Dentist Pays Sizable Penalty for Not Knowing 47 USC 230–Wong v. Jing

By Eric Goldman

Wong v. Jing, 1-08-CV-12997I (Cal. Superior Ct. May 13, 2011). Wendy Davis’ story on this ruling, plus coverage in DrBicuspid.com.

At DoctoredReviews.com, we discussed that doctors upset with patients’ reviews can always bring a lawsuit. However, as we note, doctor-vs.-patients lawsuits should be an extraordinary step for extraordinary circumstances. Otherwise, suing patients can become a big–and costly–mistake.

This lawsuit involves a Yelp review of a dentist. In my previous blog post on this case, I explained how the court issued a split ruling in the case. Several of the dentist’s claims were tossed on anti-SLAPP grounds, while the defamation claim against the author survived the anti-SLAPP motion and remains a possible risk to the patient. Because the court granted the anti-SLAPP motion, the defendants were entitled to their attorneys’ fees and costs for the anti-SLAPPed claim. In this ruling, the court awards those fees and costs to the tune of $80,000.

The dentist foolishly sued Yelp in the lawsuit but voluntarily dismissed Yelp after the plaintiff’s lawyer decided that 47 USC 230 immunized Yelp. The prior ruling was vague about whether Yelp’s attorneys’ fees were awardable, but this ruling awards those fees as part of the $80k. The court doesn’t break out the portion of the attorneys’ fees attributable to Yelp as opposed to the other defendants. I contacted the defense attorney, Mark Goldowitz of the California Anti-SLAPP Project, and it appears that at least $8k of the fees could be attributable to Yelp’s portion of the defense. Accordingly, the dentist (or almost certainly her attorney) will be writing a decent-sized check to the defense for the attorney’s 47 USC 230 error. Another cautionary tale for plaintiff’s counsel.

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