Yelp Inc. v. Superior CourtAnnotate this Case
Yelp Inc., operator of a website for consumer reviews, petitioned for a writ of mandate to overturn an order compelling its production of documents that may reveal the identity of an anonymous reviewer on its site. Yelp also appealed from a separate order imposing $4,962.59 in monetary sanctions against it for failing to comply with the subpoena requiring production of the documents. Gregory Montagna filed a lawsuit against Sandra Jo Nunis and several Doe defendants alleging a single cause of action for trade libel. Montagna, an accountant, prepared a tax return for Nunis in 2015, initially quoting Nunis a “minimum” fee of $200 for the preparation of her return, based on her representation that her income was comprised exclusively of wages reported on a W-2 form, and she would require only a simple return. However, both Nunis’ income and the resulting tax return were allegedly more complicated than she had represented. As a consequence, Montagna charged Nunis $400 for preparation of the return, rather than the $200 fee he initially quoted. Nunis allegedly paid Montagna only $200, and refused to pay him more even after receiving “a collection letter” for the balance. And in November 2015, Nunis allegedly went online to the Yelp website under an alias and posted a negative review of Montagna. Yelp argued the trial court's orders had to be reversed because: (1) the trial court erroneously concluded Yelp lacked standing to assert the First Amendment rights of its anonymous reviewer as grounds for resisting the subpoena; and (2) the court further erred by concluding Montagna made a prima facie showing the posted review contained defamatory statements. The Court of Appeal agreed the trial court erred in ruling Yelp lacked standing to assert the First Amendment rights of its anonymous reviewer, but found no error in its determination Montagna made a prima facie showing the challenged review was defamatory. The Court concluded the latter finding was sufficient to support the trial court’s order compelling Yelp to produce the subpoenaed documents in the circumstances of this case. Consequently, the Court denied the petition for writ of mandate. "However, given the dynamic nature of this area of law - the primary cases we rely upon were decided after the trial court issued its ruling - we also conclude Yelp’s opposition to Montagna’s motion to compel was substantially justified." Thus the Court reversed the order imposing sanctions against Yelp.