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Hassell v. Bird

Liability of Web Site Operators – A lawyer in Los Angeles sued a former client for defamation after the client posted on Yelp a highly critical review of the lawyer’s representation. The client was never served, and the lawyer  obtained a default judgment awarding damages as well as compelling the client to remove her review from Yelp’s web site.  When the client failed to comply with that injunction, the lawyer asked the trial court  to compel Yelp to honor the injunction that had been obtained against its users. The trial court ordered Yelp to take down the review, reasoning that, by objecting to the lawyer’s motion by arguing, in part, that the original  injunction had not been adequately justified, Yelp had aligned itself with the defendant and hence could be enjoined as a collaborator with the defendant, and further that Yelp’s immunity from suit under section 230 of the Communications Decency Act does not extend to immunity against such follow-up injunctive relief.  The California Court of Appeal affirmed. Yelp sought review in the California Supreme Court, and Public Citizen filed an amicus letter in support, arguing that section 230 protects against injunctive relief as well as damages, showing that the relief against Yelp violates the First Amendment, and noting the serious impact that the lower courts’ approach would have on the system of online free speech.

After the California Supreme Court granted review, Public Citizen filed an amicus brief on the merits. The California Supreme Court reversed, holding that section 230 barred extending the injunction to Yelp.