The Volokh Conspiracy
Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent
Last week, I blogged about a suspicious-looking strategy in an online libel case: Matthew Chan (a Georgia resident) posted on Yelp (and on some other sites) a negative review of Mitul Patel, a Suwanee, Ga., dentist. Chan next heard about the matter when Yelp forwarded to him a takedown request, which was accompanied by a Baltimore court order in a case titled "Mitul Patel v. Mathew Chan," with the "Mathew Chan" listed as a Baltimore resident (though the order required the takedown of posts that were written by Matthew Chan of Georgia). A libel lawsuit had been filed in Baltimore trial court, together with a purported agreement from Patel and the Baltimore Chan to have the case be settled with a takedown injunction—and without serving the Georgia Matthew Chan.
Now there's a new twist: Patel's lawyer, Stuart J. Oberman, is stating that "Dr. Patel had no knowledge whatsoever regarding the lawsuit that was filed in the Maryland Circuit Court" until the story about this was broken last week by Paul Alan Levy (Public Citizen). "Dr. Patel never signed the Complaint, and never authorized any individual or company to file the Complaint on his behalf…. Furthermore, Dr. Patel never signed the Consent Motion for Injunction and Final Judgment." Instead, he argues, someone "apparently forged Dr. Patel's signature to the Complaint and Consent Motion," "for some unknown reason." You can see Oberman's letter to Levy and Levy's response, as well as Levy's follow-up post on the matter.
Yet who would engage in such a forgery? It cost $185 to file a complaint in Maryland trial court; someone had to have a motive to pay that. (I am told that the clerk's office said the fee was paid in cash.) Oberman said, in an e-mail responding to my query, that "Dr. Patel did hire a reputation management company, and we are in the process of determining whether they were involved in filing the Maryland lawsuit. Based upon our investigation, the owner of the reputation management company may have or previously had some connection with the Baltimore area." But Oberman declined to give the name of the company.
Also, Levy reports that Yelp informed him that the messages to Yelp had come from someone using an address that Patel had apparently used before. I asked Oberman about that but didn't get an answer.