Manhattan Lasik Threatens Yelp Reviewer For Calling Them Scumbags Who Used Groupon As Bait-And-Switch
from the slappity-slapp-slapp dept
When will they learn? Yet another company upset by a negative review on Yelp has hired a lawyer to issue a highly questionable legal nastygram threatening a defamation lawsuit if the review wasn’t removed. Paul Levy from Public Citizen has the full story of Manhattan Lasik hiring Frederic Abramson to send a legal threat to Michael Linden. Linden apparently purchased a $1795 Groupon deal for Manhattan Lasik, only to discover when he showed up that Manhattan Lasik claimed he wasn’t eligible for the kind of surgery the Groupon covered. Instead, they wanted him to pay an additional $1700 for a different procedure. Linden, for obvious reasons, wasn’t happy and posted a negative Yelp review back in July.
A few weeks went by and Linden received a letter written by Abramson, claiming that the review was defamatory, though without saying how it was defamatory. Levy called up Abramson and found him unwilling to point out anything actually defamatory:
When I first contacted Abramson to ask what parts of the letter were allegedly false, he began by blustering that everything was defamatory, but when I laughingly asked whether it was false that the doctor “was very nice,” he quickly focused instead on the use of words like “scumbag.” Linden, he complained, had come in with a Groupon, the service covered by the Groupon would not have been right for his condition, and Linden, he said, simply refused to accept that he needed to buy a different kind of service even though, Abramson said, the reasons were given to him repeatedly. So Abramson was admitting that the underlying factual statements were true, but complaining about the opinion words used. In a similar case, a judge in Manhattan ruled that the words “scam” and “bait-and-switch” plainly reflected the consumer’s personal opinion of his dealings with a business. Abramson knows about this case, having blogged about it himself a few years ago.
Abramson also complained that discount coupons were a major source of his client’s business, and have been a source for years, and he stands to suffer serious harm if consumers learn from Yelp that his discount coupons might not be worth a four-figure investment. But as Med Express recently learned the hard way, companies can’t sue for defamation just because criticism can hurt business, the criticism has to be based on deliberate falsehood. And once the words are deemed opinion, they are constitutionally protected. And by the same token, I pointed out to him that if consumers needed to worry about whether the $1700 they would be spending up front for a Groupon might not do them any good, that was valuable information for consumers that ought not be suppressed.
I like the fact that Levy calls out the fact that Abramson himself blogged about the very case that destroys his own arguments. That’s a nice touch. Levy also notes that Abramson has a bit of a reputation for copyright trolling — and got smacked down by a judge in a case we wrote about. So it’s probably not a huge surprise to find out that Abramson tried the laughable trick of putting this at the bottom of his threat letter:
Please be aware that this letter is copyrighted by our law firm, and you are not authorized to publish this in any manner. Use of this letter in positing, in full or in part, will subject you to further causes of action.
Oh really now? It’s a pretty despicable practice by some lawyers to try to claim that copyright prevents the public discussion of questionable legal threat letters designed to silence criticism. Levy notes that it appears some lawyers have been lined up to support Linden should this progress — with one of them raising the question of whether or not Manhattan Lasik is guilty of false advertising with its Groupon promotions. Levy and that lawyer sent the NY Attorney General’s office some info for them to investigate.
Of course, Levy also notes that, yet again, this is one of those unfortunate situations where NY doesn’t have a very good anti-SLAPP law to hit back on these kinds of threats. It’s yet another reminder why we need a strong and comprehensive federal anti-SLAPP law that will help protect people who are expressing their opinions and presenting factual information in reviews from legal bullying.