from the good-move dept
The preliminary injunction made her change some claims about possible "stolen" jewelry as well as her characterization of a small claims lawsuit that Dietz had filed against her for non-payment (that case was dismissed due to procedural failures, though she described it as a win for her on summary judgment), but did allow the rest of the posts to remain. This was a partial victory for Perez, since Dietz wanted the entire posts removed, but it still raised some significant questions. Public Citizen and the ACLU asked the court to review, noting that this was classic prior restraint:
Thus, even in jurisdictions that allow an injunction against the repetition of a libel that has been found false and defamatory after a full trial, or in which that issue remains open, injunctions may not issue against speech that has not been finally determined to be false and defamatory. For this reason, courts have rejected attempts to obtain preliminary injunctive relief against Internet speech.Basically, a court cannot issue an injunction on speech that might be defamatory. It needs to wait until it's actually been proven to be defamatory. As the filing notes, in this case, the court didn't even find that Dietz had shown a "likelihood of success" let alone determined that the statements were defamatory.
Thankfully, the Virginia Supreme Court quickly recognized the error and has vacated the injunction allowing the original text to stay in place while any lawsuit continues:
Upon further consideration whereof, the Court also finds that the preliminary injunction was not justified and that the respondents have an adequate remedy at law.Good news for free speech, though it's unfortunate that the lower court didn't get it right the first time. Of course, as always, this kind of thing makes you wonder what good it could have possibly done Dietz to file this lawsuit. Whether or not the original allegations were true, now he's made it clear that he's willing to sue over reviews as well. It seems like most people might see that and decide to hire a contractor who not only has good reviews, but doesn't have a history of suing his customers over their online reviews.