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Hassell v. Bird

Supreme Court of California

July 2, 2018, Filed



 [***870]  [**778]   CANTIL-SAKAUYE, C. J.—In this case, we consider the validity of a court order, entered upon a default judgment in a defamation case, insofar as it directs appellant Yelp Inc. (Yelp) to remove certain consumer reviews posted on its website. Yelp was not named as a defendant in the underlying lawsuit, brought by plaintiffs Dawn L. Hassell and the Hassell Law Group, and did not participate in the judicial proceedings that led to the default judgment. Instead, Yelp became involved in this litigation only after being served with a copy of the aforementioned judgment and order.

Yelp argues that, to the extent the removal order would impose upon it a duty to remove these reviews, the directive violates its right to due process under the federal and state Constitutions because it was issued without proper notice and an opportunity to be heard. Yelp also asserts that this aspect of the [*527]  order is invalid under the Communications Decency [****5]  Act of 1996, relevant provisions of which (found at 47 U.S.C. § 230;  [**779]  hereinafter referred to as section 230) 3 relate, “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider” (§ 230(c)(1)), and, “No cause of action may be brought and no liability may be imposed under any State or local law that is inconsistent with this section” (§ 230(e)(3)).

The Court of Appeal rejected Yelp's arguments. We reverse. The Court of Appeal erred in regarding the order to Yelp as beyond the scope of section 230. That court reasoned that the judicial command to purge the challenged reviews does not impose liability on Yelp. But as explained below, the Court of Appeal adopted too narrow a construction of section 230. In directing Yelp to remove the challenged reviews from its website, the removal order improperly treats Yelp as “the publisher or speaker of … information provided by another information content provider.” (§ 230(c)(1).) The order therefore must be revised to comply with section 230.

I. Factual and Procedural Background

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5 Cal. 5th 522 *; 420 P.3d 776 **; 234 Cal. Rptr. 3d 867 ***; 2018 Cal. LEXIS 4704 ****; 46 Media L. Rep. 2052; 2018 Comm. Reg. (P & F) 83; 2018 WL 3213933

DAWN L. HASSELL et al., Plaintiffs and Respondents, v. AVA BIRD, Defendant; YELP INC., Objector and Appellant.

Subsequent History: US Supreme Court certiorari denied by Hassell v. Yelp, Inc., 2019 U.S. LEXIS 790, 203 L.Ed.2d 131, 139 S.Ct. 940 (U.S., Jan. 22, 2019)

Prior History:  [****1] Superior Court of San Francisco County, No. CGC 13530525, Donald J. Sullivan, Judge. Court of Appeal, First Appellate District, Division Four, No. A143233.

Hassell v. Bird, 247 Cal. App. 4th 1336, 203 Cal. Rptr. 3d 203, 2016 Cal. App. LEXIS 451 (Cal. App. 1st Dist., June 7, 2016)


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Constitutional Law, Case or Controversy, Constitutional Questions, Necessity of Determination, Communications Law, Federal Acts, Telecommunications Act, Communications Decency Act, Governments, Legislation, Interpretation, Torts, Intentional Torts, Defamation, Defenses, Civil Procedure, Remedies, Injunctions