Psychiatrist Files Lawsuit Over Wordless One-Star Review

from the 5/5-would-set-fire-to-reputation-again dept

A South Carolina psychiatrist in engaged in what might be one of the all-time great windmill tilts. It’s a libel lawsuit predicated on a single one-star review — a review that contains nothing else but the solitary star.

When a person using a phony name posted a one-star rating – out of five stars – about psychiatrist Dr. Mark Beale on a Google Maps locator box, Beale saw it.

He was not amused. In fact, the Charleston-area psychiatrist was so disturbed that he filed a libel lawsuit against “John Doe.”

Beale in a separate court action now is demanding that the Internet behemoth Google divulge “John Doe’s” real name so he can go forward with his libel suit against the anonymous negative commenter. Google, headquartered in California, has 72,000 employees and is the world’s most widely used search engine.

The one-star review on Google “unfairly caused him to lose the goodwill and confidence of the community … and harmed him in a way that lowers the estimation in the community about his professional practice as a psychiatrist,” wrote Steve Abrams, Beale’s attorney in the action, filed in state court in Charleston County.

Beale alleges a lot of things in his suit. He claims the one-star rating — left by a single person with zero additional commentary — has led to “extreme and constant distress.” He points out he has received mostly positive ratings elsewhere and that the person clicking on the single star — “Richard Hill” — is not a patient of his, at least not under that name.

Of course, Beale’s online ratings have fallen significantly since the filing of this lawsuit. Some have pointed out the “extreme and constant distress” Beale claims to be suffering as a result of this single single-star review isn’t the sort of reaction one would expect from a mental health professional.

The separate action against Google is even more extreme. Beale wants Google to divulge the real name of the person who left the review and his attorney apparently can’t understand why the company would be reluctant to do so.

Beale’s attorney, Steven Abrams of Mount Pleasant, said he has handled several similar cases, and companies like Google, AT&T, Comcast and Verizon typically hand over identifying information of anonymous users.

“Why Google fought this case, I have no earthly idea,” Abrams said. “There’s not really a lot of case law (in South Carolina) … on these types of cases because they don’t usually result in a fight.”

Maybe he should get out more. Reviews are protected speech, for the most part. Stated opinions aren’t defamation, no matter how caustic they are. That Google would oppose the unveiling of a person who effectively said nothing more than “1 out of 5” should be unsurprising, not a point of confusion. Besides, as Google pointed out in court filings, Beale has plenty of “more speech” options to combat the one-star review that have nothing to do with pursuing bogus defamation claims.

Google’s legal filing in the case asserts that the one-star posting by “John Doe” had no text with it and is just a “quintessential statement of opinion that cannot be proven true or false.”

Moreover, Google argues, the psychiatrist can post his own rebuttal to the one-star rating “on the same site” and “thereby easily correct any misstatements or falsehoods … and generally set the record straight.”

So far, the only thing Beale has accomplished is making a fool of himself. His ratings at multiple sites are starting to collapse. At this point, there’s nothing to be gained from pursuing the lawsuit, other than keeping his nonplussed counsel employed. His overreaction to a wordless one-star review has done more damage to his career than ignoring it ever would have.

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Comments on “Psychiatrist Files Lawsuit Over Wordless One-Star Review”

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Steerpike (profile) says:

It’s getting the point where it should be malpractice for an attorney to even consider filing this kind of suit without making every effort to talk the client out of it and to point out that they’re likely to do much more harm than good to themselves.

I’ve only had one client who was even considering trying to bring action against someone who left an online review (not anonymous in that case), and I sent the client links to a bunch of these types of stories and he concluded on his own that he didn’t want to move forward with any kind of lawsuit.

DB (profile) says:

When I read this story I was thinking “in what mall storefront could you find an attorney to take such an obviously bogus case?”

So I checked.

Apparently this lawyer doesn’t have an office, instead working out of his house. He is variously listed as a detective, computer forensic investigator and a litigation attorney. His website proclaims that he has a “law enforcement commission from the governor of South Carolina”. Which sound serious, but seems to typically mean an auxiliary police officer, volunteer/reserve constable, or a park ranger.

Anonymous Coward says:

“the Charleston-area psychiatrist was so disturbed that he filed a libel lawsuit”


If this “so-called” psychiatrist cannot take negative criticism, then he has no damn business treating other people for psychological problems.

The irony of this idiot, claiming the review is causing him distress and making him disturbed.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

What’s worse, it was just a single Star. Not a word was said. This person has to have some type of Mental issue. Maybe he’s another snowflake?

How this person could ever help others? Who would still want to go and see this person after this? If you don’t think he’s doing a good job, watch out on your review because even 1 star only will get a attack onto you.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I always look at the 1 star reviews first. I expect at least a few. Either they’re real gripes, or it’s completely dumb. A 1 star review because the person is really a idiot. Like giving 1 star on the product because it look longer to get. How that has anything to do with the product? Or assuming something else came with the product, didn’t get it and so 1 star review, even though no where did it say you would get it. Dumb things like that. I consider dumb reviewers!!! But I start at 1 and then move to the 2, then 3, then 4 and last, 5 star reviews.

I want to hear the real issues someone may have and see if that’s something I even care about.

Tanner Andrews (profile) says:

Re: Golden Goose Eggs

Butthurt Cases – funding a new generation of lawyers looking for a golden goose to shake down

It is better than that. Remember that there is also a defendant, who may well need to lawyer up as Google did. So not only is the lawyer filing the silly suit eating, but he is providing a necessity for another lawyer to eat.

And yes, it probably is turtles all the way down.

That One Guy (profile) says:

'Psychiatrist, heal thyself'

Anyone with skin that thin, who lashes out and goes legal over something as simple as a one-star, otherwise blank review is someone that does not deserve any business, as they are clearly unfit for the job.

If they’ve got personal problems like that I can’t imagine they would be able to give good advice and counsel to other people, and as such if they’re getting poor review now I’d say they’re well earned ones.

stderric (profile) says:

Re: 'Psychiatrist, heal thyself'

To be fair, most psychiatrists just read lists out of the DSM and choose whatever condition/disorder gets the most check-marks. All that’s left then is asking a drug rep what to prescribe. Honestly, they don’t really have to be any more mentally stable than the rest of us to do their job.

(I’d make a joke about mental stability and holding a high political office, but I’m trying to cut down on ‘joking about the tragically obvious.’)

Anonymous Coward says:


1st, i didn’t have to read the whole story

the real name can’t be found without some kind of biometrics of the actual user at the actual time of the ‘one star crime’–how can you verify that the person using the pc/phone/tablet at the time of the review was the same actual person with a user account on said device?

even if the actual user is disclosed (imposible!), we have freedom of speech in america, right? RIGHT?

John85851 (profile) says:

On the other hand

What kind of system allows people to give a rating without any comments? Why did the person give a 1-star rating? Is it an unsatisfied customer, someone being a jerk, or even a competitor looking to damage someone’s business?

Second, why would anyone think a 1-star rating with no comment is a valid review? When I read the reviews of a product, I read the *comments*, not how many 1-star ratings it received. In fact, I ignore any ratings without a comment to back up the rating.

kazka (profile) says:

we are getting sued for the same

We are (around 10 people across the USA)in an even worse situation. Our plaintiff is an Illinois lawyer who uses his knowledge and authority against the public outcry. His demeaning facebook post gained dozens of shares. People got insulted and left negative reviews about this lawyer’s unethical and unprofessional behavior on his business FB account. Now he is suing those reviewers, pursuing his goal (posted on his FB) “to punish and make them bleed their money”. We contacted the ARDC, but they said they were powerless. So, folks, be careful. Freedom of speech is a privilege for a select few.

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