The owner of Boston-based Pageo Jewelry is suing an anonymous Yelp reviewer, “Linda G.,” who operated her store. Now, the case of Pageo owner George Pelz has gone into opposition: Yelp is represented by Paul Levy of Citizen, who filed a brief (PDF) defends Linda G.’s right to speak anonymously.
At a hearing this morning in Boston District Court, Levy will argue that Pageo’s case should be dismissed. The case could set precedent in Massachusetts when it comes to deciding when an anonymous speaker can be prosecuted. Only 14 states have clear laws about when whistleblowers can be unmasked, according to Levy.
“We’re in this case because Massachusetts doesn’t have appellate jurisdiction over the case,” Levy said in an interview with Ars. “I want to be involved in the first case in a state. We hope that the court will recognize that consumers should have the right to share their bad experiences with other potential consumers online, and companies- labor should not be able to use the courts to harm them. into silence.”
“You’re a Yelp bully”
The controversy began in February of this year, when Linda G., who lives in Boulder, Colorado, wrote a one-star review on Pageo’s Yelp page explaining how he felt they did not pay for the jewelry he sold back to the store, even though he was a loyal customer. The review reads, in part:
Operate! Way overpriced, but worse than having ethics or lack of it!!
My husband, myself and some of our friends are loyal customers of Pageo Newton, Nantucket and Boston. Together we spent 100s of thousands of dollars on some gorgeous but definitely high quality jewelry. It would be cheaper to fly to Italy, get a villa and buy it yourself!
… at one time I was in a very desperate situation and I sold my diamond ring to George my wedding ring / engagement ring. I was in the middle of a relationship… I thought I could trust him since I gave him so much money, but basically for me it’s not even close to one 10th of what he deserves, but I was so desperate and take it so that I can see it. a place to live and away from my abusive husband who manages all our assets… George took all the furniture I bought there and gave me peanuts for it!!
Pelz reached out to Yelp and requested the removal of the post, but the company did not comply. “Yelp reviewed the review, (and) determined that it appeared to reflect the user’s personal experience and opinions,” Levy wrote in his brief for Yelp.
Unable to get help from Yelp’s superior, Pelz wrote a bitter apology to Linda G. on her own review page. “You are a Yelp bully,” Pelz wrote on March 7. “How do you respond to complete fiction? There is not one word of truth in Linda G.’s post. This ‘story’ is complete fiction.”
That inspired Linda G., who lives in Boulder, Colorado, to write more. The name “terrorist” is “ridiculous,” he wrote. He added that he believes Pelz may have “scammed and ripped off many vulnerable and desperate women who had to sell their jewelry.”
Want a name? Show some evidence
In July, Pelz filed a lawsuit (PDF) against Linda G, saying her statements were defamatory. By writing on Yelp that Pageo “has no ethics” and that Pelz paid her “peanuts” and did not give her “close to one 10th of what (the jewelry) was worth,” Linda G. crossed a line, according to Pelz et al. lawyer “The foregoing statements were and are completely false and untrue and defame PAGEO and George Pelz,” the complaint said. “Mr. Pelz suffered personal humiliation, shame and humiliation and mental anguish as a direct result of this.”
Yelp is not suing, but it has issued a Massachusetts lawsuit seeking to subpoena the “Keeper of Records” and to obtain documents about the “name and address” of Linda G. Doe. Yelp objected, arguing that the subpoena violated Doe’s First Amendment right to speak anonymously and that the subpoena should be based in California in any case.
“The right to speak anonymously is fully valid online,” Levy wrote in his brief, noting that there are many reasons, including fear of attack or retaliation, that a speaker may wish to remain anonymous. Massachusetts requires strict scrutiny of attempts to identify an anonymous speaker, and “the mere fact that a plaintiff has filed a complaint does not create a compelling governmental need to eliminate the defendant’s anonymity.”
Under the lead test, know how Dendrite v. Doe, the plaintiff should be required to produce proof of the claims in the complaint, not mere allegations, Levy wrote. And the Pelz suit fails the test well. It concludes:
(D) Despite Yelp’s repeated requests, plaintiffs have produced no evidence that any of the statements made by Linda G. about them are defamatory, or that they have caused damage to plaintiffs’ business reputation. The plaintiffs are given every opportunity to submit such evidence, in that the constitutional requirement is considered both in Yelp’s written objections and in its counsel’s efforts to meet and grant. For that reason (as well as the litigation reason discussed below) the motion to compel discovery regarding the identity of Linda G. Doe should be denied.
Yelp and Levy are also challenging the court’s order to hear the case, asking that the case be moved to California. Pelz did not respond to an email request for comment on this story.