Win: Lawyers Who Defended eBay Customers Pro Bono Against Suit Over Negative Feedback Will Get Attorney Fees
Statement by Paul Alan Levy, Attorney, Public Citizen
Note: A judge this week ruled in favor of two eBay customers who were sued by Med Express – a Medina, Ohio company that sells over eBay – after posting truthful negative feedback on eBay about Med Express. The judge’s decision stated, “Plaintiff’s suit was for an improper purpose. The goal was to thwart EBay’s seller rating service for financial gain by obtaining an injunction against out of state defendants, unlikely to be able to defend themselves.” The Court of Common Pleas for Medina County awarded the plaintiffs court costs, attorney fees and other reasonable expenses incurred in connection with the suit. Public Citizen helped represent the defendants. Learn more about Med Express v. Nicholls.
Judge James Leaver was completely correct in requiring Med Express to pay attorney fees for two eBay customers who did absolutely nothing wrong when they left mildly negative feedback regarding their Med Express purchases. As Judge Leaver recognized, the customers were simply participating in eBay’s feedback component in exactly the manner in which eBay intended, and the company had no reason to doubt the veracity of their criticisms.
More important, the judge has rewarded two Ohio lawyers, Cleveland’s Tom Haren and Cincinnati’s Jeffrey Nye, who, in the highest tradition of the Bar, volunteered to represent the two eBay customers without charge, recognizing that they could not otherwise have afforded to represent themselves in defending against a frivolous defamation claim.In the past several years, there has been an uptick in lawsuits in which a company sues a customer because of negative feedback posted online by the customer. In this case, when Med Express received feedback that didn’t help it maintain a ‘perfect seller rating,’ the company asked the customers to remove their feedback. When they declined, Med Express bullied the customers with a lawsuit.
This is an important win for consumers. It shows that consumers have recourse when companies such as Med Express try to bully and silence consumers from telling other potential customers about their bad experiences.
In addition, earlier this year, the lawyer that filed the suit for Med Express agreed to settle the sanctions motion against him by paying a portion of the attorney fees – on top of what the judge ruled this week. This ruling should stand as a warning against both companies and lawyers who are tempted to file foolish defamation lawsuits against consumers.