By Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. of Hanlon Niemann & Wright, a Freehold, NJ Business Litigation Attorney
In this 5 part series, I have discussed a case involving a business that claimed defamation against negative online reviews believed to have been made by the defendant to retaliate as their landlord-tenant relationship dissolved. Early on we discussed how the reviews were tied back to the defendant and how they were relevant to the plaintiff’s claims. In Part 4 we learned that the court ruled in favor of the defendant. In this final piece of our series, I will discuss the appeal of the court’s decision.
On appeal the court came to the conclusion that the erroneous wholesale exclusion of the Yelp evidence created a reasonable probability of prejudice in the outcome of the contract claims. In short, since the trial court was in error when they excluded the yelp evidence, the plaintiffs contend (and the court of appeals agreed) that the jury would have likely changed its decision on the breach of contract claims. The court believed that it “was reasonably probable that a result more favorable to the appealing party would have been reached in the absence of error.”
The court takes an interesting stance. Had the Yelp evidence been included and the defamation claim prevailed on by the plaintiff, then in the contract cause of action, the defendant’s credibility would have been much less valuable. If the plaintiffs had won on the defamation claim, then the defendant’s credibility would be significantly damaged. So the court’s reasoning is that on the contract causes of action, the jury could have likely ruled much differently granted much of their decision was based upon rigorous cross-examination of the defendant. In short, if the plaintiff’s had won on the defamation claim – which would have likely been the case, had the Yelp evidence been included – the jury would not have believed much of what the defendant said in the contract causes of action.
The Court of Appeals eventually reversed the judgment on the contract causes of action and the defamation cause of action in favor of the plaintiff. The attorney’s fees were also given to the plaintiff.
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