Criticize Dentist On Yelp, Get Threatened With Felony ‘Internet Business Defamation’

Image courtesy of (Secgeek06)

A Texas mother took her child to a dentist who only works on children based on the referral of the family’s regular dentist. She didn’t really like the specialist, and wrote a relatively short, clear Yelp review explaining why. That got her a letter from the dentist’s attorney ordering her to take down her review, OR ELSE.

Or else what? Criminal charges of “internet business defamation and libel.” This scared the reviewer, understandably, so she sought help, ultimately leading her to Ken White’s excellent law blog Pope Hat. A reader of that site who is a licensed attorney in Texas volunteered to smack down the dentist’s attorney, and the resulting letter is an eight-page thing of beauty that breaks down the attorney’s thuggish claims and points out precisely why it’s wrong to threaten to sue or prosecute someone for offering their opinion on the Internet.

Most people might post a review online, get a mean letter from a lawyer, and drop the whole thing out of fear that they would be sued or prosecuted for libel. It’s easier to take down a Yelp review than it is to hire a lawyer, right? The thing is, the attorney who helped out this family happened to know that Texas did away with its criminal libel law statutes in the middle of the 20th century. What the state does have are anti-SLAPP statutes, which prevent people and companies from filing lawsuits just to silence critics, especially critics making factually true claims.

What else would you call threatening to file a defamation suit against someone for posting her impressions of a visit to the dentist? What is it with pediatric dentists and suing people over not-all-that-scathing Yelp reviews, anyway?

Go read the actual letter: it links to everything from relevant statutes to a video clip from “The Simpsons.”

Criticize Your Dentist? That’s a Jailin’ [Pope Hat]

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