Virginia court rules that Yelp must name seven anonymous reviewers

Cindy Gierhart | Libel | News | January 7, 2014

The Court of Appeals of Virginia ruled today that Yelp must reveal the identity of seven pseudonymous reviewers so that a company may sue them for defamation.

Hadeed Carpet Cleaning received numerous negative reviews on Yelp, and it singled out seven reviewers that it suspects were never actually customers. The company brought a defamation claim against them, subpoenaing Yelp for their identities. Yelp refused to disclose their identities.

Attorneys for Yelp argued that the Virginia court should adopt what is known as the Dendrite standard, followed in several other states, which requires those claiming defamation to provide sufficient evidence to support that claim before the court will force anonymous speakers to reveal their identities.

The court declined to follow Dendrite. Instead, it said it must follow Virginia’s statute, Code § 8.01-407.1, which provides its own procedure for revealing the identities of anonymous speakers. According to the Virginia statute, the party claiming defamation need only show that the speech may be illegal or give rise to a tort claim, such as defamation, or that the party has a “good faith basis” to believe so.

The court found that Hadeed Carpet Cleaning met all of the procedural requirements of the Virginia statute and, therefore, Yelp must reveal the identities of the reviewers.

Of the three judges, one dissented in part. Judge James W. Haley agreed that the court should apply the Virginia statute and not the Dendrite standard, but he wrote that Hadeed Carpet Cleaning did not sufficiently show that the statements were false and therefore should not be allowed to move forward with his claim.

The Reporters Committee filed a friend-of-the-court brief in this case in support of Yelp.

Related Reporters Committee resources:

· Brief: Hadeed Carpet Cleaning v. Does, Yelp Inc.