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Public Citizen Defends Yelp Reviewers Tuesday in VA Supreme Court

Yelp argues that the First Amendment protects its users from being identified.

A carpet cleaning service that got bad reviews on Yelp should not be able to use the courts to obtain personal, identifying information of its critics, Public Citizen will tell the Virginia Supreme Court on Tuesday.

Public Citizen attorney Paul Alan Levy is representing Yelp, which tried to protect the identities of seven users who were among many to complain that Hadeed Carpet Cleaning falsely advertised low prices.

Hadeed sued the seven reviewers in 2012, alleging that the posts were false and defamatory because it could not be sure the reviewers were customers, but not denying the substance of the posts—namely that it sometimes charges twice the advertised price or charges for work not performed.

WHEN: 9 a.m. EDT, Tuesday, Oct. 28

WHO: Paul Alan Levy, attorney, Public Citizen

WHERE: Virginia Supreme Court, 100 North Ninth Street, 5th Floor, Richmond, Va.

View more information on the case

Hadeed subpoenaed documents from Yelp on July 3 that would identify the authors. Yelp objected, saying that the First Amendment protects its users from being identified unless certain requirements are met. Yelp also said that the subpoena was issued in the wrong state; its main office and relevant records are in California, not Virginia.

A trial judge in Alexandria rejected Yelp’s objections to the subpoena. On appeal, Public Citizen argued that Hadeed must get a subpoena from the California courts before Yelp, headquartered in San Francisco, can be ordered to comply. Public Citizen also argued that Hadeed has not come close to meeting the well-accepted First Amendment test for identifying anonymous speakers.

But the Virginia Court of Appeals affirmed the order enforcing the subpoena on January 7, 2014.

Public Citizen will urge the Virginia Supreme Court to reverse the appellate court’s decision and send the case, Hadeed Carpet Cleaning, Inc., v. John Doe #1, et al, back to trial court with instructions to reject the subpoena unless Hadeed domesticates its subpoena in California and produces evidence to support its defamation claims.

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