On January 21, the California Anti-SLAPP Project (CASP) filed a special motion to strike the complaint of Yvonne Wong, a pediatric dentist who sued Yelp! Inc. and two parents based on a negative review of her services the parents posted on Yelp.
Dr. Wong's complaint alleges that Tai Jing and Jia Ma defamed her by posting a critical review complaining that she gave their son laughing gas, failed to discover all of his cavities, and filled a cavity using an amalgam containing mercury. Even though section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (Section 230) immunizes website operators for publishing the statements of third parties, Dr. Wong also named Yelp! as a defendant. John Ter Beek, Wong's attorney, told the San Francisco Chronicle weeks ago that he would likely dismiss the case against Yelp! because of Section 230, but so far has not done so, potentially opening himself up to sanctions.
CASP's brief in support of its motion to strike does an excellent job explaining why the alleged misstatements concern matters of public interest ("the quality of dental care and the use of amalgam fillings"), which is required to trigger the protection of California's anti-SLAPP statute (Cal. Code Civ. Proc. § 425.16). It also provides a good explanation of how user-generated platforms like Yelp contribute to public discourse on important issues by increasing the amount of consumer information available.
Somewhat surprisingly, the brief does not go into Yelp's Section 230 defense, nor does it address in any detail the potential deficiencies in Wong's defamation and other claims against Jing and Ma. In all likelihood, this is because, once triggered, the California anti-SLAPP law places the burden squarely on the plaintiff to come forward with a legally sufficient and factually supported case. For now, it's up to Dr. Wong to demonstrate why her claims are sufficient.
We'll be monitoring the case in our database entry, Wong v. Tai Jing.