Florida Court Realizes Its Mistake, Reverses Order For Ripoff Report To Take Down Content
from the good-to-see dept
At the beginning of January, we wrote about a troubling court ruling in Florida, where a judge ordered XCentric, the operators of Ripoff Report, to remove some content from their website, despite the company’s policy against such removals and the clear and well-established safe harbors for Ripoff Report from Section 230. There were some serious problems with this ruling beyond just the Section 230 questions, including the prior restraint issue, whereby content was ordered taken offline despite the lack of a full evidentiary hearing on the merits.
Thankfully, the judge who made this clearly incorrect ruling was not re-elected, and the case was handed off to another judge who quickly righted the wrong, noting that Ripoff Report was clearly protected by Section 230 of the CDA. Perhaps even more interesting is that Paul Alan Levy, who was preparing an amicus brief for the appeal, was able to get his hands on the original transcripts of the hearing and highlights just how troubling the initial ruling was on a prior restraint basis, in that the order was not based on any findings of the likelihood of success of the original defamation claims:
The transcript of the hearing at which the original TRO against the author was adopted is particularly revealing. The order was not based on any findings of likelihood of success that the author would be found liable on the defamation claims; everybody understood that the only objective was to facilitate an order against XCentric. The author never conceded that she was even negligent in making her statement that Giordano was a convicted felon, not to speak of acting with actual malice as would be required for a judgment of defamation assuming that Giordano is a public figure. Indeed, there was some suggestion that Giordano had told the author that he had previously been in trouble with the law. So, perhaps he was a felon, just not a convicted felon? The author apparently stood by everything else she had said about Giordano; yet the judge ordered XCentric to take the entire statement down because, the judge said, he didn’t want to be involved in editing the statement.
And this is exactly part of the problem. The judge was in such a rush to shut down the content, no effort was made to determine if there was a true legal basis for removing the content.