A Fairfax woman being sued for defamation over her negative reviews on Yelp and Angie’s List must delete certain accusations and is barred from repeating them in new posts, a judge ruled Wednesday.
The preliminary injunction was hailed as a victory by a D.C. contractor, who took the woman to court claiming her reviews of the work he did on her home were false and cost him $300,000 worth of business. He is suing her for $750,000.
“It’s a win on morality, integrity and truthfulness,” said contractor Christopher Dietz after the hearing in Fairfax County court. “This is permanent damage. I can’t undo what she did.”
Jane Perez hired Dietz to perform some cosmetic improvements on her townhome in June 2011, but Perez claimed in her online reviews that Dietz did shoddy work, sent her an invoice for work he did not perform and jewelry went missing from her home among other accusations. Dietz denies those claims.
Judge Thomas A. Fortkort barred Perez from implying in posts that Dietz stole jewelry from her home and that she had won on the merits a lawsuit Dietz brought against her for unpaid bills over the work.
Dietz has not been charged in connection with the missing jewelry and the lawsuit over the bills was dismissed before a Fairfax County judge could rule on the substance of the case.
Perez did not comment after the hearing, but James Bacon, her attorney, called the preliminary injunction “narrowly tailored.” He said it let most of the contents of her reviews stand. He believes the lawsuit was brought to silence his client from airing valuable consumer information.
“It appears to be a very chilling result in terms of speech,” Bacon said.
A Fairfax County court will still have to weigh the merits of the defamation claims, but a date has not yet been set for the trial.
Attorneys say legal actions over reviews on sites like Yelp are on the rise, as the sites have grown in popularity and online reputations have become more important for doctors, dentists and a host of other professions.
Some reviewers, like Perez, and free speech advocates see the suits as attempts to stifle valuable consumer information, while business owners say they are forced to fight back because a false post can reach around the world on the web.