Roca Labs Sues Anonymous Commenters In Convoluted Plot To Get Negative Comments De-Indexed From Google
from the try-that-one-again dept
As we’ve noted in the past, every time we think the Roca Labs story can’t get any more bizarre, it does. Roca’s lawyers have an amazing talent to come up with totally wacky legal theories that appear to have little basis in reality. However, all of it seems pretty focused on one thing: stopping anyone from saying anything negative about the company’s goop that it claims will help you lose weight. The original lawsuit that got our attention was an attempt to get PissedConsumer to delete negative reviews, followed by a bogus DMCA notice to Google, in an effort to get the negative reviews removed from Google’s search results.
The latest move is equally creative and wacky. Adam Steinbaugh has the details, in which Roca Labs is now suing 11 anonymous commenters [pdf] who posted comments to PissedConsumer.com. The filing is in a Florida state court. Now, upon hearing such a thing, my first thought was that, like many defamation claims against anonymous commenters, the goal here was to try to unmask them. However, as Steinbaugh notes, that sort of legal trickery is nothing compared to what Roca Labs appears to have up its sleeve. Instead, it doesn’t seem all that interested in who wrote the comments, it just wants to get a court order that it can use to pressure Google and others into no longer linking to those reviews. How it’s intending to do so is complicated (and legally questionable).
First, Roca builds on its classic misunderstanding of what “defamation per se” means, asking for a variety of comments to be declared as such. You can see the statements in the complaint itself, or on Steinbaugh’s site, where he helpfully transcribed them, along with notations about why most of the comments are not, in fact, defamatory (most are either opinion or basic hyperbole):
Roca is seeking an order requiring that, at Roca?s request, any ?search engines, Web Hosts? which are provided with a copy of the injunction be required to ?cease facilitating access to any or all websites through which Defendants post defamatory content.? While vaguely worded, if such an order were indeed entered, Roca could require a search engine to remove sites like PissedConsumer from their index. This will never happen.
While that request is vague, Roca?s declaratory relief cause of action expands upon it. Roca alleges that the internet comments are a ?res.? That?s a term of art for real property (e.g., land and buildings) used in the context of determining whether a court has jurisdiction:
The Digital Defamation is digital property and should be considered a res which has been continuously located since the date of its publication in Broward County, Florida, as a result of its continuous publication or republication in Broward County, Florida through various internet search engines such as Google.
This would turn jurisdictional questions ? whether the defendant can be hauled into a court in Florida for something they said elsewhere ? on their head. This is insane.
Okay, now take the wacky legal theories up yet another notch. Roca Labs not only isn’t really interested in identifying those anonymous commenters, it actively doesn’t want to identify them, because it believes that if it “publishes” a “legal notice” about this and those commenters don’t respond, it will then be able to get a default judgment against those commenters, requiring Google to delete its search results:
Google has adopted a voluntary policy that it will de-index (remove from its search algorithm and its search pages) defamatory postings from other internet service providers such as PissedConsumer.com so long as Google is presented with a judgment that the anonymous posting is in fact defamatory. If this Court enters an order finding the Statements posted by Defendants are defamatory, the Statements will only be removed by the search engine pursuant to its voluntary policy but will remain posted on PissedConsumer.com. […] In essence, this claim for Declaratory Judgment is merely requesting that pages containing the Digital Defamation be removed from the search engines, i.e., de-indexed. [The order] will not remove the commercially defamatory statements from PissedConsumer.com[. …] This scenario creates a defacto balancing test between the rights of the Plaintiff not to be defamed and the First Amendment rights of Defendants to be heard.
In other words, the company isn’t trying to uncover anyone actually doing anything defamatory — and probably doesn’t really want those statements reviewed by a court to see if they’re actually defamatory. It just wants to get a court to issue a default ruling — based on the anonymous commenters not showing up (and possibly not even knowing about it) — so it can present Google with an order saying it needs to delete links to those comments (most of which are not actually defamatory, but rather people’s opinions).
Once again, we’re amazed at the lengths that Roca Labs appears to want to go to stop anyone from finding any negative comments about the company and its products online.