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Federal Appeals Court Holds “Gripe Sites” Immune From Liability For User Comments

Gripe sites – you know the sites I’m talking about.  These are the sites where customers or clients can write reviews of a business.  These reviews can be flattering in many cases, but oftentimes, they are not.

One such site is ConsumerAffairs.com.  A federal appellate court has sided with ConsumerAffairs.com in a defamation lawsuit filed by a car dealership franchise, Nemet Chevrolet of Jamaica, N.Y. and Thomas Nemet.

Nemet listed some 20 posts alleged to be libelous in the lawsuit.  He alleged in court documents that these remarks were “false, malicious and libelous” and that the commenter merely “suffers from buyer’s remorse.'”  Furthermore, he argued for an exception in this case on the grounds that ConsumerAffairs.com allegedly funneled complaints to lawyers.

The U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Nemet’s argument, ruling that the Communications Decency Act gives such sites immunity from liability for libel based on posts by users.

In a separate case involving Roommates.com, Nemet argued that ConsumerAffairs.com forfeited its immunity by assisting in the creation of content. In the Roomates.com lawsuit, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Roommates.com could be sued for civil rights violations because it helped users create unlawful ads.

But, according to the 4th Circuit, ConsumerAffairs.com’s alleged actions were not comparable to those of Roommates.com. “Nemet has merely alleged that Consumeraffairs.com structured its website and its business operations to develop information related to class-action lawsuits. But there is nothing unlawful about developing this type of content,” the 4th Circuit wrote.

Nemet also alleged that some of the unflattering posts were not genuine, but were instead authored by ConsumerAffairs.com itself. A majority of the court found that Nemet had not alleged sufficient facts on that claim.

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