Criticize Your Dentist? That's a Jailin'

Law

Confession time: I've always been a little nervous at the dentist. X-rays pointed at my head? Poking my mouth with sharp objects? Using rotating buffers with unidentifiable grape-flavored goo on my teeth? Prone in a awkward chair? Not if I can help it. My dentist is a distant cousin who I've seen my whole life and I still feel like he or his staff might go all Laurence-Olivier-versus-Dustin-Hoffman on me at any moment.

So you can imagine that I'd never trust a dentist who reacts to negative online reviews by having his lawyer threaten the reviewer with criminal charges. Would you?

The dentist in question is Dr. William T. Coppola at Northeastern Children's Dentistry in Texas.

A woman who uses the Yelp username "Jen B" took her daughter to see Dr. Coppola. Afterwards, dissatisfied with the experience, she left this review on Yelp:

I would never recommend this place to anyone. It is nice and clean. But the people are very pushy. I feel like they are doing more dental work than required. I went with a referral from a general dentist and they only spoke down to me about him, my child and came up with about 7 other teeth that had "issues" etc. They are seriously just out there for the money. Funny how when I went to a different dentist for another opinion they sided with MY dentist!!! DO NOT GO HERE.

Dr. Coppola did not like this review. He hired Isabel de la Riva of de la Riva & Associates in San Antonio, Texas. Ms. de la Riva sent a threatening letter — a letter notable for its thuggish bogosity, even by my jaded standards. In the letter Ms. de la Riva demanded that Jen B. take down her Yelp review.

Your willfully false and defamatory comments including that my client is "just out there for the money" are false. Our initial investigation shows that your review was written PRIOR to even seeing another dentist for a second opinion; and that when you did receive that second opinion at a later date, the diagnosis you received was the same or extremely similar to the one you received from Dr. Coppola. Please note that your post to encourage individuals on the internet to "not go here" is actionable. There are numerous lawsuits regarding these types of issues, and the Courts have found that in actions where misinformation is provided, there is serious financial exposure for each and every one of the defamatory comments you have made. If our investigation shows that your actions have resulted in damages to our client and its several locations in Texas, we will pursue legal action against you.

Ms. de la Riva did not explain how, consistent with the right to medical privacy, she could have learned what other dentists told Jen B. As you will see later, that representation is questionable.

But Ms. de la Riva was not done. She went on to threaten Jen B. with criminal charges:

You are hereby on notice that if you fail to retract your libelous post on yelp.com that we will recommend to our client that he pursue legal action against you. Dr. Coppola has already consulted with the authorities regarding criminal charges and the Guadalupe District Attorney's Office stated that placing intentional false information on the internet can result in a felony charge of internet business defamation and libel. Although we have encouraged our client to pursue this avenue, he has not done so, mostly in deference to the military service of your husband. Dr. Coppola is a staunch supporter of the military and offers military discounts to his patients, such as yourself. However, he understands that if this matter is not rectified, that he must pursue all options at his disposal to protect his reputation of 33 years of exemplary service to his patients.

I don't know whether Dr. Coppola did, in fact, consult with the DA's office, or what Ms. de la Riva has told him about the likelihood of criminal defamation charges. If Ms. de la Riva told Dr. Coppola that charges were likely — if she sincerely believes that her threat to Jen B. has teeth — then she's a fool. Texas used to have a criminal libel law, but seems to have repealed it as of 1974.1 I do not find a Texas statute criminalizing "internet business defamation and libel." Texas, like some other states, has industry-specific criminal libel statutes that special interests have obtained through lobbying, so in Texas it can be a crime to libel financial associations.2 I am informed and believe that dentists are not classified as financial associations. Even if Texas retained such a statute, criminal libel prosecutions have become extraordinarily rare. Even if such prosecutions were still common, no prosecutor is going to charge someone based on a Yelp review.

Ms. de la Riva was, therefore, entirely full of shit to suggest that Jen B. faced criminal charges. Was she ignorantly full of shit, or deceitfully full of shit? That's a question for the philosophers; neither option reflects well on her as a lawyer.

Ms. de la Riva's contemptible threat, sent on behalf of Dr. Coppola, was initially "successful." Jen B. reacted the way many non-lawyers would — she took the Yelp post down out of fear. She was intimidated.

But then Jen B. reached out for help. Someone referred her to me. I put out a mini-Popehat Signal on Twitter, and the entirely awesome Texas attorney Leif Olson responded.

Leif Olson brought the heat. I was looking for someone who could send a letter backing de la Riva and Dr. Coppola off, and holy shit, did Leif ever do that. He sent one of the most thorough, persuasive, and crushing refutations of a bogus legal threat I have ever seen. Enjoy it here in all its hyperlinked glory. Leif eviscerates de la Riva's suggestion that Jen B.'s Yelp review was false or actionable, lays out the pertinent authority showing that her opinion was utterly protected, and sets forth the world of hurt de la Riva and Dr. Coppola face under Texas' anti-SLAPP statute if they pursue Jen B.

Leif also mentions — as he ought — a relevant provision of the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct:

Rule 4.04 Respect for Rights of Third Persons

(a) In representing a client, a lawyer shall not use means that have no substantial purpose other than to embarrass, delay, or burden a third person, or use methods of obtaining evidence that violate the legal rights of such a person.

(b) A lawyer shall not present, participate in presenting, or threaten to present:

(1) criminal or disciplinary charges solely to gain an advantage in a civil matter; or

(2) civil, criminal or disciplinary charges against a complainant, a witness, or a potential witness in a bar disciplinary proceeding solely to prevent participation by the complainant, witness or potential witness therein.

No doubt Ms. de la Riva would argue that her bumptious and bogus threat of criminal prosecution wasn't "solely" to gain an advantage in a civil matter. Good luck with that argument.

Leif ends with a crowning moment of awesome:

Dr. Coppola's behavior isn't that of a man with an "impeccable record" or an "excellent reputation." It is the behavior of a prideful and hubristic man. It is, as you perhaps revealed in the first paragraph of your threat letter, the behavior of a covetous man-a man of envy and jealousy who lashes out at anyone who threatens his hoard.

It is the behavior of a thug. Thugs are not to be rewarded, and Jen B does not surrender to this one.

Damn right.

Leif Olson helped Jen B. pro bono, at her request and mine, because Leif Olson is awesome. He did a bang-up job. If Ms. de la Riva or Dr. Coppola raise their heads again, I'm sure he will continue to do an excellent job, and I'm confident I will have no problems finding other Texas lawyers to step up to help Jen B. and Leif.

America has a First Amendment; Texas has a very good anti-SLAPP statute. But for all of that free speech is vulnerable to frivolous and malicious legal threats like this one. Legally speaking, there are defenses; practically speaking, in a system in which a legal defense is expensive and uncertain, freedom depends on the willingness of people like Leif Olson to step up and give pro bono help to people like Jen B. We need more lawyers like Leif Olson, and more non-lawyers willing to back them up. Will you be one?

Note: I sought a comment from Ms. de al Riva, but did not receive a response.

  1. The legislative report reflecting the re-numbering of the Texas Penal Code and the repeal of former section 1275 is here. The case noting its repeal — the last Texas case I could find describing a criminal libel prosecution there — is Shackleford v. State, 516 S.W.2d 180 (Tex. Crim. App. 1974) ("Articles 1269 through 1292, V.A.P.C. (1925), have been repealed in toto by the new Penal Code effective January 1, 1974, Acts 1973, 63rd Legislature, Chapter 399, Section 3, Page 994.")  
  2. It's also a separate civil wrong to libel perishable food. Don't be mean to hamburger meat, because the cattle industry has more money than God.  

Last 5 posts by Ken White

138 Comments

133 Comments

  1. Grifter  •  Jun 25, 2013 @1:58 pm

    Not really on topic, but I have to go to the endodontist yet again tomorrow, after what appears to be a root canal gone bad.

    My fourth root canal, no less, with I suspect more on the way in the near future. The more I go to the dentist, oral surgeon, and endodontist, the more I realize how very little we've advanced in the world of dentistry.

  2. mcinsand  •  Jun 25, 2013 @2:05 pm

    Definitely NAL here, so I have to ask; is there any chance that this gets the attention of the Texas bar? Also, it sounds like Ms. de la Riva could use a Yelp review of her own to make sure others are aware of her legal incompetence.

  3. Darryl  •  Jun 25, 2013 @2:10 pm

    Olson's response makes me proud to be a Texas litigator. mcinsand, the usual way in which the State Bar is made aware of things is by someone filing a complaint. So, if that does not happen, it would be an extreme longshot that they would do anything.

  4. Nicholas Weaver  •  Jun 25, 2013 @2:13 pm

    Wow, that is incandescent. And de la Riva doesn't have to worry, this letter will follow her all around the Internet, acting as a great review of her legal talent.

  5. Anonymous  •  Jun 25, 2013 @2:20 pm

    Bragging about HIPAA violations seems like it ought to be enough to invite the ire of the Bar, the OCR and the DOJ.

    It would also be worthwhile for her lawyer to follow up with the DA about whether any advice was given or even requested (doubt it).

    Sounds like there was a lot of lying going on there, and IMO that should be grounds for disbarment, really no excuse for any supposed officer of the court behaving like that.

  6. Tyson  •  Jun 25, 2013 @2:21 pm

    My first thought after read Mr. Olsen's letter.

    Daaaaaaaaammmmmmmmmmmmnnnnn!

    That has to be one of the most eviscerating letters that I have ever read. Mr. Olsen if you read this, I tip my hat to you.

  7. crankytexanattny  •  Jun 25, 2013 @2:23 pm

    Wow. All I have to say to Mr. Olson is "well done."
    Also, I almost spit out my tea when I got to the line about 'Hungarian Erotica.'

  8. tmitsss  •  Jun 25, 2013 @2:24 pm

    Is it safe?

  9. Grifter  •  Jun 25, 2013 @2:26 pm

    I question whether it's really a HIPAA violation; assuming it's a true claim, the real reason for looking at the information was poor, but undoubtedly she authorized them to obtain any information they need from her primary care dentist, and that form may have included some kind of "or others".

    The crappy dentist then says he looked into it because there was a claimed discrepancy between what they saw and what the other doctor saw, and they have a HIPAA release, so (the logic would go) in order to reconcile that and provide the best treatment, they got the information from Doc 2.

    Of course, I strongly doubt that it was anything but an empty claim that was assuming the claim without any evidence.

  10. baltassoc  •  Jun 25, 2013 @2:28 pm

    Nice. And he doesn't even go with the strongest refuge of a defamation defendant: that truth is a defense and is therefore discoverable subject matter. Sure would be interesting to have an expert review the records of Dr. Coppola's cases to independently assess whether he does, in fact, tend to recommend services that are not actually needed.

  11. Jose Fish Taco  •  Jun 25, 2013 @2:29 pm

    Jeez, Leif really laid some wood down on that one.

    Nice work.

  12. Erwin  •  Jun 25, 2013 @2:30 pm

    The real question being…did she get her (well-deserved) handwritten letter of apology?

    –Erwin

  13. Votre  •  Jun 25, 2013 @2:32 pm

    OMG what a letter!

    Chuck Norris is offering to have a sex change operation just so s/he can have Leif Olson's baby.

  14. Sadly, I am not a lawyer.

    I AM, however, a resident of central Texas with an overdeveloped sense of righteous indignation towards thuggery who has numerous cousins who practice dentistry in the San Antonio area, two of whom who are also esteemed professors at the dental college.

  15. JP  •  Jun 25, 2013 @2:37 pm

    OMG! Just read Olsen's response letter. It is a thing of beauty! Especially the part about 'Hungarian Porn'!

  16. jackn  •  Jun 25, 2013 @2:42 pm

    This is awesome. I hope they double down!

  17. Dan Weber  •  Jun 25, 2013 @2:43 pm

    You are prone in the chair???

    What kind of dentist is this??

  18. (That is to say I'm tempted to call up some cousins and see if any of them have heard of this douche canoe.)

  19. Matthew  •  Jun 25, 2013 @2:55 pm

    I don't usually like to get authorities involved with pretty much everything, but this should at least be reported to attorney regulation. This "attorney" pretty much lies throughout her entire letter while breaking numerous other ethical rules (as Leif points out).

  20. McFate  •  Jun 25, 2013 @3:04 pm

    Olsen's letter demands a response by May 22, so this was all a while back. Would be interesting to know where the story stands today.

    Did Jen get her apology?

    Also, I doubt we'll ever hear, but: it would also be interesting to know the Dentist's level of satisfaction with de la Riva, after he saw what sort of hot water (for him) her thuggery could have yielded. Maybe he can leave her a negative Yelp review.

  21. John Cleveland  •  Jun 25, 2013 @3:11 pm

    I see that the letter required a response by the 22nd of May. Any chance we could see the reply, and possibly that hand written apology letter from the Dentist?

  22. Bear  •  Jun 25, 2013 @3:13 pm

    In these little analyses, I've come to be amazed by how often I look at the initial threatening/intimidating lawyerese and think, "Wait; isn't that wrong because [xyz]?" and then read the resulting takedown like Mr. Olson's only to find that, indeed, it was wrong because [xyz].

    I'm no lawyer, no paralegal; I've never made more than a cursory study of laws on particular areas of concern. Yet, I can tell when someone like Ms.de la Riva is so full of excrement that her eyes are turning brown and cotton swabs just can't do the job in the ears anymore. So my next question(s) is…

    Where can I find the lot of Cracker Jacks with the free bar admission certificates and law diplomas?

  23. S  •  Jun 25, 2013 @3:16 pm

    On the Northeast Children's Dentistry Website, the doctor's name is listed as WILLIAM T Coppola, not NICHOLAS (not to troll – just don't want an innocent person defamed, just in case anyone has the other name).

  24. babaganusz  •  Jun 25, 2013 @3:18 pm

    mmm… Hungarian eotica.

  25. aczarnowski  •  Jun 25, 2013 @3:20 pm

    [insert animated .gif of Citizen Kane clapping here]

    Well done Sirs!

  26. babaganusz  •  Jun 25, 2013 @3:21 pm

    Had Jen B intended to inflict upon Dr. Coppola the same anxiety or dread or worry that he hoped to inflict with his threat letter, this would instead be a letter enclosing…

    exquisite!

  27. Ygolonac  •  Jun 25, 2013 @3:22 pm

    Grifter – requesting protected healthcare information from another provider in the course of providing care *is* a legit thing; doing so to correlate Our Info with Their Info is probably also legit. (Don't feel like crossing the hall to ask the HIPAA monkeys at the moment.)

    Divulging said PHI to an attorney in the course of a civil claim (or the arguably bullshit "criminal" one), well, that's a whole different kettle of worms… of course, the Release of Information forms might have fineprinted a "legal consultation" weasel-deal in there, but IMO doing that should result in a judicial stinkeye, as that's got nothing whatsoever to do with providing medical services.

    (IANAL or aforementioned HIPAA-monkey, YMMV, et cetera.)

  28. He really said that...?!?  •  Jun 25, 2013 @3:25 pm

    That letter was glorious. One of the statements I really liked:
    "Exaggerating for effect has a long, protected tradition in the United States…"
    Not only that, it's a national sport.

    Also, "If Dr. Coppola's grasp of dentistry is anything like his grasp of the First Amendment, it's no wonder that all of his patients need dentures."

  29. GrimGhost  •  Jun 25, 2013 @3:26 pm

    Leif Olson even waves the flag: Jen B's husband is a military officer who is asked to fight and die to protect the freedom of speech that the dentist want to take away from Jen B. Oh, this guy is good!

  30. xbradtc  •  Jun 25, 2013 @3:47 pm

    I'm usually supine in my dentist's chair.

  31. Al  •  Jun 25, 2013 @4:02 pm

    Man, they must have paid Yelp a pretty penny to completely expunge themselves.

  32. Ben  •  Jun 25, 2013 @4:07 pm

    I was just googling around for a little more information about this (did she get that apology letter? Is Dr. Coppola's reputation in tatters?) and this result came up (http://ifaq.us/aggregator/categories/5). They appear to have copied this post wholesale, amusingly including this statement at the end:

    Criticize Your Dentist? That's a Jailin' © 2007-2013 by the authors of Popehat. This feed is for personal, non-commercial use only. Using this feed on any other site is a copyright violation. No scraping.

    Of course their tagline says "100% pro-individual liberty. Every issue. Every time. No exceptions. No excuses." so it must be okay

  33. wgering  •  Jun 25, 2013 @4:11 pm

    +100 internet points for "thisissparta.pdf"

  34. ULTRAGOTHA  •  Jun 25, 2013 @4:13 pm

    Ygolonac

    Divulging said PHI to an attorney in the course of a civil claim (or the arguably bullshit "criminal" one), well, that's a whole different kettle of worms… of course, the Release of Information forms might have fineprinted a "legal consultation" weasel-deal in there, but IMO doing that should result in a judicial stinkeye, as that's got nothing whatsoever to do with providing medical services.

    Without a subpoena I cannot think of any legitimate way William Coppola could have shared that Protected Health Information (PHI) with his lawyer under HIPAA. Not even under a “legal consultation” weasel-deal. PHI is governed by the Health Care Privacy and Accountability Act (HIPAA) not by individually created disclosure forms. PHI may be disclosed to a covered entity for Treatment, Payment and Health Care reasons and only the minimum necessary information may be disclosed.

    http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/privacy/hipaa/understanding/coveredentities/usesanddisclosuresfortpo.html

  35. TerryTowels  •  Jun 25, 2013 @4:13 pm

    When I went to the "in all it's hyperlinked glory" site, all I got was a fully redacted pdf. I guess that tweet to Mr. Obama didn't go over so well with the NSA.

  36. AlphaCentauri  •  Jun 25, 2013 @4:22 pm

    @TerryTowels — the links work for me, though they're in faint green text. Maybe you have safety features in place for your browser/pdf reader that have to be disabled?

  37. TerryTowels  •  Jun 25, 2013 @4:30 pm

    Alpha, thanks, *unlock, thunk, screech* try again, nope *lock, thunk, screech*

    Hm. Guess I'll have to rely on the rest of you for the choice bits.

  38. Jazzy Hands  •  Jun 25, 2013 @5:04 pm

    Ken,

    I wish I could send you and Mr. Olsen a karmic beer credit. Quick! To the patentorium!

  39. Some Random Commenter  •  Jun 25, 2013 @5:12 pm

    I've made a pastebin with the Yelp review, and context. Feel free to spread it anywhere you can think of.

    http://pastebin.com/7VUnDrzZ

  40. Andrew Roth  •  Jun 25, 2013 @5:13 pm

    As I alluded to before (quite recently, in fact), I like dentists. I've even considered applying to dental school, since dentistry seems a tolerable enough line of work.

    That said, I suspect that dentists stand a somewhat elevated risk of going into full-steam career fugues such as Dr. Coppola commenced with help from Ms. de la Riva (who, incidentally, ought to eat her humble pie right now unless she'd like to retire soon, since this case may become an albatross around her neck). Unless they really enjoy their work or have no other serious deferred aspirations, dentists are prone to existential dread, to wondering, "Why the hell have I just spent thirty years doing the same goddamn thing over and over again in a nondescript office park in suburban San Antonio? Why didn't I become a diplomat/college professor/lawyer/cowboy?"

    Less often do dentists have to ask why they didn't become physicians. Many of them were rejected by medical schools, went to dental school as a fallback, and have a chip on the shoulder because they ended up in a nominally inferior career. This usually amounts to distress over failed status-whoring. Some types of medicine may be more interesting than dentistry, but so may some types of nursing, as may all sorts of other work with even less pay, credentialing and esteem. (BTW, resentment, condescension and mistrust between nurses and physicians is overwhelmingly bullshit contrived by the whiniest status whores in each profession, the ones whose competent and decent colleagues are inclined to forcibly silence them, Charles Cullen-style.) The actual work of oral and maxillofacial surgery, for example, is more pleasant than the actual work of general dentistry only if one truly enjoys solving complicated, hours-long anatomical problems. It takes a special person to be a surgeon, and a lot of dentists, like the vast majority of the population at large, are just too lazy and inattentive to hack it. Medical residencies in general are a bitch, so pouting about one's rejection from medical school is a bit ignorant. Plenty of physicians get burnt out. It's a lot more sensible for a dentist to recognize that even if his neighbors don't esteem him as highly (and unctuously) as they might esteem him for being a physician, even if he's a beta loser in the professional rankings used by status-whoring idiots, and even if his job is tedious and unfulfilling, he has a more or less tolerable job with regular and reasonable hours, likely in a fully equipped office that he can sell to a colleague for a lot of money.

  41. James Pollock  •  Jun 25, 2013 @5:13 pm

    "Without a subpoena I cannot think of any legitimate way William Coppola could have shared that Protected Health Information (PHI) with his lawyer under HIPAA. Not even under a “legal consultation” weasel-deal."

    Did you miss this part?
    "unless authorized by patients"
    It's right on the page you linked to.

  42. David Shulman  •  Jun 25, 2013 @5:14 pm

    Reminds me of the Seinfeld "Anti-Dentite" episode.

  43. James Pollock  •  Jun 25, 2013 @5:17 pm

    Although there has been mention of the Texas bar, I would assume that referral to the board of dentistry (or whatever Texas calls it) might be interested in a claim that there is a dentist recommending unnecessary dental procedures.

  44. That Anonymous Coward  •  Jun 25, 2013 @5:54 pm

    Foot note 2 is well known to Oprah.

  45. nlp  •  Jun 25, 2013 @5:56 pm

    TerryTowels, I had the same problem, but figured out how to read the letter. If you mouse over the pdf, some grey boxes appear at the bottom. One of the symbols read: Open PDF in Preview, and when I clicked on that I got a readable copy. Hope this helps.

  46. Black Betty  •  Jun 25, 2013 @5:56 pm

    That was the MOTHER of all responses. Holy crap.

  47. macphile  •  Jun 25, 2013 @6:02 pm

    Sweet merciful heavens, when will people learn not to overreact to things on the internet? When will people stop responding to trolls? Or threatening negative reviewers? Or anything? Don't they know what's going to happen?

    One of the more exhilarating cases was the one between Ralph Lauren and Photoshop Disasters. PD posted a horrifically PSed Lauren ad, and everyone had a good laugh, as they do. It would have wound up forgotten in the archives if Lauren hadn't sent a threatening letter. The blogger basically wrote back to the lawyer telling him to go eff himself. It all got picked up by HuffPo and other outlets. And for bonus points, Lauren even fired the PSed model for being "too fat." It's brilliant how no one would have ever noticed or cared about that ad had Lauren let it go. And it's brilliant to me that people probably wouldn't have cared that much about Jen's review had the dentist not lost his sh*t over it.

    Attention, people! You are the source of all of your own problems! Pass it on!

  48. Random Linker  •  Jun 25, 2013 @6:18 pm

    The dentist's FB page is here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Northeast-Childrens-Dentistry/268691136513812

    And the lawyer's is here: https://www.facebook.com/delarivalaw

    The lawyer also has twitter, and google+ accounts: http://www.twitter.com/delarivalaw ; https://plus.google.com/116044272535711273215/posts

    You may find it worth your time to post questions about this topic on those pages.

  49. Black Betty  •  Jun 25, 2013 @6:24 pm

    Ken,

    I just checked. Jen B's Yelp Review is not there. I read Olson's very amazing letter and got the impression that her review would be re-posted, along with the legal threat that De La "Cry Me a Riva" sent her.

    But it's not there. Any word on this?

  50. TerryTowels  •  Jun 25, 2013 @6:44 pm

    @NLP Thanks, tried it, got the TOC only. Maybe I need to upgrade my adobe. (Tried googling too, comes here). Ah well, it just sounds so delicious.

  51. Mark - Lord of the Albino Squirrels  •  Jun 25, 2013 @7:01 pm

    Olson's letter needs a good soundtrack song.

    Carmina Burana? Something from Holst's Planets? Or maybe just use Feed Me from Little Shop of Horrors?

    It *is* about a dentist,
    who sure looks like plant food to me.

  52. LW  •  Jun 25, 2013 @7:04 pm

    Is there a link to de la Riva's letter somewhere? It appears that she demanded a monetary settlement (Olson: "a bullying letter that demands money") and I wonder what it was.

  53. Joe Pullen  •  Jun 25, 2013 @7:14 pm

    Good to know Lief is here in Texas. But I still hate going to the dentist. My dentist. . . . .pokes my gums with sharp pointy instrument of death. Then says "your gums are bleeding because you don't floss."

  54. Black Betty  •  Jun 25, 2013 @7:24 pm
  55. Black Betty  •  Jun 25, 2013 @7:25 pm

    *don't* do what he says…

  56. jackn  •  Jun 25, 2013 @7:33 pm

    The dentist's FB page is here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Northeast-Childrens-Dentistry/268691136513812

    I guess she generalizes

  57. jackn  •  Jun 25, 2013 @7:35 pm

    Dang.. that was supposed to be delariva's

    And the lawyer's is here: https://www.facebook.com/delarivalaw

  58. Kat  •  Jun 25, 2013 @8:03 pm

    @That Anonymous Coward

    Dammit, beat me to it.

    We talked about that case tonight in my business law class, actually.

  59. The Referrer  •  Jun 25, 2013 @8:38 pm

    Ken, thanks for taking this and putting it out on the signal-wire.

  60. ChrisTS  •  Jun 25, 2013 @8:49 pm

    "Was she ignorantly full of shit, or deceitfully full of shit?"

    We philosophers would expand the question, of course: was she recklessly full of shit, negligently full of shit, utterly full of shit? Just for a start.

  61. C. S. P. Schofield  •  Jun 25, 2013 @8:59 pm

    Oooooooo, THAT'S gonna leave a mark!

  62. efemmeral  •  Jun 25, 2013 @9:54 pm

    Regretsy: Chapter Two.

  63. LTMG  •  Jun 25, 2013 @9:58 pm

    Aside from collecting a fee, what are the motivations for an attorney to participate in such fuss and bother that, if firmly challenged by Mr. Olson or similar, has no chance of prevailing?

  64. AlphaCentauri  •  Jun 25, 2013 @10:19 pm

    Oftentimes the attorney in question is a friend or relative doing it as a favor and not using their usual better judgment about accepting a client.

    @Andrew Roth: I'm suspect Clark can give us more precise data on it, but all the pre-dental students I went to school with were pre-dental right from freshman year. (Disclaimer: my undergrad years were quite a while ago, but perhaps contemporaneous with this dentist.) I knew lots of people who didn't get into med school, but none that got into dental school as a fallback. My impression was that dental school might have been slightly harder to get into, in fact. The pre-dent students were complaining about wacky stuff like spacial perception questions on the dental school aptitude test they were studying for.

  65. Fildrigar  •  Jun 25, 2013 @10:24 pm

    The attorney's Facebook page is also running a "Like and comment" contest, which is against Facebook's Terms of Service. ( The contest section is like five sentences long, not so hard to understand, man. )

  66. naught_for_naught  •  Jun 25, 2013 @10:30 pm

    Ms. de la Riva was, therefore, entirely full of shit to suggest that Jen B. faced criminal charges. Was she ignorantly full of shit, or deceitfully full of shit? That's a question for the philosophers,

    or for George Carlin. Enjoy.

  67. Joe Hone  •  Jun 25, 2013 @10:46 pm

    Time to start a "best of" or "hall of fame" here at Popehat, and this smack-down letter should be entry #1.

  68. Palimpsest  •  Jun 25, 2013 @11:42 pm

    Great letter. I notice that in Texas liberty is God-Given.

  69. @Black Betty- for REALS?!? They called CPS?? Said it was a BRAIN TUMOR?? I don't know…could be shenanigans…

    That's it- I'm gonna call my dentist relatives in S.A. tomorrow and see if I can find out any deets on this charming fellow.
    I'll report back if I find out anything. :)

  70. Black Betty  •  Jun 26, 2013 @12:15 am

    @LTMG

    "Aside from collecting a fee, what are the motivations for an attorney to participate in such fuss and bother that, if firmly challenged by Mr. Olson or similar, has no chance of prevailing?"

    One possibility is fraud. You see, I went online looking for information about this firm and I found some strange stuff. A CPS complaint from a dentist? Because of cancelled appointments? The woman who came on and defended Mr. Capolla for this behavior said the child's mouth was "full of cavities". There was another complaint on the same page about this firm which implied they may have been over-diagnosing another child as well. Now see that's a red flag. That's 3 children.

    When I was kid, I had terrible teeth. Actually I still do. But when I was young, I never had a "mouth full of cavities", certainly not 7 at time. That was just unheard of. That sort of thing happens to children who constantly drink soda, never brush and have never been to a dentist. You have to wonder if they are filling cavities on every single patient.

    Several years ago, there was an expose of dental clinics across the country who were engaging in fraud. They were essentially affiliated with this one group who was bilking government sponsored dental assistance programs out of millions upon millions of dollars. They were performing massive unnecessary dental work across the board on children of all ages in order to profit off these programs.

    Not only that, many of these clinics would restrain the children (strap them down to the chair) and lock the door so that their parents could not stop the doctors from doing the procedures. Most of these parents were low-income, less-educated, easily intimidated and afraid to complain.

    Eventually these groups were busted, some weren't. The ones that didn't get caught had to change their business model. I guess like the porn trolls are having to do now. But think about it. Why would a dentist engage in intimidation tactics?

  71. Walter  •  Jun 26, 2013 @1:53 am

    "I trust that your further work in this matter will justify my choice."

    Using it!

    (Also, "crowning moment of awesome". TVTropes much?)

  72. ChrisTS  •  Jun 26, 2013 @1:56 am

    Just to offset the generalized contempt for dentists: Some people who go into dentistry do so because they like the 'craft' aspect of it; some who were on their way to becoming MDs discovered they did not want to face the horror of dying/hopeless patients; some wanted a better work/life balance than is available in most of U.S. medical practice.

  73. Marius  •  Jun 26, 2013 @3:42 am

    @TerryTowels. Try Foxit PDF reader, I've never gone back to Adobe. Fast, secure and does not update every 5 minutes. And… It works.

    Did anyone else get the feeling that in Olson's reply he wished he could have used 48 point quotation marks every time he wrote "investigation" ?

  74. NI  •  Jun 26, 2013 @4:48 am

    I once knew a dentist who was also a lawyer; he would extract the tooth, the whole tooth, and nothing but the tooth.

  75. Dave Ruddell  •  Jun 26, 2013 @5:32 am

    "The pre-dent students were complaining about wacky stuff like spacial perception questions on the dental school aptitude test they were studying for."

    Those spatial perception questions are insanely hard. But, if you're going to be working in someone's mouth and using a mirror (or two) as your guide, you have to be able to pull them off.

  76. David Aubke  •  Jun 26, 2013 @6:22 am

    Took me forever to figure out the reference.

  77. Sass  •  Jun 26, 2013 @6:58 am

    The latest from the lawyer's twitter: "Discover what small business litigation is and how it can help your company succeed." Indeed.

  78. Matthew Miller  •  Jun 26, 2013 @7:08 am

    In the end, I think the Dentist still won. The negative yelp review has not been restored. The ONLY review is a five star rating. While a search for the dentist's name will now include this Popehat article, people just looking up the practice on Yelp will never know a negative review ever existed.

  79. Merissa  •  Jun 26, 2013 @7:12 am

    Lawyers, dentists…the only thing this is missing is elevator music and a kick to the gonads.

  80. Gene  •  Jun 26, 2013 @7:13 am

    Is there any issue regarding this posting stating that Lief is working pro bono and the potential for collecting any legal fees as a part of an anti-SLAPP ruling?

  81. David Aubke  •  Jun 26, 2013 @7:46 am

    @Gene – from previous reading on this site (IANAL), it doesn't matter. Regardless of whether Jen B is paying Leif, he is incurring costs he is entitled to recover if he wants to. Jen B gets pro-bono help, Dr. William T. Coppola does not.

  82. Ken Mencher  •  Jun 26, 2013 @7:57 am

    Ygolonac:

    requesting protected healthcare information from another provider in the course of providing care *is* a legit thing

    Actually, even that requires a patient's approval…

    Add me to the list of people wanting to see that apology….

  83. Gabriel  •  Jun 26, 2013 @8:09 am

    @Gene: No, Section 1988 allows recovery of reasonable attorney's fees when prevailing even if those fees would not otherwise have been charged.

  84. NotImpressedByTrolls  •  Jun 26, 2013 @8:45 am

    "§ 96.003. Proof

    In determining if information is false, the trier of fact shall consider whether the information was based on reasonable and reliable scientific inquiry, facts, or data. "

    What?! Texas relying on scientific evidence to verify truth?!

  85. adam  •  Jun 26, 2013 @8:50 am

    +1 for "Hungarian erotica" – what a great letter.

  86. Colin  •  Jun 26, 2013 @8:59 am

    Interesting that they allegedly consulted with the Guadalupe County DA's office. Guadalupe's a small, very conservative county northeast of San Antonio, and while it's possible the last-listed office on the dentist's site (the one in Schertz) is in Guadalupe – there's a little finger of the county a few miles wide that extends west up to IH35 – the other office locations are definitely Bexar County. I suspect forum-shopping for bogus criminal opinions, among other shenanigans.

    My officemate and I rarely get hired for criminal cases in Guadalupe, but the next time I do, I think I'll take a copy of this article with me and ask the prosecutor why they hate the first amendment. :P

  87. Shiro  •  Jun 26, 2013 @9:04 am

    Posted a link to this article on the de la Riva FB page. Wonder how long it will stay up.

  88. Frank  •  Jun 26, 2013 @9:11 am

    This is beautiful post made my day.

  89. Ben E.  •  Jun 26, 2013 @9:54 am

    This is sly, subtle, and hilarious:

    I have a bit of a man-crush on Mr. Olsen today.

  90. Ben E.  •  Jun 26, 2013 @9:56 am

    Why do these tags never work the way I think they will…

    This is sly, subtle and hilarious:


    See, e.g., Greenbelt Coop. Publg. Assn. v. Bresler, 398 U.S. 6, 13–14 (1970) (plaintiff’s behavior was “blackmail”); Wood v. Del Giorno, 974 So. 2d 95, 97(La. App. 2007) (plaintiff was “complete fraud” and “out-and-out lying”); Yeagle v. Collegiate Times, 497 S.E.2d 136, 137(Va. 1998) (plaintiff was a “butt-licker”).

    I have a bit of a man-crush on Mr. Olsen today.

  91. perlhaqr  •  Jun 26, 2013 @10:45 am

    That's an awesome letter. I found an error, though. 1973 was only 40 years ago.

  92. efemmeral  •  Jun 26, 2013 @10:57 am

    Reading this is chilling, like watching the Terminator causally glance at the vermin before vaporizing them (de la riva), then focus his seething attention on the real problem (coppola).

    Thank you, Ken and Leif, for your crystal clear writing; it educates.

  93. ZarroTsu  •  Jun 26, 2013 @12:33 pm

    It's a good thing Dr. William is a Dentist.

    A blow like that will require the work.

  94. LJU3  •  Jun 26, 2013 @3:03 pm

    I don't know why de la Riva's conduct offends me so much, but I do know why I feel slightly better having just made my first report of potential ethical misconduct to an investigator in the Office of Disciplinary Counsel at the State Bar of Texas.

  95. Nobody  •  Jun 26, 2013 @3:24 pm

    Are we sure that they didn't consult one
    of those attorneys that would prosecute for using chalk?

  96. Random Linker  •  Jun 26, 2013 @7:13 pm

    @Shiro — It does not appear to be visible as of now. If you want to re-post it, take a screenshot, and add the direct link to the post and the screenshot when you comment here.

  97. AlphaCentauri  •  Jun 26, 2013 @7:22 pm

    I think the link in the pdf was to a google cached page, which has been updated with a more recent image.

  98. Lonhar Ceceay  •  Jun 26, 2013 @7:26 pm

    Here's a post on the lawyer's FB page: https://www.facebook.com/delarivalaw/posts/283041155175948

    and a screenshot of it: http://imgur.com/0g9w7ZI

  99. Black Betty  •  Jun 26, 2013 @8:54 pm

    @LJU3

    BOOM!

    I hope you sent all the relevant documents. You know, I hadn't thought about this, but there could probably be a complaint lodged with the state dental board against this guy for his conduct as well. Namely for the potential HIPAA violation. And I'm sure his firm could be looked into for possible Medicaid and Texas Chip billing practices.

    Much like the Prenda group is currently learning, there's always an inherent risk of preying on people. Sometimes you run into a honey badger.

  100. Bearman  •  Jun 27, 2013 @7:46 am

    Holy crap…if I ever get in trouble in Texas I am calling Leif!!

  101. jackn  •  Jun 27, 2013 @8:34 am

    Looks like he forgot to scrub this review

    Dr. William T. Coppola, DDS

    We just moved to the area, and my 5 year old was in need of a cleaning. I found this dentist as they are right next door to our Pediatrician's office, and thought convenience! Great! They were really quick with getting us an appointment, even being a new patient, we got in within a week.(maybe that should have been a sign) They took down all of our information, address, phone, insurance, medical history, etc over the phone. I arrive for the appointment and had to fill out more forms with the same information. Not a big deal, just a little annoying. So we get called back, and the first lady was awesome with my daughter, as she had never had x-rays done before, she was very gentle and didn't push her. We then waited 15 minutes or so, to see the doctor. During that time, there were three members of the staff in the same room as us, talking about their vacations, days off, other staff members, and even taking several personal calls. When the doctor finally came in, he talked to us a bit, but very quickly, like not caring about us at all. Then my daughter had to lay on a flat bed, which looked like a psych ward bed… most dentists I know, have a chair, especially for children to get used to. He quickly looks in her mouth, and then places fluoride on her teeth. No explanation of what he is doing etc. She did not even get a cleaning, but guess what, they billed for it. When I called the office, to get the cleaning off of our bill so we can go elsewhere, they were hesitant at first, but then put a call into the insurance company and got the cleaning removed. But now, I can not find a dentist who will take a new patient for just a cleaning, and the insurance will not pay for another one for 6 months… therefore, we are stuck paying out of pocket for the exam for their mistake of not cleaning my daughter's teeth.

    I will not be taking my child back to this dentist, and suggest you stay far away!

    from https://plus.google.com/109815433808699120733/about?gl=US&hl=en-US#109815433808699120733/about?gl=US&hl=en-US

  102. LauraW  •  Jun 27, 2013 @12:54 pm

    @jackn: Ooh, good one.

    That inspired me to post another 'review' on Google+ with a link to this popehat article. Let's see if he tries to get it taken down. If so, I will see if I can prevent that.

  103. JLA Girl  •  Jun 27, 2013 @1:47 pm

    That letter from Leif is pure unadulterated awesomeness!! I now can't decided if I want to have Leif's baby or Judge Wright's. Ah hell, twins!

    Well done to him and to Ken for sending out the Popehat signal.

  104. MEP  •  Jun 27, 2013 @3:22 pm

    "And once that theoretical case is dismissed, Jen B would be entitled to recover her legal fees—which are, I assure you, despite the eye-popping effect the sometimes generate, reasonable."

    Literally laughed out loud at this line.

  105. Katherine  •  Jun 27, 2013 @4:38 pm

    Did anybody else notice that Olsen's "facts you gathered in your initial investigation" link led to the dictionary definition of "oops"?

  106. Dylan Ogden  •  Jun 27, 2013 @5:51 pm

    So, I noticed a typo in the demands:

    Dr Coppola will (1) stipulate that he won't persue, or assist or encourage others in any way to purse, claims arising from Jen B's review. . .

    (emphasis added)

    I'm curious about how that typo could affect Dr. Coppola's case if he encouraged others to persue, not purse, the case, and Jen took him to court over it. I'm curious both about how obvious typos are treated in court and about what this non-threatening declaration-of-intent-type letter does for her current condition. Can she change her mind and still get a declaratory judgement even if he complies? What about if he takes his sweet time? Lief gave a deadline for a response, but what if his response is "I'll think about it"? And if he complies with the letter of the request, and not its clear intent, does that make it harder to press?

    Does anyone know?

  107. Irv Fishbender  •  Jun 27, 2013 @5:56 pm

    I wish I were a good lawyer. That letter was simply brilliant.

    I'll be reading the Internal Revenue Code if you want me.

  108. Red Ruffensor  •  Jun 27, 2013 @9:33 pm

    There's a joke that says it's 99% of lawyers that give the other 1% a bad name. Mr. Olsen is part of the 1%. Bravo, sir!

  109. MrBill  •  Jun 28, 2013 @11:21 am

    Yeah, if I thought I'd been libeled, I'd go to a personal injury lawyer. I'm thinking that de la Riva may have been a friend or a patient.

  110. Black Betty  •  Jun 28, 2013 @9:18 pm

    The Lawyer took her Facebook page down. Hmmm.

  111. Black Betty  •  Jun 28, 2013 @9:28 pm

    @jackn

    Yep. It's insurance fraud. They do one procedure and bill for more expensive one. Or they fill a cavity and bill for 3. Or a patient doesn't need a procedure, but the dentist does the procedure anyway so he/she can bill for it.

    I also noticed on his site that his firm accepts Medicaid and Chip. A dentist could bill those programs for any number of procedures that were not performed and never get caught if the parents don't scrutinize the bills. And most don't because if they are on those programs, they are generally low-income and less educated.

  112. AlphaCentauri  •  Jun 28, 2013 @9:57 pm

    The facebook page is still at facebook.com/delarivalaw . They just removed Lonhar's post.

    Of course, it doesn't look like any of the lawyers has anything to do with writing it. It looks like all the posts are only there for search engine optimization.

  113. BladeDoc  •  Jun 29, 2013 @5:18 am

    1. I agree that the dentist's behavior was stupid and probably illegal as everybody has pointed out.
    2. IANAL
    3. The type of medicine I practice means that reviews neither good nor bad mean very much.
    That being said doctors in general are in a very poor situation when responding to online commentary. A response such as any other small-business could remain in order to dispute the facts of the situation are precluded by privacy laws. Therefore even posting a simple disagreement with the comment could be seen as a potential violation of HIPAA. Furthermore some sites, such as yelp in particular, forbid the solicitation of comments from other patients that counter the original poster's comments. This makes it possible for a single individual, not even necessarily a patient, to post a negative review that really can markedly impact a physician's business and reputation without any way for the physician to defend themselves in that online forum.

    Does anyone have any good ideas on how to deal with this?

  114. Dan T.  •  Jun 29, 2013 @6:54 am

    "Great letter. I notice that in Texas liberty is God-Given." (So I guess atheists have no liberty in Texas.)

  115. VMS  •  Jun 29, 2013 @8:05 am

    Reminds me of a case Dickes v Penne (1647) we studied in torts in law school.

    Dickes, an Exeter brewer, sues Penne for slander, after he reportedly claimed his horse could "piss as good beer as Dickes doth brew"

  116. MushyMiddle  •  Jun 29, 2013 @8:09 am

    @BladeDoc:

    Encourage your patients to post positive (or any) reviews – not responses to the negative. One bad review amid many positive reviews will be likely ignored by most. This is the mistake that most providers (or anyone, for that matter): focus on the positive, there will always be disgruntled clients to be ignored.

  117. AlphaCentauri  •  Jun 29, 2013 @9:27 am

    This makes it possible for a single individual, not even necessarily a patient, to post a negative review that really can markedly impact a physician's business and reputation without any way for the physician to defend themselves in that online forum.

    Does anyone have any good ideas on how to deal with this?

    The best suggestion is to ignore Yelp reviews. You're not trying to go out of your way to attract the type of patients who have so few friends that they have to rely on anonymous internet reviews. Patients who really like their doctors tell their good friends, but they otherwise keep the information under wraps, so they don't make it hard to get to see the doctor themselves.

  118. Dan Weber  •  Jul 1, 2013 @7:09 pm
  119. Kat Fud  •  Jul 1, 2013 @10:50 pm

    As a military dependent Jen B could have brought her dependent daughter to a free military dentist. I have many (not so) fond memories of Army dentists ripping teeth from my child-maw with reckless abandon. But it's free, though there's no recourse if you don't like what they do.

    It seems like civilian dentists can be even trickier, since now money is involved. But like the army dentists, there's no guarantee of quality. I do hope that Jen B let the referring dentist, the one who originally sent her to Coppola, know what a collossal error in judgement on their part that was, and stop referring people there.

  120. Vidiot  •  Jul 2, 2013 @5:23 pm

    This dentist claimed copyright infringement over a negative Yelp review:
    http://www.forbes.com/sites/ericgoldman/2013/04/17/you-shouldnt-need-a-copyright-lawyer-to-pick-a-dentist/

  121. Richard  •  Jul 2, 2013 @6:48 pm

    SLAPP: Dr. Aaron Filler filed a complaint against former patient Susan Walker in Los Angeles Superior Court on May 31, 2011. In his complaint, Filler alleged defamation and interference with prospective economic advantage inJudge Elizabeth White held that Filler's claims arose from Walker's act of free speech in connection with a public issue under CCP § 425.16 and that Filler did not establish a probability of prevailing on these claims. In accordance with this order, Judge White later ordered Filler to pay $50,259.65 to Walker for attorneys' fees and costs in response to Walker's review of Dr. Filler on a physician rating site.

    http://www.dmlp.org/threats/filler-et-al-v-walker-et-al

  122. andrews  •  Jul 2, 2013 @6:54 pm

    So, anyone got a cite for _Dickes v. Penne_, or is it just a fable? I know there were some odd cases in school, my favorite real one remaining _Haslem v. Lockwood_, 37 Conn. 500 (Ct. 1871).

  123. Samantha  •  Jul 5, 2013 @10:30 am

    This is such a buiishlt practice of basically online bullying… Thank goodness this person stood up for themselves. Looks like this is becoming more common all the time. Here is an example in Arizona: http://www.kpho.com/story/21201698/company-sues-az-woman-over-negative-online-review

    Unfortunately, this woman decided to remove her comments. Let's hope our freedom of speech remains intact!

  124. Running Rebel  •  Jul 8, 2013 @12:16 am

    This is more fun than watching TV. I'm a dentist and have always wondered how far this yelp review thing will go. The one thing that has always surpised me is why a patient would submit their social security number, date of birth, address, place of employment, phone number etc… with a medical practioner and then turn around and test his or her first amendment rights. Call me a wuss, but I would rather express those rights WITHOUT the counterpart having all that archived information about me. Lol

    Anyway. Would be awesome for this dentist to post a shitty well deserved real review about how much this attorney's actions harmed him and how poor the legal advice and action was, which many attorneys here validated to be true. Man that would be awesome. And then watching how that transcends and trickles down to the rest of the legal profession. Amazing how we never know as a public how well most lawyers do. Would be comical to read about some of Leif's unhappy clients whose cases did not turn out so well. Wonder how Leif and his law firm will react to that. can't wait to see karma make its way around.

    There is no way most lawyers can bat a 1000. Waiting for that one pissed off MF'er of a client who loses a case and decides to tell about it on yelp. The rest of us pawns in this game will be watching to see how you interpret the first amendment then

    Shit if i was just a little more bored than I am now I might go and test this on Leif 's yelp page. At least he doesn't know who I am ;)

  125. John Abbott  •  Jul 8, 2013 @2:46 pm

    Thanks for exposing Dr. William Coppola of Northeast Children's Dentistry as a huge coward and bully! While I find it unlikely that this coward will learn from his lession, I am very happy you helped protect the air force mother from Dr. William Coppola's abuse of the legal system!

  126. Tribune Reader  •  Jul 14, 2013 @11:40 pm

    A man's online post calling a doctor "a real tool" is protected speech, the
    Minnesota Supreme Court ruled. The state's highest court dismissed a
    case by Duluth neurologist David McKee, who took offense when a patient's son
    posted critical remarks about him on rate-your-doctor websites. Those remarks
    included a claim that a nurse called the doctor "a real tool," slang
    for stupid or foolish.

    On Wednesday, the court tossed a lawsuit filed by neurologist David McKee, who
    claimed he was defamed by several statements made by defendant Dennis Laurion
    on websites used to rate doctors, report the Duluth News Tribune, the
    Minneapolis Star Tribune and the Associated Press.

    The lawsuit followed the hospitalization of Laurion's father, Kenneth, for a hemorrhagic stroke at St. Luke's Hospital in Duluth. Laurion, his mother and his wife were also in the room when McKee examined the father and made the statements that Laurion interpreted as rude.

    Laurion expressed his dismay in several online posts with what he considered the
    doctor's insensitive manner. Laurion had posted his comments on a website where patients review their doctors. The case has been watched with interest because of the potential conflict between free speech versus protection of professional reputations on the Internet.

    On at least two sites, Laurion wrote that McKee said that "44 percent of hemorrhagic
    strokes die within 30 days. I guess this is the better option," and that
    "It doesn't matter that the patient's gown did not cover his backside."

    Laurion also wrote: "When I mentioned Dr. McKee's name to a friend who is a nurse, she said, 'Dr. McKee is a real tool!'"

    He expected at most what he calls a "non-apology apology. I
    really thought I'd receive something within a few days along the lines of 'I'm
    sorry you thought I was rude, that was not my intent' and that would be the end
    of it," the 66-year-old Duluth retiree said. "I certainly did not
    expect to be sued."

    He was. Dr. David McKee's defamation lawsuit was the beginning of a four-year legal battle that ended Wednesday when the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled the doctor had no legal claim against Laurion because there was no proof that his comments were false or were capable of harming the doctor's reputation.

    In 2011, State District Judge Eric Hylden ruled that McKee was not defamed by the
    criticism and dismissed the doctor’s lawsuit.

    McKee appealed to the Minnesota Court of Appeals; and in January 2012, that court
    sent the case back to the district court for a jury to decide whether six
    statements Laurion posted about McKee on rate-your-doctor websites and
    distributed elsewhere were defamatory.

    Laurion appealed the Court of Appeals decision to the Supreme Court and the case was heard in St. Paul in September.

    Writing the opinion, Justice Alan Page noted that McKee acknowledged that the gist of some of the statements were true, even if they were misinterpreted.

    The ruling also said it doesn't matter whether the unnamed nurse actually exists. McKee's attorney argued that Laurion might have fabricated the nurse, something
    Laurion's attorney denied. And it said the doctor's objections to Laurion's
    other comments also failed the required legal tests.

    "Referring to someone as 'a real tool' falls into the category of pure opinion because the term 'real tool' cannot be reasonably interpreted as stating a fact and it
    cannot be proven true or false," Page wrote.

    "I'm sure he and his family are very happy with this result," Laurion's
    attorney, John Kelly, said. "It's been a long and difficult process for
    them."

    Laurion said the entire experience was stressful on his family. “The initial
    excitement has not worn off,” he told the News Tribune. “I’m very gratified
    it’s all over.”

    Laurion, whose father survived the stroke and is now 87, said he feels vindicated — not in the sense that he's proven the things he said, but that he had the right to
    express his opinion of a single encounter on a website designed to rate
    doctors.

    He regrets the cost of the litigation — in his case, the equivalent of two years' income,
    he said, some of which he had to borrow from relatives who dipped into their
    retirement funds. "I regret that it became as painful as it was," Laurion said. "I don't
    think I regret having posted the comment. I thought at the time that it was my
    right to do so."

    McKee's lawyer, Marshall Tanick, said he and McKee plan no further appeals and that
    they were disappointed with the ruling.

    McKee, a neurologist with Northland Neurology and Myology, said Wednesday he was disappointed and frustrated. “We need to change the law so someone with a personal vendetta who is going to use the Internet to make defamatory statements can be held responsible,” he said.

    It's a frustrating end for McKee, 51, who said he's spent at least $50,000 in legal fees
    and another $11,000 to clear his name online after the story went viral,
    resulting in hundreds more negative postings about him — likely from people
    who never met him.

    He hasn't ruled out a second lawsuit stemming from those posts.

    "The financial costs are significant, but money is money, and five years from now I
    won't notice the money I spent on this," he said. "It's been the harm
    to my reputation through the repeated publicity and the stress."

    He said he offered to settle the case at no cost after the Supreme Court hearing. Laurion contends they couldn't agree on the terms of the settlement, and said he not
    only deleted his initial postings after he was initially served, but had
    nothing to do with subsequent online statements about McKee.

    Tanick said the ruling could present a slippery slope. "We feel it gives individuals
    undue license to make disparaging and derogatory statements about these people,
    particularly doctors and other licensed professionals, on the Internet without
    much recourse," Tanick said.

    Jane Kirtley disagreed. The professor of media ethics and law at the University of Minnesota School of Journalism said the ruling stems from "an elementary principle
    of libel law. I understand the rhetoric, but this is not a blank check for
    people to make false factual statements," she said. "Rather, it's an
    endorsement that statements of opinion are protected under the First
    Amendment."

    The case highlighted the tension that sometimes develops on ratings sites, such as Yelp and Angie's List, when the free speech rights of patients clash with the rights
    of doctors, lawyers and other professionals to protect their good names.

    Experts say lawsuits over negative professional reviews are relatively uncommon and rarely succeed, partly because the law favors freedom of speech.

    Laurion's attorney, John D. Kelly, said the fact that Laurion's speech was made online
    was inconsequential to the ruling, which treated it as a standard defamation
    case. "It's almost as if things were said around the water cooler or
    perhaps posted in a letter to the editor," he said. "I think the
    principles they worked with are applicable to statements made irrespective of
    the medium."

    While the decision is not binding in other states, Kelly and Tanick agreed that it might
    influence how other courts would rule on similar questions. Kelly said lawyers
    often look at rulings from other jurisdictions when they put cases together,
    sometimes for leads or guidance.

    "Certainly this is a cutting edge issue and I'm sure lawyers and courts in other
    jurisdictions will pay attention to this decision and give it the weight it
    deserves," Tanick said.

    In reply to an e-patients.net article “Minnesota Supreme Court sides with patient on social media defamation suit,” Attorney Marilyn Mann said, “I think McKee’s lawyer is
    incorrect. The case turned on standard principles of defamation law and doesn’t
    really break new ground.”

    Minnesota Newspaper Association attorney Mark Anfinson, who watched the oral arguments before the Supreme Court in September, said on Wednesday the justices made the right decision. That being said, “You can’t blame a guy like Dr. McKee for
    being upset,” Anfinson said. “What this case really exemplifies is not so much
    legal precepts in libel law, but the impact of the Internet on the ability to
    publish unflattering comments about people.”

    Before the Internet, people who complained about others typically did so to a small group of family, friends and acquaintances. “No one in the wider world ever heard
    them,” Anfinson said. That is no longer the case."

    “If you’re a practicing physician or other professional in a highly competitive environment, and this stuff is out there for any potential patient or client to see, it
    isn’t as simple as a superficial reading of the Supreme Court opinion would
    suggest,” he said. “I kind of feel for the guy, but the law as it is currently
    constituted really doesn’t provide him much of a remedy. That is the moral of
    the story.”

    Anfinson was also interviewed by Minnesota Lawyer. He said, “Anyone who knew about the case, who observed the oral arguments, and who knows something about libel law is about as unsurprised with this result as they can be. It’s about as
    perfunctory and routine as the Supreme Court ever gets. It was a completely
    straightforward application of long-settled libel-law rules.”

    Anfinson said the case is more significant for social commentary purposes than for its
    legal analysis, noting that perhaps the justices only accepted the case to fix
    an error of the Court of Appeals.

    Commenting about this case on his own blog, February 8, 2013, Aaron Kelly, internet law & defamation law attorney, said “Thanks to the First Amendment, free speech is the law of that land, and that means being able to communicate our views publicly – no matter how offensive.”

    Mark A Fischer of Duane Morris LLP, a full-service law firm with more than 700
    attorneys in 24 offices in the United States and internationally, said on
    February 11, 2013, “For those who are under criticism, one of the practical
    consequences of bringing a defamation action is that more publicity for the
    accused statements is almost an inevitable result, whether the statements are
    ultimately found libelous or not. In other words, in weighing the pros and cons
    of initiating a lawsuit, all potential defamation and privacy claim plaintiffs
    should consider the rule of Hippocrates applicable to physicians, ‘First do no
    harm.’”

    In his Technology & Marketing Law Blog, Eric Goldman said on February 4, 2013,
    “I’ve been tracking doctor v. patient lawsuits for online reviews. See my
    compilation. As you can see from a quick perusal, doctors usually lose or
    voluntarily drop these lawsuits. Indeed, with surprising frequency, doctors end
    the lawsuit by writing a check to the defendant for the defendant’s attorneys’
    fees where the state has a robust anti-SLAPP law. Doctors and other healthcare
    professionals thinking of suing over online reviews, take note: you’re likely
    to lose in court, so legal proceedings should be an absolute last-resort
    option–and even then, they might not be worth pursuing.

    Compilation. See:

    http://www.startribune.com/local/189028521.html

    http://www.duluthnewstribune.com/event/article/id/257287/

    http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/U/US_ONLINE_RATING_RISKS?SITE=AP&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT

  127. El Duderino  •  Jul 15, 2013 @12:36 pm

    @Running Rebel, you would've already answered your own question by visiting the De La Riva law office Yelp page. 1 star!!! A less-than-stellar online reputation earned by an apparently less-than-stellar attorney.

  128. LauraW  •  Jul 15, 2013 @12:55 pm

    I'm amazed that Minnesota neurologist case got all the way to the state Supreme Court. Based on the little I know about defamation law, I don't see see any real questions to argue about there. I would have expected a dismissal with prejudice and a strong hint that an anti-SLAPP motion would be welcome. To paraphrase Ken, the doctor has no right to protection from the consequences of his own bad behavior.

  129. Tribune Reader  •  Jul 18, 2013 @12:55 am

    To Laura W, this was printed in the Mankato Free Press and the Duluth News Tribune.

    Other view: Court correct to dismiss doctor’s defamation suit
    By: Mankato Free Press editorial board, Mankato (Minn.) Free Press

    Thumbs up to the Minnesota Supreme Court for ruling that making disparaging remarks about a doctor online does not open someone to being sued for defamation (“Minnesota Supreme Court: Website comments about Duluth doctor not defamatory,” News Tribune, Jan. 30).

    Dr. David McKee filed a lawsuit against Dennis Laurion after Laurion posted remarks on a rate-your-doctor website. Laurion thought his father wasn’t treated as well as he should be by the doctor and said so. Among other things, the doctor was referred to as “a tool,” as in a foolish man.

    It’s puzzling why McKee’s defamation lawsuit — filed nearly four years ago — was still in court. It’s long been established that people may spout any opinion they want without fear of being sued. It’s different from knowingly telling a lie about someone in order to harm their reputation or business.

    The high court, in throwing out the doctor’s defamation suit, pointed out that you can’t prove if someone is or is not “a tool.”

    It’s unsettling that the Appeals Court earlier ruled to allow the suit to continue.

  130. Scott Roberts  •  Aug 11, 2013 @7:48 am

    Ken
    I wanted to thank you for posting this. I am currently waiting on a defamation suit based on the feedback the company gave the better business bureau.

    http://www.yelp.com/biz/vantage-property-management-the-glen-burnie#hrid:P6R2lOggUvxp_8QlHeyemA/src:self

    Since I recognized the pending threat by this company back to the BBB; I started researching what I can do if a lawsuit is pulled on me.

    Being Military for 20 years, we military types depend on property managers to be professional and this company basically robbed my by legal contract. My public response to warn others is targeted for a sequester of 1st amendment rights. I fought for this country; I will be D@MNED if someone is going to stop me from protection of other families on commercial concerns like this.

    Other than some original embellishment of my opinion of the owner (which edited out from the original posting… my Yelp and Google+ reviews will stand.

    So that being stated; I am willing to take my time off work, travel from Florida back to Maryland and fight this. I might be back on here to search for anyone with knowledge on who I can retain to fight this (attorney), but I will put all I have in to defend the community.

    Thanks again for posting this usecase. Very helpful and reassuring that the constitution defends us (and in this case specifically me)

    ScAR

  131. tm23  •  Aug 15, 2013 @5:23 pm

    Running Rebel:

    The one thing that has always surpised me is why a patient would submit their social security number, date of birth, address, place of employment, phone number etc… with a medical practioner and then turn around and test his or her first amendment rights. Call me a wuss, but I would rather express those rights WITHOUT the counterpart having all that archived information about me. Lol

    And what would a "medical practioner" (sic) do with said information? Utilizing such sensitive information, particularly to intimidate someone who is exercising their free speech rights would be a pretty good way to Streisand yourself, no? You're suggesting that you'd harass them on the phone or try to get them fired? You're a dentist, right, not a mobster? And what would you do with an SSN? The primary way to abuse SSNs are clearly criminal activities, some of which would involve banks who aren't too keen on being defrauded, and whose fraud departments would leap at a chance to deal with a case that wasn't originated from a country without extradition treaties with the USA. And the police would connect the dots back to an butthurt dentist suing said free speech advocate.
    Nothing more photogenic for a dentist than having to a perp-walk. But hey, at least it's not a negative Yelp review, amirite?

  132. Dmdtoo  •  Aug 19, 2013 @10:21 pm

    I don't think I heard anyone question whether or not the dentist was actually correct. How would things change if it were true?

  133. Ken White  •  Aug 20, 2013 @8:41 am

    I don't think I heard anyone question whether or not the dentist was actually correct. How would things change if it were true?

    "Correct" about what, exactly?

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