Tag Archive for 'lawsuit'Page 2 of 27

Can I Be Sued for Writing Negative Reviews Online?

The technological advances of the last several years have made online shopping a way of life. At the heart of this new activity is the ability to broadcast consumer complaints. Sites like Yelp!, Angie’s List, and Amazon have turned the average consumer into an aficionado, giving nearly anyone the ability to publish opinions to a massive audience.

negative reviews onlineWhile buyers may be overjoyed by the wealth of consumer-driven reviews online, some sellers aren’t so happy. Some are so displeased that they have resorted to filing lawsuits against reviewers.

As a result, online shopping has added a new feature to the shopping experience: lawsuits against opinionated consumers.

How Can Sellers Sue?

One word: defamation. Defamation, specifically libel, is the communication to a third party of a false statement that damages or harms the reputation of another. The old saying about “words never hurting” is not true in the legal world.

Nonetheless, hearing about sellers initiating defamation lawsuits over bad reviews sounds outrageous, and has caused many to ask, “Why aren’t the websites hosting the comments liable?” and “What about the First Amendment?”

Well, the websites aren’t liable because federal law (specifically 47 U.S.C § 230) protects the websites from being sued for providing a medium through which defamatory statements may be published. The idea is to hold the author liable and not the website. Additionally, the First Amendment doesn’t protect speech that is defamatory. That itself sounds ironic, because the text of the First Amendment quite literally says that “no law” shall abridge free speech.

Should Shoppers Stop Reviewing?

Absolutely not. The First Amendment doesn’t protect speech that is defamatory, but even that comes with a caveat: truth is an absolute defense. So, if your review states the truth or states an unvarifyable opinion, then you won’t lose a libel suit.

Moreover, we have a pretty strong love for free speech in this country. So strong, in fact, that many states have drafted laws that protect individuals who are being sued simply for speaking their mind. An anti-SLAPP motion typically allows the defendant to collect attorney’s fees and costs for defending against a lawsuit they never should have had to answer for in the first place.

Although receiving a cease and desist letter for posting a review would be disconcerting and terrifying, to say the least, shoppers should take solace that the truth will protect them. At the same time, businesses should think twice before threatening consumers. Consider: one of the companies who recently threatened to sue a reviewer lost their Amazon seller account as a result of the ordeal.

The Future of Same-Sex Marriage May Be up to the Supreme Court

The states have an enormous amount of leeway when it comes to marriage. On occasion, however, a state’s laws regarding marriage may be called into question, requiring a high authority to step in and offer a well-reasoned answer. For example, Virginia outlawed interracial marriages for many years, until someone challenged the law and eventually had it overturned in the landmark decision of Loving v. Virginia.

same-sex marriageAs coincidence would have it, Virginia has recently become the third state to ask the Supreme Court to weigh in on their gay marriage law. Joining Utah and Oklahoma, and undoubtedly more in the coming weeks, Virginia’s Attorney General is essentially asking the Supreme Court to answer one highly controversial question: do homosexual couples have a fundamental right to marriage?

The Supreme Court is under no obligation to hear any of the cases. Even if they do decide to weigh in, there is no real deadline facing the Court. Notwithstanding, the situation presents a daunting situation; nine unelected justices may ultimately be responsible for ending the most tumultuous debate in decades.

For proponents of gay rights, that may not be such a great thing.

Earlier this year, same-sex marriage made news when a California ballot initiative attempted to define marriage as between a man and a woman. Reviewed by the Supreme Court, the appeal was shot down on jurisdictional grounds. What that means is that the court never really, officially reached the merits of whether same-sex couples can marry, but rather simply said the people challenging it didn’t have a legal leg to stand on.

In another victory for supporters of same-sex marriage came about in 2013, when the same Court held the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defined marriage as between a man and a woman, is invalid, because the law offered no legitimate purpose that outweighed the discriminatory, damaging effect DOMA had on same-sex couples. The Court reasoned that “by seeking to displace this protection and treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others, the federal statute is in violation of the Fifth Amendment.”

The initial inclination many may have is that the Court will make the same decision with respect to states. What makes this time different?

Unlike DOMA, which is a piece of congressional legislation, these laws are all unique to their respective state. As such, they are written differently, and may have provisions that could potentially satisfy the Court’s requirement for a legitimate purpose. Remember, DOMA was deemed to have no legitimate purpose, and, similar to bans on interracial marriage or same-sex marriage at a federal level, there also may not be any legitimate purpose of any of these states laws. However, and regardless of anyone’s personal beliefs, the devil is in the details with respect to statutory construction. With so many different state laws the Supreme Court will have to choose form, it’s possible they may make a ruling based on the best written – or most poorly written – law that appears before them.

Which leads to the next issue: variety. With the copious amount of appeals reaching the Supreme Court’s door, the justices will have the option of picking one (or potentially several) cases on which to base their ruling. While variety may be a good thing, as it ultimately gives the justices more freedom to pick the best case to support their legal reasoning, it’s also not such a great thing for that exact reason – if the Supreme Court wishes to limit the impact of the decision, they can. If they want the decision to have the broadest impact as possible, they can do that too.

So, for example, the Supreme Court may only decide on Virginia’s case based on the unique challenges Virginia is facing, and decline to hear the other cases. In doing so, they could indirectly have an impact on every same-sex couple, without actually ever having to reach a final decision on the merits.

Finally, justices are not keen on recognizing new rights. They may not necessarily have to with respect to gay marriage if they simply do not find a legitimate purpose in any of the state’s laws. What that does, however, is perpetuate and stretch out the same-sex marriage battle, making each challenge and each appeal it’s own little constitutional rule instead of one, overarching definitive rule. That will result in a patchwork of ideology, legal reasoning, and doctrinal law, and ultimately confuse the issue even further.

It is entirely possible none of this may happen. The court may decline to hear any case until there is more of split between circuits, and they may make another victory or offer a crushing defeat for same-sex marriages. As more states appeal, one thing becomes clear: they’ll have to do something, and whatever that something may be, it seems to have more potential to further promulgate and muddle same-sex rights than it does to clear things up.

Tesla Motors Will Release Its Patents – Should Other Companies Do the Same?

Elon Musk, Chief Executive Officer and Chief Product Officer of electric car producer Tesla Motors, recently announced that Tesla will release its patented technology to the public. Accompanying the announcement, Musk had harsh words for the patent system:

“When I started out with my first company, Zip2, I thought patents were a good thing and worked hard to obtain them. And maybe they were good long ago, but too often these days they serve merely to stifle progress, entrench the positions of giant corporations and enrich those in the legal profession, rather than the actual inventors.”

tesla motors elon muskMusk further commented,

“After Zip2, when I realized that receiving a patent really just meant that you bought a lottery ticket to a lawsuit, I avoided them whenever possible.”

The patent system was created to encourage innovation by granting inventors the exclusive right to sell or practice a product, design, or process. But Tesla recognizes that certain companies can benefit from non-exclusivity. Musk said,

“We believe that Tesla, other companies making electric cars, and the world would all benefit from a common, rapidly-evolving technology platform.”

Tesla already enjoys a competitive advantage in the electric car space because of its pool of engineers and manufacturing facilities. Tesla needs a mainstream marketplace for its cars more than it needs exclusivity. Enter Ford, BMW, and Toyota. If the major car companies start mass-producing electric cars, Tesla will have more potential customers, and it will encourage companies to build charging stations and other infrastructure necessary for electric cars to flourish. If Tesla’s technology platform becomes the industry standard, Tesla can also sell its batteries and other components to other electric car manufacturers.

But while an open-source model may work for Tesla, inventors and start-ups trying to break into a market should continue to pursue patents for their innovations. Exclusivity can give a fledging company the competitive advantage its needs to grow, where it would otherwise be crushed by the entrenched heavyweights.

Patents have other benefits beyond exclusivity. A patent may be necessary if you intend to license your invention. If you are seeking investment, a patent may make your company more attractive to investors or venture capital firms. Patents can also be sold or used as collateral for loans or other financing. Musk admits that Tesla used its patents to obtain financing in the early days of Tesla.

Other innovative companies, like Apple, have aggressively defended their intellectual property, most notably through its recent high-profile lawsuits against Samsung over mobile phone technology. It remains to be seen whether other tech giants will follow Tesla’s lead. But for the majority of inventors and start-ups, a patent continues to be the tried and true way to bring new ideas to the market.

Incoming search terms for the article:

Sriracha Hot Sauce Lawsuit Cools Off

Sriracha is an iconic red hot sauce with a green cap that is—according to its label—good on pretty much everything. According to recent legal troubles, however, it appears that it may not be good everywhere. Several months ago, the city of Irwindale, California, where the plant is based, threatened the company with a possible shutdown. However, as the suit progressed, the city looked like the one that could wind up getting burned. Last week, the city chose to drop the suit altogether.

SrirachaThe Public Nuisance Legal Dispute

The legal dispute began when residents of Irwindale started complaining about headaches, burning eyes, and various respiratory problems, all of which they believed were associated with fumes from the Sriracha factory.

In an effort to protect the health and safety of their residents, the city filed suit, alleging the plant was a public nuisance. Put simply, public nuisance requires an unreasonable interference with a common right available to the general public. By polluting air quality and interfering with some residents to breathe peacefully, Sriracha found themselves in hot water.

More dramatically, the city was asking for a temporary restraining order to essentially shut down the plant. A restraining order of that caliber is incredibly difficult to obtain, and unsurprisingly, it was denied, but with a catch – Sriracha had to either stop conducting activity that could have been making Irwindale residents sick, or attempt to mitigate them.

To the city, this meant the plant must install a $600,000 filtration system to reduce fumes. That order was too hot for Sriracha to handle, the lawsuit pressed forward, and negotiations with the city began.

On May 28th, 2014, Mayor Mark Breceda and David Tran, the CEO of Huy Fung Foods, the company behind Sriracha, along two of the Governor’s representatives, came to a verbal agreement that the mayor would encourage the city council not to continue with the lawsuit. The next day, city council dropped the lawsuit. Ultimately, Sriracha brass modified their ventilation system, and agreed to follow up with complaining residents.

Was This Lawsuit Frivolous?

While settlement is good news for both parties, it still amounts to about 6 months of Irwindale attorney’s time, a bill that is footed by taxpayers. The quick settlement gives off a sensation that this suit was for little to no purpose. After all, encouraging a higher-level filtration system or the like could have been accomplished without any court intervention.

Although the suit was certainly not frivolous, the city’s actions could expose them to liability. The most tangible type of damage to the company occurred when Tran felt compelled to take out a new loan to pay off a loan the city of Irwindale gave the company. The terms of this new loan are not as favorable as the loan from the city of Irwindale, costing the company money. Tran felt that due to how the city had been acting towards his company, he had to do this to protect the brand. While it is unlikely Sriracha will stir up any trouble, this type of exposure would not have occurred without such aggressive moves by the city.

Incoming search terms for the article:

NBA Will Likely Slam Dunk Sterling in Upcoming Lawsuits

In the aftermath of his famous racist comments, billionaire Donald Sterling has hired a posse of lawyers. Apparently he is not willing to go down without a fight. In fact, as of May 16, Sterling’s lawyers wrote the NBA, stating Sterling is refusing to pay the $2.5 million in fines, and has threatened to sue the league. The letter claims Sterling is not in violation of any rules of the NBA constitution, and the NBA is violating Sterling’s due process rights by banning him and slapping him with such a huge fine.

donald sterling lawsuitA lot has been said about this case already, from violating California’s wiretapping laws, to free speech, to antitrust suits. The problem with evaluating those issues is that they all miss the point. This isn’t a case about privacy, free speech, or corporate regulation. It’s a case about a contract, and whether Sterling has lived up to the terms of that agreement. Quite simply, it doesn’t look like he has.

What about Free Speech and Due Process?

Any concerns about free speed or due process can be dismissed immediately, because the NBA is a private organization and not the government. There is a small exemption for private organizations that receive government support, but it’s tangential to this matter. Plain and simple, Sterling does not have free speech protection shielding him from recourse from being slam dunked by the NBA. Nor is he entitled to due process; it’s a unique argument to make, but as far as legal doctrine goes, it’s a foul.

What about Privacy?

How this communication was disseminated to the public is irrelevant. Therefore, wiretapping and privacy concerns are likely not material. The only remotely relevant argument Sterling can make is that under Article 13(a) of the NBA constitution, which requires violations to be “willful.” He can argue his acts were not willful violations because they were surreptitiously and secretly documented. The weakness with that argument is that the ‘willful’ standard is not only vague, thus open to the Board’s discretion, but it is widely reported and there is ample evidence to support that Sterling knew he was being recorded, yet continued to say the things he did. This fact diminishes an argument that his actions were not “willful,” and eliminates any expectation of confidentiality, a requirement under the wiretapping statute, and along with it any wiretapping claim he may have against anyone.

What Is This Case Really About?

At the heart of the issue is “the contract”—i.e. the terms of the NBA constitution. It’s being called a contract because Sterling signed onto certain terms that go along with owning an NBA team. Specifically, Article 13(d) bars NBA owners from violating contractual obligations, and in particular the owner’s obligation not to engage in unethical conduct, or to act in a way that is adverse to the NBA. Sterling’s conduct certain appears to fit this bill, considering his remarks caused sponsors to reconsider backing the Clippers and nearly lead to a boycott by the players.

Moreover, filing a suit could be more disastrous than Sterling realizes. Over an issue such as this, California’s discovery laws and depositions could leave what little is left of his private life exposed to public view and scrutiny.

Looking at the looming legal battle between a lone billionaire and a league of basketball superstars, the outcome seems clear, and even before the start of the game. Sterling, standing down court, with the clock shot winding down, is tossing the ball from across the court, hoping to score. But as the buzzer sounds, he isn’t even close.

Incoming search terms for the article: