Recensione di uno studio legale su Google e diffamazione

La recensione dell’operato di un avvocato , costituita dall’avergli assegnato una sola stellina (su 5 , come parrebbe desumersi in Google Maps) e null’altro (cioè senza aggiunta di parole), non costituisce diffamazione.

Così la Corte di appello del Michigan, 18.03.2021, Gursten c. John doe1 e altri, No.352225, Oakland Circuit Court ,LC No.2019-171503-NO.

Così già la corte di primo grado (confermata) :

<<A one-star review is pure opinion and is not a statement capable of being defamatory. Even if the review implies that John Doe 2 had an experience with [p]laintiffs as [p]laintiffs contend, the Court does not find that this implication would render what would otherwise be pure opinion, defamatory. The implication of an experience with [p]laintiffs is not a defamatory implication regardless of whether it is provable as false. The Court has not been presented with []authority for the contention that a one-star review[,]standing alone[,]is defamatory because it was posted anonymously or pseudonymously.Moreover, in considering the context of the review, the Court cannot ignore that the one-star review at issue in this case was made on Google Review. Such websites are well-recognized places for anyone to place an opinion. Within this context, an ordinary [I]nternet reader understands that such comments are mere statements of opinion. To hold that the pseudonymous review in this case is defamatory would make nearly all negative anonymous or pseudonymous [I]nternet reviews susceptible to defamation claims.Because the court finds that the one-star review is not a statement capable of being defamatory, [p]laintiffs’ claim for defamation and business defamation fail as a matter of law>>

L’avvocato attore aveva negato di aver mai avuto quel cliente e attribuiva la recensione ad un collega (competitor attorney, p. 2 in nota 1).

Per la corte di appello è centrale appurare se prevalga l’onore o il diritto di parola e di critica, p. 4.

E conclude che <<a one-star wordless review posted on Google Review is an expression of opinion protected bythe First Amendment. Edwards, 322 Mich App at 13. We have previouslyheld that “[t]he context and forum in which statements appear also affect whether a reasonable reader would interpret the statements as asserting provable facts.” Ghanam, 303 Mich App at 546 (quotation marks and citations omitted). In the context of Internet message boards and similar opinion-based platforms, statements “are generally regarded as containing statements of pure opinion rather than statements or implications of actual, provable fact…. Indeed, the very fact that most of the posters [on Internet message boards] remain anonymous, or pseudonymous, is a cue to discount their statements accordingly.” Id. at 546-547 (quotation marks and citations omitted). As plaintiffs note, Google Review is an online consumer review service where posters can share their subjective experience with, among otherthings, a business, a professional, or a brand. We therefore conclude that Google Review is no different than the[I]nternet message boards in Ghanam; that is,it containspurely a poster’s opinions,which are afforded First Amendment protection>>, p. 5.

Per l’avvocato attore la <<one-star Google review was a defamatory statement by implication. Plaintiffs assert that “Google review is an [I]nternet-based consumer review service” where individuals can post reviews of a business or professional on the basis of their actual experience; therefore, by posting a wordless one-star Google review, the poster implies that hisor her experience with that business was a negative one. . Because Doe 2 failed to establish that he or she was a prospective, former, or current client, plaintiffs contend that the review is defamatory as it was implied that Doe 2 had an actual attorney-client experience and received legal services from plaintiffs.>>

Ma per la corte spettava all’avvocato provare che la recensione era  <<materially false. American Transmission, Inc, 239 Mich App at 702. Indeed, plaintiffs do not even know Doe 2’s true identity. While plaintiffs urge this Court to assume Doe 2 is a competitor-attorney because Doe 1 was identified as such, this is mere speculation without any factual basis>>.

Sul punto però si è formata una dissenting opinion che ritiene opportuno indagare proprio la questione della falsità o verità del post in questione,anche se vede difficile la posizione del’avvocato attore: <<At this point, we must assume that which plaintiffs’ have alleged—the poster’s expressed opinion rested on nothing more than economic or personal animus, not actual experience. I would remand to permit the parties to conduct discovery focused on identifying the poster and determining whether he or she was truly a client of the firm or a person who had otherwise had an unsatisfactory interaction with it. That said, plaintiffs have a difficult road ahead. Despite that Milkovich does not preclude their claim at this stage, the First Amendment does offer substantial protection of John Doe 2’s right to opine regarding plaintiffs’ competence, work product, and legal abilities. If a substantially true implication or real facts underlieJohn Doe 2’s opinion, the First Amendment likely shields him or her from tort liability. As a matter of constitutional law, however, it is too early to make that determination>> (dissenting opinion del giudice Gleicher).

Caso interessante, dato che le decisioni sulla offensività delle recensioni in internet sono poche (qualcuna su Tripadvisor, anche italiana) e ancor meno sull’operato di un avvocato.

(notizia e link alla sentenza e alla dissenting opinion tratti dal blog di Eric Goldman)