Yelp successful in defamation and deceptive acts and practices case

Reit v. Yelp, Inc., — N.Y.S.2d —, 2010 WL 3490167 (September 2, 2010)

Section 230 of Communications Decency Act shielded site as interactive computer service; assertions regarding manipulation of reviews was not consumer oriented and therefore not actionable.

As I am sure you know, Yelp! is an interactive website designed to allow the general public to write, post, and view reviews about businesses, including professional ones, as well as restaurants and other establishments.

Lots of people and businesses that are the subject of negative reviews on sites like this get riled up and often end up filing lawsuits. Suits against website operators in cases like this are almost always unsuccessful. The case of Reit v. Yelp from a New York state court was no exception.

Plaintiff dentist sued Yelp and an unknown reviewer for defamation. He also sued Yelp under New York state law for “deceptive acts and practices”. Yelp moved to dismiss both claims. The court granted the motion.

Defamation claim – protection under Section 230

Interactive computer service providers are immunized from liability (i.e., they cannot be held responsible) for content that is provided by third parties. So long as the website is not an “information content provider” itself, any claim made against the website will be preempted by the Communications Decency Act, at 47 U.S.C. 230.

In this case, plaintiff claimed that Yelp selectively removed positive reviews of his dentistry practice after he contacted Yelp to complain about a negative reivew. He argued that this action made Yelp an information content provider (doing more than “simply selecting material for publication”) and therefore outside the scope of Section 230’s immunity. The court rejected this argument.

It likened the case to an earlier New York decision called Shiamili v. Real Estate Group of New York. In that case, like this one, an allegation that a website operator may keep and promote bad content did not raise an inference that it becomes an information content provider. The postings do not cease to be data provided by a third party merely because the construct and operation of the website might have some influence on the content of the postings.

So the court dismissed the defamation claim on grounds of Section 230 immunity.

Alleged deceptive acts and practices were not consumer oriented

The other claim against Yelp — for deceptive acts and practices — was intriguing, though the court did not let it stand. Plaintiff alleged that Yelp’s Business Owner’s Guide says that once a business signs up for advertsing with Yelp, an “entirely automated” system screens out reviews that are written by less established users.

The problem with this, plaintiff claimed, was that the process was not automated with the help of algorithms, but was done by humans at Yelp. That divergence between what the Business Owner’s Guide said and Yelps actual practices, plaintiff claimed, was consumer-oriented conduct that was materially misleading, in violation of New York’s General Business Law Section 349(a).

This claim failed, however, because the court found that the statements made by Yelp in the Business Owner’s Guide were not consumer-oriented, but were addressed to business owners like plaintiff. Without being a consumer-oriented statement, it did not violate the statute.

Other coverage of this case:

Enhanced by Zemanta


  1. Perhaps this dentist should focus on doing his job better instead of suing people who post negative reviews about him.

  2. Sounds like the court got it right, including its apparent decision not to clutter its deceptive acts/practices claim analysis with Section 230 dictum.

  3. Yelp is a powerful tool. I don't think these lawsuits will go away. I have many great reviews on yelp as does my salon. Believe me when I tell you we work really hard on maintaining our image on Yelp.

    There are times when reviews are left that I wish people would let us know directly. As much as I love yelp, it does not hold the reviewer accountable for the comments left. Some are hateful, mean and downright untrue. I would like to hear the negative stuff directly so I can do something about it. Once it's posted and it follows the guidelines, it stays. Forever.

    I have received over 45 5 star reviews. I have also received several 1 star reviews. They were treated in the same manner as the 5 stars. Just a classic example of not being able to please everyone.

    All in all I love Yelp. It really keeps us on our toes and informed on what we are doing right and most def what we are doing wrong.

    At the end of the day, don't sweat the small stuff. Look at ways to improve your customer service. People just want to be heard. Yelp gives you the ability to respond back to a review privately and publicly.

    I make it a point to respond to my customers. Just a quick thank your or hey, we will work on that. I never ever ever argue with customers. They are entitled to their opinion even if its wrong! 🙂

    check us out at or yelp us in Dallas under Christopher Box and The Beauty Box

Comments are closed.

© 2020 internetcases

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑