Online Business Reputation and Defamation Cases: Is there a Legal Remedy for Business Reputation Defamation? Part 1

By Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. of Hanlon Niemann & Wright, a Freehold, NJ Business Litigation Attorney

Often landlords and tenants have problems with each other. These disputes commonly end up in court.  In the case Kinda v. Carpenter, an interesting series of events transpired.  The plaintiffs were tenants in a commercial lease. They owned a business called Artisan Fine Oriental Rug Care, Inc. (Artisan).  The defendant was their landlord. During the term of the lease, there was construction going on in and around the building by the landlord that was interfering with the Plaintiffs’ business. Eventually the tenant got a restraining order against the landlord after the landlord-tenant relationship began to sour.  They also got an order from the court stating the noise from the construction activity during the plaintiffs’ business hours had to remain below a certain decibel level.  Shortly after this temporary restraining order was obtained, three consumer reviews criticizing Artisan appeared on Yelp.com.  Yelp is a website where people can post reviews of local businesses.  The negative reviews came from three different online names in a period of two days.  Ultimately, the plaintiffs believed the defendant was responsible for the reviews and they also alleged that they were defamed by these accounts that they claimed were controlled by the defendant.

The defendant moved to exclude the Yelp evidence.  The trial court granted the defendant’s motion, which means the Yelp evidence was excluded.  The jury also ruled for the defendant, stating that although the contract was breached since the plaintiffs’ business was interrupted by the landlord’s actions, there were no damages that resulted that the jury could award the plaintiffs.  The plaintiffs also lost on their claim for attorney’s fees. The plaintiffs appealed the exclusion of the Yelp evidence and the elimination of the defamation cause of action.

On appeal the court ruled that the exclusion of the Yelp evidence was wrong.  The Appeals Court ruled that the Yelp evidence should have been included.  Furthermore, since the exclusion of the evidence was erroneous the court also had to reverse the award of the attorney fees in favor of the plaintiff.

To discuss your NJ Business Dispute and Landlord Tenant matter, please contact Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. toll-free at (855) 376-5291 or email him at fniemann@hnlawfirm.com.  Please ask us about our video conferencing consultations if you are unable to come to our office.

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