Feb. 2, 2017
Fraudulent Lawsuit Linked to a Reputation Management Company Is Dismissed
Federal Judge Cites Apparent Fraud and Misrepresentation; Similar Questionable Lawsuits Have Been Filed
WASHINGTON, D.C. – A Rhode Island federal judge has dismissed (PDF) a lawsuit apparently filed fraudulently and has called for consideration of civil and criminal liability of those responsible for filing the papers.
In dismissing the bogus lawsuit – filed in the name of a man who said he never filed the case, against a defendant who appears to be fictitious – Chief Judge William E. Smith of the United States District Court for the District of Rhode Island cited apparent fraud and misrepresentation. He directed attorneys to provide additional information to help him determine who should be held responsible for the fraud. Late last year, he called on federal prosecutors to investigate whether any crimes had been committed.
“This was exactly the right thing for the judge to do,” said Paul Alan Levy, the Public Citizen attorney who represented the owner of a blog whose postings were affected by the lawsuit. “We look forward to getting to the bottom of this, particularly because this case is just one of many questionable lawsuits filed to silence online criticism.”
At a Nov. 16 hearing, Levy told the court that the facts indicate that a reputation management company called “Profile Defenders” may have generated this and other lawsuits designed to obtain court orders forcing criticisms of companies to be removed from websites. By intervening in this case, Myvesta sought both to have the case dismissed and to learn more about who filed it and several similar lawsuits directed at getting Myvesta’s web pages removed from search engines.
In the case, Bradley Smith v. Deborah Garcia, the ostensible plaintiff, Bradley Smith, sued nonexistent defendant, Deborah Garcia, over critical comments posted regarding articles on a blog about the debt relief industry.
Along with the lawsuit, the filer of the lawsuit presented the court with a document in which Garcia supposedly admitted to defamation. The judge therefore signed an order that could be submitted to various search engines to procure the removal not just of the comments, but of the pages on which the comments were posted.
Myvesta Foundation publishes the blog to help consumers sort out the many offers they receive from companies. Pages on Myvesta’s website that posted nondefamatory articles were affected by the judge’s order, of which it was not notified.