The First Department, reversing (modifying) Supreme Court, in a full-fledged opinion by Justice Rodriguez, in a matter of first impression, determined the Civil Rights Law anti-SLAPP statutes protected defendant’s negative online reviews of plaintiff Aristocrat Plastic Surgery and Dr. Kevin Tehrani. Supreme Court dismissed the complaint but did not award defendant attorney’s fees or damages because the anti-SLAPP statutes were deemed not to apply. The First Department held that the anti-SLAPP statutes applied and defendant was entitled to attorney’s fees and damages:
… [D]efendant posted her reviews on two public internet forums, one of which has a stated purpose of being a key advisor for people considering plastic surgery, and the purpose of defendant’s reviews was to provide information to potential patients, including reasons not to book an appointment with Dr. Tehrani. Defendant’s posts concerning the plastic surgery performed upon her by Dr. Tehrani qualify as an exercise of her constitutional right of free speech and a comment on a matter of legitimate public concern and public interest—namely, medical treatment rendered by a physician’s professional corporation and the physician performing surgery under its auspices … . We therefore find that defendant’s negative website reviews of plaintiffs’ services constitute a matter of “public interest” as set forth in Civil Rights Law § 76-a(1)(d).
Since defendant’s posts fall under the ambit of the amended anti-SLAPP law, defendant is entitled to seek damages and attorneys’ fees under Civil Rights Law §§ 70-a and 76-a(1)(a)(1). Aristocrat Plastic Surgery, P.C. v Silva, 2022 NY Slip Op 03311, First Dept 5-19-22
Practice Point: The anti-SLAPP statutes in the Civil Rights Law protected defendant from a defamation action by the plastic surgeon about whom defendant posted negative online reviews. The doctor’s complaint was dismissed and defendant was entitled to attorney’s fees and damages. Business reviews are matters of public interest and concern.