As reported on Twitter the McMillan Law Group in San Diego has been sued by Yelp for posting fake reviews about itself. There is plenty of intrigue to this story.
According to Julian McMillan, the owner of the McMillan Law Group, the firm successfully sued Yelp in small claims court last year. McMillan says he is the only business to sue Yelp and win. The veracity of his statement has not been confirmed, but obviously there is some bad blood between the McMillan bankruptcy firm and Yelp. A small claims case means the McMillan Law Group sued Yelp directly and that it was not acting as legal counsel suing on behalf of a client. Attorney McMillan claims the Yelp lawsuit is a revenge claim.
Possibly. How many lawsuits has Yelp filed for false reviews? Even more limiting, how many lawsuits has Yelp filed for false reviews for which it seeks damages, punitive damages, attorneys fees and more?
Yelp submits numerous exhibits in support of its lawsuit in which it claims McMillan attorneys and a network of attorney friends were creating accounts on Yelp and immediately posting glowing reviews about the McMillan firm. There is no indication in the lawsuit of whether Yelp attempted to match the names of reviewers with persons filing for bankruptcy. This should be a simple task and it is a little surprising it was not done to confirm whether or not fake reviews were being submitted.
If we assume Yelp is correct, that fake reviews were submitted to its site, what are its remedies? It could ban the McMillan firm from accessing its site. Again, interestingly, there is no indication it has done so.
It could seek an injunction prohibiting further false reviews, and that is one legitimate claim in the Yelp lawsuit.
Beyond that the validity of claims starts to get murky and sympathy for Yelp starts to diminish. Yelp claims breach of contract, but is unable to specify an amount of damages – probably because there are none.
Then Yelp starts claiming interference with its business contracts and seeking punitive damages. Again, proving damages is likely to be difficult for Yelp and punitive damages most unlikely. Yelp, of course, is unable to allege a single contract that was interfered with and claims like that are headed for a quick dismissal.
Now the “over charging” starts to appear as if this is a revenge lawsuit. On top of that not only did Yelp sue the McMillan law firm, but it also singled out Julian McMillan to sue individually. A closer read of the lawsuit also indicates the “fake” reviews by the McMillan attorneys supposedly occurred more than three years ago. Three years! The alleged favorable reviews from friends were in 2012, but going after three year old posts makes one wonder, what happened to now invoke a lawsuit instead of simply deleting the reviews? My suspicion is McMillan’s small claims lawsuit against Yelp.
No word on whether Yelp filed a claim with the California State Bar, that given the tenor of claims that seems likely. There will probably be counter accusations to the Bar based on frivolous legal claims in the lawsuit. It will be interesting to see what happens.
Bottom line: a public pissing match where one would have expected better from both a law firm and a major online site.