A West Roxbury dentist charges that Yelp not only refused to remove what he said was a malicious post about his pracitice, it changed the post's status from "unreliable" to "reliable" when he refused to buy ads on the site.
Yelp counters it doesn't matter if the review is actually true or not because Yelp is protected by a federal law that holds online networks harmless for what their users write. And because Dr. Arian DiNapoli created his own Yelp account to answer the review, that means he agreed to Yelp terms of service, which require any legal actions to follow California law - which include an "anti-SLAPP" measure designed to make it hard to sue a somebody over public statements
DiNapoli originally filed his suit over what he calls Yelp's "extortionary" actions in state court, but Yelp, based in California, had it moved to federal court. At a hearing today, US District Court Judge F. Dennis Saylor took under advisement a request from the review site to dismiss the case based on the federal and California laws.
The review, which remained up today on the Yelp page for his Centre Street practice claims DiNapoli ruined the writer's teeth and charged her for unnecessary work. It is the only one-star review on a page of five-star posts about him.
DiNapoli says the author wrote the post in revenge when he refused to give her a receipt for tax purposes that showed what he would normally charge for the work, rather than the deeply discounted bill he actually gave her because he felt sorry for her because she was destitute but needed extensive dental work.
In his complaint, DiNapoli says somebody from Yelp tried to sell him advertising in 2016. He says he declined, a Yelp account executive e-mailed him seeking 20 minutes of his time to talk about Yelp, he declined again, then another Yelp employee called his office asking for 30 minutes of his time to "go over Yelp ads."
DiNapoli charges that after he declined yet another Yelp attempt to get him to buy ads, on Jan 26, 2017, the company changed its rating of the woman's one-star review from "unreliable" and "not recommended" to "reliable" and "recommended" - and made it the third review on his page, pushing down more favorable reviews of his work. He added the company continues to mark at least five of his five-star reviews as "unreliable" and "not recommended."
DiNapoli says he created a Yelp account only after he contacted Yelp and was told that was the only way he could get a specific person to talk to about doing something about the review.
"Most egregious of all," his complaint continues, the company continues to place ads from his competitors right next to the one-star review.
DiNapoli is asking Saylor to order Yelp to either put all the reviews on his page in chronological order - which would push the now three-year-old bad review way down or remove his page altogether and to pay him the $373,687.50 he estimates he's lost due to the review's effect on his business - as well as triple damages.
DiNapolis complaint (2.1M PDF).
Yelp's motion to dismiss (27k PDF).