David R. Hartwig, ESQ.
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Are bad online reviews defamation? Spencer v. Glover

The Utah Court of Appeals has issued an opinion addressing that questions, The case is Spencer v. Glover, just released.

This case involves an attorney who represented a client in a divorce. The client subsequently posted a lengthy and derogatory review of the attorney. After attorney asked client to remove the review and client's refusal, attorney sued for defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and intentional interference with prospective economic relations.

Client moved to dismiss all claims under Rule 12(b)(6), failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The trial court granted that motion, determining client's statements were mere opinion and that the other claims were not sufficiently supported.

The Court of Appeals held that the trial court had correctly dismissed attorney's defamation claim, because the review was an expression of opinion, and the underlying facts were not defamatory. In reaching that conclusion, the court found that client was in a nasty divorce, upset about funds owed to the attorney, and worried about the division of assets in the divorce.

Sure the client used hyperbolic phrases throughout the review, per the Court of Appeals. But that was okay because in the context of the review "it is unlikely that any reader would take [the review] at face value... most readers would view it as exaggerated commentary expressing [client's] frustration."

So, that is the state of defamation and online reviews. Per our Courts, readers of negative reviews don't take the review seriously and most readers will simply look at it as exaggerated commentary expressing frustration.

I personally disagree, it is my opinion that the majority of readers of reviews do take all such "exaggerated commentaries" to heart in making consumer decisions. But then again, our justices are not out in public having to operate in the market place, particularly the digital market place, to obtain clients -- at least in my opinion.

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