011 by Dietz for unpaid invoices. According to the recent filing, the two were high school classmates.'"
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Virginia Woman Is Sued For $750,000 After Writing Scathing Yelp Review

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  • If not and there was demonstrable harm to the property, will this even make it to trial?
    • Re:Was this libel? (Score:5, Informative)

      by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Thursday December 06, 2012 @06:56PM (#42210545) Journal

      I'm not a fancy lawyer or nothing; but this [citmedialaw.org] suggests that it could.

      Specifically: "In Virginia, a statement that does any of the following things amounts to defamation per se:
      (some irrelevant ones omitted)
      hurts the plaintiff in his or her profession or trade."

      A nasty yelp review would reasonably seem to be something that would hurt a contractor in their profession or trade. However, in order to be defamatory, the statement has to be a false statement of fact. If what she says turns out to be substantially true, he can just go cry about it(and "Nasty yelp review upheld in court of law" probably doesn't help your PR any). If she is lying or terribly ill-supported, though...

      • From the link you provided

        To be “actionable,” the statement must be a false statement of fact.

        A review score is an opinion. Her unhappyness is also an opinion. He would have to show the fact statements in the review were lies. Specifically he would have to prove that Jewelry was not stolen.

        • by Zaelath (2588189)

          You're confusing criminal law and civil; as the defendant she's the one with the burden of proof.

          • by Zaelath (2588189)

            To add: he's got to prove the damages to his business first, then the burden shifts to her to prove his business ripped her off.

          • Re:Was this libel? (Score:5, Interesting)

            by ShanghaiBill (739463) on Thursday December 06, 2012 @07:30PM (#42210837)

            You're confusing criminal law and civil; as the defendant she's the one with the burden of proof.

            Nitpick: Since this is civil court, she doesn't have to "prove" anything. She just has to present enough evidence to show that her accusations are probably true. A "preponderance of the evidence", is a much lower hurdle than the "no reasonable doubt" standard of criminal court.

            • by Zaelath (2588189)

              Yeah, the reasoning being "no one's being jailed or killed by the court".

              It seems a reasonable standard, until you see it being applied by Judge Judy (is that still on?)

            • by xigxag (167441)

              In both criminal court and in civil court, the plaintiff, not the defendant, has to prove his case. It's still known as the "burden of proof," regardless of whether the standard is beyond a reasonable doubt as in a criminal proceeding or in civil court where the standard is usually preponderance of the evidence [wikipedia.org]. To have a prima facie case, the plaintiff has to establish all the elements of a defamation suit by the preponderance of the evidence. If the plaintiff can't do that, case dismissed.

              Of course, ne

            • by AK Marc (707885)
              You are arguing theory against reality. Most of the time the respondent must prove their innocence, or they lose.
        • He would only need to prove that it there were lies on her part that were substantial. He would not need to prove the entire review false. He would not need to prove her jewelry was not stolen. Statements like "I think he did a poor job" or "he was rude" are acceptable if true and hard to disprove.
        • Re:Was this libel? (Score:5, Informative)

          by Kjella (173770) on Thursday December 06, 2012 @07:28PM (#42210813) Homepage

          A review score is an opinion. Her unhappyness is also an opinion. He would have to show the fact statements in the review were lies. Specifically he would have to prove that Jewelry was not stolen.

          That's far from the only "fact", there's at least three in the summary that are not opinion

            Perez's Yelp review accused the company of
          1. damaging her home,
          2. charging her for work that wasn't done and
          3. of losing jewelry.

          Those are all matters of fact, not opinion the court could look into. Also, this is a civil case not a criminal trial so the standard is "preponderance of evidence". Can she offer any evidence she had the jewels? Did she file a police complaint? The court system won't just take her word for it, if she's just throwing out accusations without a shred of evidence he might not have to prove a thing and still win. After all, how could he prove that jewels that doesn't exist haven't gone missing?

        • Re:Was this libel? (Score:4, Informative)

          by rsborg (111459) on Thursday December 06, 2012 @07:33PM (#42210861) Homepage

          From the link you provided

          To be “actionable,” the statement must be a false statement of fact.

          A review score is an opinion. Her unhappyness is also an opinion. He would have to show the fact statements in the review were lies. Specifically he would have to prove that Jewelry was not stolen.

          The score is opinion and even if the contractor was the best in the world, she could review with a 1 star and it's all completely subjective and not debatable.

          Her assertion that the contractor stole her jewelry is definitely objective and should be falsifiable. If it's false, and she did his with intent to harm, she's committed slander/libel.

  • by timeOday (582209) on Thursday December 06, 2012 @06:59PM (#42210575)
    If posting to Yelp is a huge financial risk, the site will quickly die.
    • by Anubis IV (1279820) on Thursday December 06, 2012 @07:17PM (#42210715)

      Why would they do that? That would be an open invitation for every rival organization in town to post patently false statements about every other organization, all without having to concern themselves with the fact that they're engaging in libel. Placing the burden on the reviewer is the right way to handle this, since it ensures that there is pressure on them to only report facts that are accurate representations of what took place. It's work fine up until now, but without that liability, everything would fall apart.

    • by nmb3000 (741169) <nmb3000@that-google-mail-site.com> on Thursday December 06, 2012 @07:37PM (#42210913) Homepage Journal

      If posting to Yelp is a huge financial risk, the site will quickly die.

      Sadly, it looks like they're going the other way.

      Here's the Yelp page for Dietz Development [yelp.com]. Look at the reviews and you can see that Yelp has been censoring them pretty heavily. All of them are from the last day or two and the review in question has been removed.

      This was a great opportunity for Yelp to stand up for consumer rights and freedoms, but instead they've stuck their head in the sand. Even if they'd put a notice at the top of her review saying that "the statements here are not those of Yelp's, blah blah blah lawyer speak" that would have been fine. However, they've shown they have no backbone and won't stand behind their users.

      What if Slashdot editors deleted comments anytime somebody looked at them wrong; what effect would that have on the quantity and quality of the discussion here? There's only been a tiny handful of times that a comment here has been censored -- hopefully it stays that way.

      I've never used Yelp before because I wasn't real familiar with them. Now that I am I'll never use them in the future.

      • by nmb3000 (741169) <nmb3000@that-google-mail-site.com> on Thursday December 06, 2012 @07:43PM (#42210969) Homepage Journal

        Just found the actual comment she left via the Daily Mail [dailymail.co.uk]:

        This is the text of Perez's original review posted on Angie's List in August 2012.

        Overall: F

        Price: F

        Quality: F

        Responsiveness: F

        Punctuality: F

        Professionalism: F

        Description Of Work: Dietz Development was to perform: painting, refinish floors, electrical, plumbing and handyman work. I was instead left with damage to my home and work that had to be reaccomplished for thousands more than originally estimated.

        Member comments: My home was damaged' the "work" had to be re-accomplished; and Dietz tried to sue me for "monies due for his "work." I won in summary judgement (meaning that his case had no merit). Despite his claims, Dietz was/is not licensed to perform work in the state of VA. Further, he invoiced me for work not even performed and also sued me for work not even performed. Today (six months later) he just showed up at my door and '"wanted to talk to me." I said that I "didn't want to talk to him," closed the door , and called the police. (The police said his reason was that he had a "lien on my house"; however this "lien" was made null and void the day I won the case according to the court.) This is after filing my first ever police report when I found my jewelry missing and Dietz was the only one with a key. Bottom line do not put yourself through this nightmare of a contractor.

        If that kind of review is worth $750,000 in damages then the Internet is boned. I thought the RIAA's damage calculations were bad -- There must be a trillion dollars worth of "harmful" reviews for places on Google Maps alone!

      • by fightinfilipino (1449273) on Friday December 07, 2012 @12:01AM (#42212675) Homepage

        Sadly, it looks like they're going the other way.

        Here's the Yelp page for Dietz Development [yelp.com]. Look at the reviews and you can see that Yelp has been censoring them pretty heavily. All of them are from the last day or two and the review in question has been removed.

        This was a great opportunity for Yelp to stand up for consumer rights and freedoms, but instead they've stuck their head in the sand. Even if they'd put a notice at the top of her review saying that "the statements here are not those of Yelp's, blah blah blah lawyer speak" that would have been fine. However, they've shown they have no backbone and won't stand behind their users.

        What if Slashdot editors deleted comments anytime somebody looked at them wrong; what effect would that have on the quantity and quality of the discussion here? There's only been a tiny handful of times that a comment here has been censored -- hopefully it stays that way.

        I've never used Yelp before because I wasn't real familiar with them. Now that I am I'll never use them in the future.

        that's not quite accurate.

        Yelp uses an automated algorithm to filter out some posts: "How do you decide which reviews to filter? We use filtering software to determine which reviews should be filtered on any given day among the millions that are submitted to the site. The software looks at a wide range of data associated with every review. We invite you to watch this short video for more detail about how it all works." http://www.yelp.com/faq#why_filter [yelp.com]

        as a site dedicated to enabling ordinary people to post reviews about businesses in their own communities, Yelp provides a great service for consumers. but Yelp also has its own concern to try to keep reviews on its site relevant as much as possible. it doesn't serve anyone to allow users to publish reviews that have little to no connection to the actual businesses being reviewed. Yelp's reputation for being a place where you can get low-noise, high-signal reviews is on the line. and having too much noise as compared to actual signal does not serve Yelp's users either, as they won't get a reasonably accurate picture of businesses reviewed on the site.

        i'll acknowledge that Yelp is treading a fine line here. i think they understand that. but to say that Yelp is "undermining consumer rights and freedoms" here is completely unfair and unabashedly silly. filtered posts can still be seen if you click on a link below the reviews. Yelp explains why they have been filtered but still allows users to access said posts.

        and even then, if you go to Dietz Development's page now, there are a slew of negative reviews, completely unfiltered, that have nothing to do with Dietz Development's services or customer relations. most of them are backlash "internet badass" posts shaming Dietz for suing. while allowing people to review businesses like Dietz and provide said reviews online for the public is a general good, allowing for higher noise to signal and for reviews that have little to do with the actual quality of a company is not.

        there was a Florida pizza restaurant President Obama visited during this year's Presidential campaign. the owner of the restaurant was, apparently, a conservative, but he was excited to host the President all the same and even gave Obama a hug. as a result, hundreds of trolls crashed the restaurant owner's Yelp page and posted negative review after negative review [npr.org]. many of the "reviewers" acknowledged never having eaten at the restaurant. some of the "reviewers" had never been to Florida. would you say Yelp should keep all those "noise" posts anyway? i would argue no. the posts were marginally-relevant, if at all, to the actual pizza restaurant, the quality

  • by OzPeter (195038) on Thursday December 06, 2012 @07:00PM (#42210581)

    So where are:

    1. The complaint/lawsuit for restoration of damage to her house?
    2. The complaint/lawsuit for the work that was not done (but apparently billed)?
    3. The police report/lawsuit detailing the theft of the jewelry?

    All of the above are things that should be taken seriously if they actually happened. Complaining on Yelp/Angies List only and not following through in the correct legal channels gives credence to the lawsuit against her.

    So WTF is this doing on /. anyway? This just seems like it is here because it's a typical lawsuit but a computer is involved

    • by p0p0 (1841106)
      The only thing that pisses me off about this is how much they are suing for. There is no way someone can pay that amount of money back in their lifetime, and they surely didn't do that much damage to you. Why aren't these sort of things set at a limit? If they are, why is it so bloody high?
      • by Jack9 (11421)

        > why is it so bloody high?

        Because, in the US, you can sue for any reason (even faulty reasoning or unactionable claims) with any stipulation on what you are seeking, generally speaking. Different localities have differing laws to mitigate this type of stupidity, but I guess not that county.

      • by TubeSteak (669689)

        TFA says he's suing for $750k but only claiming damages of $300k
        So in reality, the maximum he'll get is $300K + lawyers' fees (assuming he can prove the Yelp post resulted in $300k of damages)

        If the State of Virginia prosecutes her for libel, the maximum fine is $500.

    • by Xtifr (1323) on Thursday December 06, 2012 @07:07PM (#42210635) Homepage

      So WTF is this doing on /. anyway? This just seems like it is here because it's a typical lawsuit but a computer is involved

      Hey, it's enough of a difference to make it patentable. :)

    • by im_thatoneguy (819432) on Thursday December 06, 2012 @07:19PM (#42210731)

      Online reviews are a pretty big part of the internet. Yelp is one of the most popular websites on the internet.

      If writing a review or using Yelp can get you sued for $750k then that would have huge ramifications for internet users and prominent internet companies like Yelp.

      It also illustrates the interesting new territory we enter where users are demanding the rights of "media" and being granted publishing rights but not educated in the rules and practices that protect you as a publisher. Part of breaking down and democratizing the access to global access and speech is that suddenly everyone is a publisher not just from a power standpoint but also from a legal and liability standpoint.

    • by sootman (158191)

      > All of the above are things that should be taken seriously if
      > they actually happened. Complaining on Yelp/Angies List only
      > and not following through in the correct legal channels gives
      > credence to the lawsuit against her.

      Well, the sucky thing is that there are TONS of things that are true, but not provable. I've been fucked over MANY times by contractors and workers, but none of it is provable because I didn't get whatever they promised in writing, didn't take certified before and after pic

  • by alen (225700) on Thursday December 06, 2012 @07:07PM (#42210641)

    was the contractor convicted of the crime?
    did she win a civil lawsuit for the home damage?

    No? then she deserves to be sued. You can't bad mouth people and spread false information about them without being able to prove it

    • by cdrudge (68377) on Thursday December 06, 2012 @09:13PM (#42211717) Homepage

      According to the review on Yelp, she won a summary judgement on a civil lawsuit the contractor filed. She did file a police report, but only after he showed up on her door step to "talk" after she won the judgement. Nothing was mentioned regarding criminal charges.

      Reading the review, the only thing that I don't think could be substantiated in the review was that he stole her jewelry. She never comes out and says he did, but implies it by saying the jewelry was missing and he was the only other one with a key.

  • According to the recent filing, the two were high school classmates.

    Nothing to see here. Move along.

  • by westlake (615356) on Thursday December 06, 2012 @07:08PM (#42210653)

    The lawsuit follows an earlier case against Perez, which was filed in July 2011 by Dietz for unpaid invoices.

    The first thing a lawyer will tell you to do when faced with a lawsuit is to keep your big mouth shut.

    Don't feed ammunition to the plaintiff's attorneys.

    Don't dig yourself in to a deeper hole.

  • SLAPP (Score:5, Insightful)

    by pwizard2 (920421) on Thursday December 06, 2012 @07:10PM (#42210671)
    This sounds like a S.L.A.P.P. suit (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation). Basically, if someone fucks you over and you speak out about it, they sometimes retaliate by suing you. The plaintiff gambles on the likelihood that the victim will just slink away rather than go through an emotionally-damaging (and expensive) legal battle and the bad guy basically wins. These lawsuits are weapons... it's not about justice.
  • Awkward (Score:4, Funny)

    by _UnderTow_ (86073) on Thursday December 06, 2012 @07:13PM (#42210679)
    "two were high school classmates."

    That's going to make for an awkward High School reunion.
  • He sued her over unpaid invoices. She hired him again. He accepted work from someone who didn't pay bills before.

    I really have no idea why they even WANT to do business with each other anymore. Could it possibly be that the whole crap has NOTHING to do with his work, her jewelry or anything but two kids who somehow crossed each other at high school (e.g. one wanted to go out with the other but got rejected) and who didn't grow out of it, and now they're clogging the courts with their childish bickering?

    • by Obfuscant (592200) on Thursday December 06, 2012 @07:52PM (#42211073)

      He sued her over unpaid invoices. She hired him again. He accepted work from someone who didn't pay bills before.

      How do you know this? We know there was an earlier suit over unpaid bills. We know there was a review claiming damages to the home and lost jewelry. We don't know that she hired him again after the first lawsuit or that he accepted a second job. For all we know the bad review was a poor attempt at getting back at the contractor for the earlier lawsuit.

      I really have no idea why they even WANT to do business with each other anymore.

      You have no idea that they want to do business with each other anymore, so wondering why they want to is a bit premature.

  • by AlienSexist (686923) on Thursday December 06, 2012 @07:36PM (#42210891)
    Contractors are people you don't screw around with. Some states, like Texas, allow contractors (even auto repair shops) to put a lien on your property if you do not pay them. The fine print of some Mortgage Loans require that you notify them immediately if any liens are placed on the property. Failure to comply might allow the mortgage lender to force you to buy absurdly priced insurance (like 3x-4x market rate) from their selected insurer. Then you have all the hassle of clearing up the title and being unable to sell the property until things are properly cleaned up.

    I've personally had a case where a contractor vanished but all his sub-contractors continued to work and deliver materials. The contractor didn't pay them so we had to. At least the sub-contractors got paid for the work they did do (which was quite excellent). We had to sue the contractor's company and get a judgement. There's nothing to collect, however, and the owner is now in prison. Not because of his dealings with us but because he decided to pretend to be a cop, lure "models" to a hotel, then sexually assault them while threatening arrest. Had to do a double-take on the evening news when his portrait was on the screen along with his full name.
  • Most people here constantly posts their opinions on people and companies relating to every article that passes through. While alot of us back up our posts with facts (as we know them) and links, but we're all basically doing the exact same thing she is. My opinion is that she falls in the same category as any of us. That being said what she posted I think should be protected by law unless perhaps she knowingly made up some of her claims. As long as she believed her claims to be true (regardless of w
  • It sounds like the script for a Lifetime movie.

  • by Cruciform (42896) on Thursday December 06, 2012 @08:49PM (#42211513) Homepage

    Since Slashdot launched there have been hundreds of articles dealing with conflicts over speech.
    And each article usually has a couple of dozen people explaining what 'freedom of speech' means in the context of law and government.
    And yet the same asinine "But it's freedom of speech!" comments pop up every single time.

    Do these people read the summary, post, and then never read a single comment therefore remaining ignorant of what it is they're wrong about?

    This isn't about the government restricting freedom of speech. This is an individual making a statement, and being sued by they object of that statement. This is speech with consequences, not censorship. The court will then decide whether the plaintiff or the defendant are in the right.

  • by Entropius (188861) on Friday December 07, 2012 @08:04AM (#42214293)

    So, if you read the WaPo story, it mentions that the defendant is from Fairfax and the contractor/plaintiff is from DC itself. Fairfax, for those who don't know, is in the Northern Virginia area agglomeration of "cities" along I-66 where people who work in the District and don't want to deal with the clusterfuck that is DC live. (Then they only have to deal with the clusterfuck that is commuting to DC, but they can at least live in jurisdictions with saner laws and have decent schools to send their kids to.)

    I have lived in DC for a year, and a relative has lived here for many years. She recently wanted to have some work done on her house, and caught the contractor shooting speedballs (heroin/cocaine) in her bathroom, then running up and down the stairs and onto the roof while under the effects. This didn't surprise me, really, at all; given how much of *that* goes on, I don't doubt the allegations are true.

    This town is a shithole, and it's a shithole full of people who will sue anyone at the drop of a hat for anything, or really take any opportunity to get ahead at someone else's expense, fair or not. "Slit Grandma's throat for a nickel" isn't just an exaggeration around here. The phone books have a "You could sue a doctor and make a pile of money! Call us!" ads on the spine; there are ambulance-chaser billboards all over; etc.

God may be subtle, but he isn't plain mean. -- Albert Einstein

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