Bad Yelp review heads to state Sup­reme Court

The California Supreme Court agreed in San Francisco Wednesday to hear a case that could determine whether Yelp Inc. and similar websites can be forced to remove an allegedly defamatory review.

The seven justices of the court unanimously agreed to hear San Francisco-based Yelp’s appeal of a lower court decision requiring it to take down a former client’s negative review of San Francisco attorney Dawn Hassell.

Hassell briefly represented the client, Ava Bird, in a personal injury case in 2012 but withdrew from the case in less than one month because of communication problems.

Bird posted a review in 2013 alleging that Hassell failed to fulfill her obligations and “made a bad situation worse for me.” After Hassell sued Bird, a San Francisco Superior Court judge ruled that the review was defamatory and ordered both Bird and Yelp remove the posting from the Internet.

A state Court of Appeal upheld that decision in June, saying that because the comments were defamatory, Yelp wasn’t protected by the constitutional right of free speech or by a federal law that says Internet service providers should not be considered speakers of the content posted on their sites by others.

Yelp then appealed to the high court.

Yelp senior litigation director Aaron Schur said in a statement:

“We look forward to making our full arguments to the Court and explaining how the lower court’s decision is ripe for abuse, contradicts longstanding legal principles, and restricts the ability of websites to provide a balanced spectrum of views online.”

No date has been set for a hearing on appeal arguments in the case.