A judge's order that a Yelp user alter her Yelp review accusing a contractor of theft and sloppy work for the duration of a defamation case was overturned by the Virginia Supreme Court this week.
The Yelp user, Jane Perez, hired Christopher Dietz of Washington, D.C., for more than $50,000 worth of home improvement projects in 2011. Perez was unhappy with the work of Dietz's crew and fired them. Soon afterward, $2,500 in jewelry was stolen from Perez's home.
Perez put the blame on Dietz, posting accusations of theft and shoddy work against him on Yelp and other similar websites in early 2012, according to Ars Technica. Dietz denied the theft allegations and later sued Perez for defamation and an injunction against her online comments.
That injunction, which would have required Perez to go back and remove some or all of her scalding commentary and accusations until the case is finished, was approved by a lower judge last month. Injunctions are commonly used by judges to put a stop to a behavior until its legality is determined by court proceedings.
Upon hearing of the judge's order, two free speech groups Public Citizen and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a joint petition for Virginia's Supreme Court to review the injunction. Two days later, the higher court overturned the injunction.
"If plaintiffs think all they have to do to get something shut down about them is run to court and ask for it, a lot more are going to do that," Paul Allen Levy, a lawyer with Public Citizen, told Ars. "It shouldn't be easy to shut down speech, it should be hard. The win in the Virginia Supreme Court restores that balance. Defamation law is to protect people who are being truly defamed."