Woman Who Wrote a Scorching Yelp Review is Fined $1000 by Court – Technovate LLC v Fanelli

Frank Kockritz of Ascend Local pointed out this recent Fox News Clip from earlier in the week announcing a $1000 penalty against a Staten Island women for writing a scathing Yelp review of a flooring company, Mr. Sandless OF Staten Island.

According to the court documents:

On March 4, 2015 identified as “Emily” she posted the following “review” on silive (presented below as it appeared on the website):

this matt the owner is a scam

do not use mr sand less of staten island matt is the name he will destroy you floor he is a liar and con artist beware

On March 4, 2015 a similar review by “Emily F.” was posted on Yelp (presented below as it appeared on the website).

this guy mat the owner is a scam do not use him you will regret doing business with this company I’m going to court he is a scam customers please beware he will destroy your floors he is nothing by a liar he robs customers and promises you everything if you want shit then go with him if you like nice work find another he is A SCAM LIAR BULLSHITTER

On March 20, 2015, “Emily F.” posted an “updated review” on Yelp (presented below as it appeared on the website).

this is a night mare of a company you can not imagine what my floors look like stay away from matt gardiner your floors start to crack the stuff comes off the floors are left with no shine i had beautify shine before matt came to my house believe me if you want to see matts work and you rare thinking of hiring him contact me per my email and i will gladly show his work here is my e email address it is emilyfanelli@aol.com i would show you his terrible work you would thank me please advise any now who is thinking of wiring with him stay away he is the island biggest scam person around, DO NOT HAVE YOUR FLOORS DONE WITH THIS MAN, CUSTOMERS PLEASE BE WARE OF THIS MAN MATT GARDINER HE IS A SCAM HE TAKES YOUR MONEY AND DESTROYS YOUR HOME

he des not even deserve a one star 0 stars he gets

The Staten Island Civil Court Judge Phillip Straniere said in his ruling: “Terms such as ‘scam’, ‘con artist’ and ‘robs’ imply actions approaching criminal wrongdoing rather than someone who failed to live up the terms of a contract”. For a full reading of both the background and the legal issues read Technovate LLC v Fanelli

From the NY Daily News:

Norman Siegel, a noted civil rights attorney not involved in the case, said the ruling “could chill people from expressing their negative opinions.”

“Opinions are protected speech,” Siegel said, and Fanelli’s comments — while extreme — are opinion. “Context is important,” he said. “She was just spouting off and giving her opinion about his services.”

“If she called him a convicted felon, that would be different,” he said. He encouraged Fanelli to appeal — and she said she’s planning to.

Its an interesting case and it will be interesting to see if the ruling stands as solid case law given the free speech issues. Historically reviews have been seen as a free speech arena and there was little that could legally be challenged. Yelp has consistently defended that position.

“New York also adheres to the doctrine that “a publication defamatory of a place or a product is not libel against its owner unless the owner himself is accused of disreputable conduct”

And per the ruling, the poster, Ms Fanelli,  most definitely crossed the line into defamation in New York State. The judge noted that her personal invective was “designed to impugn his integrity and business practices with the intent to damage his business reputation”.

I am hopeful that the defendant does pursue this case as it may be the first review the clearly defines the limits of where free speech ends and defamation starts. In my mind, it would provide a useful yard stick for all of the players; the reviewers, the businesses and the review platforms.

 

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4 thoughts on “Woman Who Wrote a Scorching Yelp Review is Fined $1000 by Court – Technovate LLC v Fanelli”

  1. Wow. When I read the title of this post I thought this was the end of Yelp. But reading it – this makes total sense. Online reviews should not be the place to infer/defend possible criminal behavior. In this case a more level-headed description of horrible service would have been more impactful and could have saved her $1,000. This is a small victory for business owners. I hope it stands up.

  2. A client of mine had the misfortune of being the subject of many lies on Twitter and Facebook and bad reviews on every review site her business was listed on, all by the same woman with a bogus identity. Finally, my client discovered who the woman was, not even a client, it turned out. My client didn’t even know the connection. She won the court case but that didn’t stop the barrage of bad reviews, at least for awhile. The person writing the reviews didn’t have any money, so my client never got any financial reparation at least not yet.

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