by Paul Alan Levy
This spring I reported on a decision of the Virginia Supreme Court that overturned a contempt citation against Yelp for honoring its users First Amendment right to post pseudonymous criticisms of a Virginia merchant called Hadeed Carpet Cleaning, because Hadeed refused to present any evidence that the reviewers had made any false statements about it. The Virginia Supreme Court did not address the lack of evidence, but ruled that the subpoena had to be pursued in California state court.
Hadeed has consistently claimed that the anonymous critics aren’t really customers. Its lawyer from the law firm of Bean Kinney & Korman put his own credibility on the line, claiming that as a lawyer he would not have signed the complaint alleging such a belief if there were not good reason for that belief, and arguing that the Virginia courts should place enough credence in such a certification from a Virginia lawyer to warrant overriding the First Amendment rights of the critics. But California precedent requires subpoenaing plaintiffs to present evidence of falsity; faced with this requirement of establishing an evidentiary basis for its claimed belief that the seven anonymous critics were not really customers, Hadeed Carpet Cleaning chose instead to drop its libel claims altogether. We can, I think, infer that, notwithstanding their brave words on their client's behalf, the lawyers understood that they had no credible evidence of falsity. And the aftermath of the litigation can serve as a reminder of why evidence of wrongdoing should be required.
Hadeed's Refusal to Pay Costs
The Virginia Supreme Court taxed appellate costs of $2500 against Hadeed (mostly attributed to a lengthy report that it insisted be included in the Joint Appendix); it has refused to pay, and its lawyers won’t even return phone calls and emails about when it plans to pay up. The file has been turned over to Yelp’s collections counsel.
I’d love to be there when they execute on Hadeed's assets.