Court Rules New York Doctor Can Subpoena Yelp for User Info in Defamation Suit

By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

On October 7, 2021, the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled that Yelp is subject to a subpoena to reveal the names of anonymous users who left negative reviews for a doctor and his medical practice. The federal court judge found that the statements in the reviews made on Yelp contained factual claims that the doctor did have a legal right to contest in court. This is a factor that is usually missing in such cases. Accordingly, a motion for expedited discovery filed by the plaintiff physician was granted by the federal judge.

A Litigious History of Lawsuits.

The embattled physician has reportedly filed other lawsuits against reviewers for defamation. The doctor himself says he’s won or reached settlements with three of the negative reviewers, forcing them to take down their “false” reviews and paying an undisclosed amount of money.

Most recently, the physician filed suit in November 2020 against nine anonymous Yelp account-holders. According to the complaint, from November 2019 to August 2020, the users posted several reviews that contained statements that harmed his practice by making untrue and libelous comments.

In the present case we are discussing filed against the Yelp reviewer, the judge found that statements such as the physician “diluted” injectables and deceived patients about pricing to be factual statements. (The physician is apparently one who performs cosmetic procedures on patients like using botox and fillers.) Therefore, if they were false statements, as the physician alleged, this establishes a prima facie claim for defamation that courts have the authority to hear. According to the court’s order: “Because Plaintiff has alleged a prima facie case . . . and they cannot identify John Doe[s] without a court-ordered subpoena, the Court agrees that there is good cause to allow for early discovery.”  Click here to view the court’s opinion on our website.

I see this as a positive occurrence. Too often reviewers on Yelp, Google, Glass Door, and other such websites post egregious comments amounting to character assassination and libel, because they believe they can remain anonymous. And the owners of the websites fight tooth and toenail to avoid any liability and to avoid any co-operation when justice is sought by those harmed by their actions. We have had a number of cases we have handled where a “reviewer” uses a phony name and creates a phony user account just for the purpose of making a libelous, damaging review. Then, if caught, they just create a new phony account and re-post the same thing again. If the major carriers and websites like Yelp, Google, Bing, AOL, and Glass Door, want to remain free of liability, then they should co-operate when a person has to hire a lawyer and pursue legal action in order to obtain justice.

Is This Abusing the Legal System in An Effort to Stifle Free Speech?

Yelp reportedly warns users of the physician’s previous attempts to sue over negative reviews in a “Consumer Alert” pop-up notice on the doctor’s review page. Additionally, it reminds users, “reviewers who share their experiences have a First Amendment right to express their opinions on Yelp.”

Unlike a newspaper or television outlet, Yelp, Google, Glass Door, and other Internet carriers and websites enjoy immunity from liability for what they allow to be posted because of a federal law that protects them. Why are they given such a big advantage over more traditional media outlets? Why should they be?

In a separate lawsuit, a judge denied the effort by the same doctor to reveal the anonymous reviewer who wrote: “Cheap product and he’s absolutely not experienced nor does he care!!!!!” Yelp argued that the review is not defamatory as there is no statement of fact that can be proven true or false. The court agreed and found that the review used a “loose, figurative tone,” suggesting that the author expressed opinions rather than facts based on a negative experience.

Therefore, according to the court, the plaintiff was not able to make “a sufficient showing of prima facie defamation.” Click here to read the judge’s order in full in that case.

I disagree with the court’s ruling, however. Whether or not the physician has any experience is certainly a fact. It can easily be proven or disproven. It seems that if a doctor hung up a sign that said “Absolutely no Experience,” this would be perceived by most reasonable people to be a negative thing. I doubt that many people would be attracted to that doctor or his practice.

Key Takeaway From the Case.

The key takeaway from this case is that contrary to what Yelp’s pop-up notice implies, Yelp’s users have “implicitly agreed” to the release of their personal data if ordered by a court.

To learn more about fighting negative reviews on websites like Yelp as a healthcare professional, click here to read my prior blog.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Representing Health Care Professionals and Providers.

At the Health Law Firm, we provide legal services for all health care providers and professionals. This includes physicians, nurses, dentists, psychologists, psychiatrists, mental health counselors, Durable Medical Equipment suppliers, medical students and interns, hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, pain management clinics, nursing homes, and any other healthcare provider. We represent facilities, individuals, groups, and institutions in contracts, sales, mergers, and acquisitions.

The lawyers of The Health Law Firm are experienced in both formal and informal administrative hearings and in representing physicians in investigations and at Board of Medicine and Board of Osteopathic Medicine hearings. We represent physicians accused of wrongdoing, in patient complaints and in Department of Health investigations.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 and visit our website at www.ThehealthLawFirm.com.

Sources:

Capriel, Jonathan. “Doc Can Subpoena Yelp User Info In Botox Defamation Suit.” Law360. (October 7, 2021). Web.

Marza, Mike. “Manhattan doctor sues over Yelp reviews he says are false.” ABC 7NY. (November 19, 2019). Web.

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Suite 1000, Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620 or Toll-Free: (888) 331-6620.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of and a registered service mark of The Health Law Firm, P.A., a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 2021 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

 

 

Appeals Court Affirms $1.37 Million in Sanctions Against Doctor for Dismissed Defamation Suit Against Former Employers

George Indest HeadshotBy George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

On November 16, 2016, an appeals court in Texas affirmed a $1.37 million sanction assessed against a doctor. The doctor was ordered to pay the sanction after the dismissal of a defamation lawsuit he filed against his former employers. The doctor’s former employers were Baylor College of Medicine (Baylor) and Texas Children’s Hospital.

The case had previously been appealed to the Texas Supreme Court. This makes the November 16, 2016, opinion the second time the Texas Fourteenth Court of Appeals has had to rule on the case. Additionally, it is the second time that it has held that the sanctions against Dr. Rahul K. Nath were justified.

The Back Story of the Case.

According to the opinion, Dr. Nath was employed by Baylor as a plastic surgeon and was affiliated with Texas Children’s Hospital. He was allegedly terminated in 2004. In February 2006 he filed a lawsuit against his former supervisor at Baylor and Texas Children’s. According to court documents, Dr. Nath had accused his former supervisor of making defamatory statements about him after he stopped working there. The alleged defamatory statements included that Dr. Nath had been fired, was unqualified and lacked professional ethics and integrity.

To read the court opinion, click here.

Was the Former Employer Responsible for Accumulated Fees?

The Texas high court was considering whether the behavior of Baylor or Texas Children’s was ultimately responsible for the attorney’s fees that had been accrued in the case. Previously, the trial court found that both Texas Children’s and Baylor’s actions had not caused the litigation expenses which Dr. Nath was assessed. The trial court wrote that the amount was appropriate as it was “far less” than the actual fees incurred by either party in defending Dr. Nath’s claims.

On appeal, Dr. Nath argued that the trial court hadn’t held a proper evidentiary inquiry and that it had based its sanctions award on “conclusory and self-serving” affidavits. Dr. Nath claimed that he was wrongly denied discovery in the case. To learn more about Dr. Nath’s legal challenge, click here.

Despite Dr. Nath’s arguments, the court of appeals disagreed, holding that the trial court followed the Supreme Court’s instructions in deciding to impose the sanctions. Additionally, the court found that there was evidence in the record to support the conclusion that neither Texas Children’s nor Baylor’s conduct caused the legal expenses that were passed on to Dr. Nath as sanctions.

Adequate Supporting Evidence.

The first time the case came before the Fourteenth Court of Appeals, it affirmed the sanctions against Dr. Nath. The high court held that there was evidence to support the trial court’s finding of bad faith and improper purpose on Dr. Nath’s part with regard to certain filings in the case. Dr. Nath appealed, and the Texas Supreme Court held that the trial court didn’t abuse its discretion in finding the doctor had exercised bad faith and improper purpose in certain filings.

To learn more about defamatory statements and how to handle such claims, click here to read one of my prior blogs.

Contact Experienced Health Law Attorneys.

The Health Law Firm routinely represents physicians, pharmacists, dentists, nurses, medical groups, health facilities, nurses and other health providers in complex litigation, investigations, Medicare Audit defense, regulatory matters, licensing issues, litigation, inspections and audits involving the DEA, Department of Health (DOH) and other law enforcement agencies. Its attorneys include those who are board certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law as well as licensed health professionals who are also attorneys.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Sources:

Knaub, Kelly. “Texas Appeals Court Affirms Doc’s $1.3M Sanction.” Law360. (November 16, 2016). Web.

Knaub, Kelly. “Doc To Challenge $1.3M Sanction Before Texas High Court.” Law360. (January 15, 2014). Web.

“Texas Appeals Court Affirms Doc’s $1.3M Sanction.” LexisNexis. (November 16, 2016). Web.

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law is an attorney with The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Avenue, Altamonte Springs, Florida 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

KeyWords: Legal representation for physicians, complex health care litigation attorney, business litigation lawyer, health care professionals legal representation, physician lawyer, health law defense attorney, legal representation for defamatory statements against health care professionals, legal representation for defamation lawsuit against a healthcare professional, healthcare litigation defense attorney, legal counsel for health care professionals, legal representation for clients involved in the health care industry, reviews of The Health Law Firm, The Health Law Firm attorney reviews, The Health Law Firm, legal fees expert witness, attorney’s fees and sanctions expert witness, health care litigation expert witness, health law expert witness
“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of and a registered service mark of The Health Law Firm, P.A., a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 2016 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Appeals Court Affirms $1.37 Million in Sanctions Against Doctor for Dismissed Defamation Suit Against Former Employers

George Indest HeadshotBy George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

On November 16, 2016, an appeals court in Texas affirmed a $1.37 million sanction assessed against a doctor. The doctor was ordered to pay the sanction after the dismissal of a defamation lawsuit he filed against his former employers. The doctor’s former employers were Baylor College of Medicine (Baylor) and Texas Children’s Hospital.

The case had previously been appealed to the Texas Supreme Court. This makes the November 16, 2016, opinion the second time the Texas Fourteenth Court of Appeals has had to rule on the case. Additionally, it is the second time that it has held that the sanctions against Dr. Rahul K. Nath were justified.

The Back Story of the Case.

According to the opinion, Dr. Nath was employed by Baylor as a plastic surgeon and was affiliated with Texas Children’s Hospital. He was allegedly terminated in 2004. In February 2006 he filed a lawsuit against his former supervisor at Baylor and Texas Children’s. According to court documents, Dr. Nath had accused his former supervisor of making defamatory statements about him after he stopped working there. The alleged defamatory statements included that Dr. Nath had been fired, was unqualified and lacked professional ethics and integrity.

To read the court opinion, click here.

Was the Former Employer Responsible for Accumulated Fees?

The Texas high court was considering whether the behavior of Baylor or Texas Children’s was ultimately responsible for the attorney’s fees that had been accrued in the case. Previously, the trial court found that both Texas Children’s and Baylor’s actions had not caused the litigation expenses which Dr. Nath was assessed. The trial court wrote that the amount was appropriate as it was “far less” than the actual fees incurred by either party in defending Dr. Nath’s claims.

On appeal, Dr. Nath argued that the trial court hadn’t held a proper evidentiary inquiry and that it had based its sanctions award on “conclusory and self-serving” affidavits. Dr. Nath claimed that he was wrongly denied discovery in the case. To learn more about Dr. Nath’s legal challenge, click here.

Despite Dr. Nath’s arguments, the court of appeals disagreed, holding that the trial court followed the Supreme Court’s instructions in deciding to impose the sanctions. Additionally, the court found that there was evidence in the record to support the conclusion that neither Texas Children’s nor Baylor’s conduct caused the legal expenses that were passed on to Dr. Nath as sanctions.

Adequate Supporting Evidence.

The first time the case came before the Fourteenth Court of Appeals, it affirmed the sanctions against Dr. Nath. The high court held that there was evidence to support the trial court’s finding of bad faith and improper purpose on Dr. Nath’s part with regard to certain filings in the case. Dr. Nath appealed, and the Texas Supreme Court held that the trial court didn’t abuse its discretion in finding the doctor had exercised bad faith and improper purpose in certain filings.

To learn more about defamatory statements and how to handle such claims, click here to read one of my prior blogs.

Contact Experienced Health Law Attorneys.

The Health Law Firm routinely represents physicians, pharmacists, dentists, nurses, medical groups, health facilities, nurses and other health providers in complex litigation, investigations, Medicare Audit defense, regulatory matters, licensing issues, litigation, inspections and audits involving the DEA, Department of Health (DOH) and other law enforcement agencies. Its attorneys include those who are board certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law as well as licensed health professionals who are also attorneys.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Sources:

Knaub, Kelly. “Texas Appeals Court Affirms Doc’s $1.3M Sanction.” Law360. (November 16, 2016). Web.

Knaub, Kelly. “Doc To Challenge $1.3M Sanction Before Texas High Court.” Law360. (January 15, 2014). Web.

“Texas Appeals Court Affirms Doc’s $1.3M Sanction.” LexisNexis. (November 16, 2016). Web.

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law is an attorney with The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Avenue, Altamonte Springs, Florida 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

KeyWords: Legal representation for physicians, complex health care litigation attorney, business litigation lawyer, health care professionals legal representation, physician lawyer, health law defense attorney, legal representation for defamatory statements against health care professionals, legal representation for defamation lawsuit against a healthcare professional, healthcare litigation defense attorney, legal counsel for health care professionals, legal representation for clients involved in the health care industry, reviews of The Health Law Firm, The Health Law Firm attorney reviews, The Health Law Firm, legal fees expert witness, attorney’s fees and sanctions expert witness, health care litigation expert witness, health law expert witness
“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of and a registered service mark of The Health Law Firm, P.A., a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 2016 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

City of Fort Myers, Florida, Agrees to Pay $149,000 to Settle Dispute With Mental Health Facility

By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

On February 3, 2017, the city of Fort Myers, Florida, agreed to pay $149,000 to settle a discrimination-related real estate zoning and licensing dispute with Sovereign Health of Florida Inc., a rehabilitative mental health and addiction treatment provider.

Sovereign Health, which opened January 2015, filed a federal lawsuit alleging that the city of Fort Myers violated discrimination and disability laws by trying to shut it down after nearby residents started to complain about the center and the crime they believed it would bring to the community. According to the lawsuit, the city allegedly violated the rights of the provider’s disabled patients under Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations.

The Federal Suit.

In April 2015, Sovereign Health filed a complaint that stated that two years earlier, the treatment provider had met with representatives for the landowner to discuss entering into a long-term lease for the property. The representatives for the land owner then contacted the city to get a zoning verification letter, telling the city of Fort Myers the property would be used for onsite residential mental health treatment. Despite this, neighbors living near the facility learned about the facility’s use and began to complain that crime would increase as a result of the individuals living at Riverside. In response Sovereign Health stated in its complaint, “None of the complaints were based on any legitimate land use-based reason such as traffic or density. Instead, the complaints were based on illegitimate, irrational fears associated with the type of individuals (i.e., individuals in recovery from addiction) who were living at the Riverside Property.”

In its own response, the city of Fort Myers refused to accept Sovereign Health’s application for a business tax receipt license and issued a cease and desist order citing it for operating without a license. The city also reversed its zoning position, saying the facility was only allowed in an industrial zoning district, according to the complaint.

Terms of the Settlement.

As part of the settlement agreement, the city will pay a Tampa-based law firm $99,000, as well as cover any of Sovereign Health’s expenses up to $50,000 that enhance security for the facility and the surrounding residents. Security cameras, additional or improved lighting and gate improvements would all be covered. The facility at the center of the discrimination lawsuit will continue to operate as it has since first opening its doors, Sovereign Health said in a statement. The city of Fort Myers continues to dispute the discrimination claims and admits no wrongdoing, as part of the agreement.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced Investigations of Mental Health Counselors, Psychologists, Social Workers and Family Therapists.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm provide legal representation to mental health counselors, psychologists, social workers and family therapists in Department of Health (DOH) investigations, FBI investigations and other types of investigations of health professionals and providers.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Sources:

Hansen, Joyce. “Fort Myers, Fla., Settles With Sovereign Health For $149K.” Law360. (February 7, 2017). Web.

Dulaney, Corey. “Fort Myers spends $149K to settle drug rehab dispute.” News Press. (February 7, 2017). Web.

About the Author:  George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law is an attorney with The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Avenue, Altamonte Springs, Florida 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

KeyWords: Legal representation for mental health professionals, defense lawyer for mental health professionals and facilities, mental health professional defense attorney, health care discrimination defense attorney, legal representation for physicians, complex health care litigation attorney, business litigation lawyer, health care professionals legal representation, health law defense attorney, legal representation for discrimination against health care professionals and facilities, legal representation for discrimination lawsuit against a healthcare professional or facility, healthcare litigation defense attorney, legal counsel for health care professionals, legal representation for clients involved in the health care industry, reviews of The Health Law Firm, The Health Law Firm attorney reviews, The Health Law Firm

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of and a registered service mark of The Health Law Firm, P.A., a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 2017 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

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