OR Case Update: Google Reviews, Angie’s List and Yelp, Oh My! Are Consumer Reviews Protected by the First Amendment?

From the Desk of Jeffrey D. Eberhard: Is an online business review, that criticizes a business owner and her business entitled to protection under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution? Read on to see how the Oregon Supreme Court answered this question.

Claims Pointer: The Oregon Supreme Court held that statements provided on Google Reviews were an expression of opinion on matters of public concern which is protected under the First Amendment. This was the first occasion for the court to announce a framework for analyzing whether a defamatory statement is entitled to First Amendment protection. In an increasingly digital world, this case is important in the reverberating effect the court’s decision will likely have on protecting subjective opinion speech provided on websites or other social media.
Neumann v. Liles, 358 Or 706 (2016).

Christopher Liles (Liles) attended a wedding and reception held on Carol Neumann’s property (Neumann), Dancing Deer Mountain. Two days later, Liles posted a negative review about Neumann and her business on Google Reviews, a publicly accessible website where individuals may post comments about services or products received. The review was entitled, “Disaster!!!!! Find a different wedding venue,” and stated, among other things, “The worst wedding experience of my life…Carol (female owner) is two faced, crooked, and was rude to multiple guest[s]…In my opinion [s]he will find a why [sic] to keep your $500 deposit, and will try to make you pay even more.”

A few months later, Neumann and Dancing Deer Mountain filed a defamation claim for damages against Liles. Liles then filed a special motion to strike under Oregon’s Anti-Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (anti-SLAPP) statute. The trial court allowed Liles’s motion to strike and entered a judgment of dismissal of the defamation claim. Thereafter, the Oregon Court of Appeals reversed the judgment, concluding that Liles’s statements...

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