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Virginia court vacates injunction on negative Yelp reviews

A woman faces a defamation suit for negative reviews about a contractor

The Supreme Court of Virginia has vacated a preliminary injunction against reviews posted by a woman on Yelp and Angie's List, in an outcome that is being described by civil rights groups as a victory for freedom of online speech.

In a review petition against the injunction filed by civil rights groups on behalf of Jane Perez, it was stated that the Fairfax County Circuit Court had erred by issuing a preliminary injunction without finding that her "speech was false, that errors were negligent, or that the enjoined words alone cause irreparable injury."

Perez had an allegedly bad experience with Dietz Development which she hired to repair her townhouse, and posted on Yelp and Angie's List accounts of her experience including the allegation that her jewelry went missing when "Dietz was the only one with a key" to the house, according to a filing before the Supreme Court.

Christopher Dietz, owner of the firm, sued Perez in October for defamation, stating that he had done all the work that was required, and should be paid, and denied having stolen Perez's jewelry, according to the filing. Dietz also asked the court for an injunction on Perez's online statements critical of his work.

The Judge ordered Perez to remove parts of a negative review she made about Christopher Dietz. She also was barred from repeating those claims in other reviews, according to a statement Wednesday by Public Citizen which together with the American Civil Liberties Union appealed the decision by the Fairfax County Judge.

Public Citizen said it argued that the contractor could get damages if, after a full trial, a jury agrees that Perez made false claims about him that meet the standard for libel. Because such a process has not occurred, forcing Perez to remove her comments amounted to censorship, it added.

The Supreme Court of Virginia ordered that the injunction is vacated as the Circuit Court order did not prescribe the time during which the injunction would be effective, according to a document on the Public Citizen website. The court also found that the preliminary injunction was not justified, and that the respondents have an adequate remedy at law.

"The decision confirms the importance of not shutting down public discussion on the Internet just because someone doesn't like what's being talked about," Paul Alan Levy, an attorney for Public Citizen, said in a statement.

Dietz's attorney Milt Johns said via email that the "case will continue forward for scheduling of a jury trial on damages." 

John Ribeiro covers outsourcing and general technology breaking news from India for The IDG News Service. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnribeiro. John's e-mail address is [email protected]


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