A Fairfax County, Va., circuit court has set Jan. 27-29, 2014, as the dates to hear a remodeler's lawsuit against a customer accused of posting allegations of criminal behavior as part of reviews she posted on Yelp and Angie's List.
Christopher Dietz of Dietz Development, in Washington, D.C., last year sued Jane Perez of suburban Fairfax County for $750,000, claiming her online accusations cost his company $300,000 in lost business and damaged his company's reputation. The case has since turned into an opportunity for society to debate questions of free speech and remodelers to gripe about unfair online reviews. Dietz confirmed with REMODELING that the case has moved from pretrial stage to the setting of the Jan. 27-29 court dates.
At issue is work that Dietz performed in 2011 at a home that had just been purchased by Perez--a high school classmate, Dietz's complaint says. Disagreements arose over the work that led to nonpayments and, eventually, lawsuits. In January 2012, Dietz's complaint says, Perez wrote on Angie's List that Dietz did lousy work. Perez made similar claims in a message posted on Yelp in February 2012, Dietz contends, but she also said that she had filed a police report when she found jewelry was missing "and Dietz was the only one with a key." Second messages on Angie's List and Yelp in August 2012 repeated the theft claim.
On Dec. 5, a Virginia court issued a preliminary injunction declaring that Perez must remove from the sites the sections of her reviews in which she accused Dietz of trespassing and theft. She also had to remove claims about winning a lawsuit against the remodeler when in actuality the case was dismissed before a judge could rule on its merits. On the other hand, complaints about prices and workmanship were allowed to remain on the sites as those were matters of opinion.
Two weeks later, Perez appealed to a higher court for reconsideration, largely on technical and first amendment grounds.
Then, on Dec. 28, the Virginia Supreme Court reversed the circuit court's preliminary injunction, saying the action was unjustified and "the respondents have adequate remedy at law"—in other words, the lawsuit. —Craig Webb is editor-in-chief of REMODELING. Follow him on Twitter at @craiglwebb or @RemodelingMag.