The Volokh Conspiracy
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Solvera Group, accused by Texas AG of masterminding fake-defendant lawsuits, now being sued by Consumer Opinion over California lawsuits
In spring 2016, Michael Podolsky of Consumer Opinion—which runs PissedConsumer.com— wrote a blog post claiming that several libel lawsuits brought over PissedConsumer posts looked suspicious; he thought that the ostensible defendants in those cases, who stipulated that their posts were libelous, weren't really the authors of those posts. In fall 2016, noted Internet lawyer Marc Randazza sued on Consumer Opinion's behalf in federal court, making similar allegations, but that lawsuit had to be pulled out of federal court because it was focused on state law claims, and at least of the defendants turned out to be a citizen of the same state as the plaintiff.
Earlier this month, Randazza refiled the lawsuit and included Solvera Group as one of its defendants. Solvera Group, as you may recall, was recently accused by the Texas attorney general's office of masterminding fake-defendant lawsuits in Texas; Randazza's claim is that Solvera, as well as lawyers Owen Mascott and Mark Lapham, were responsible for the California lawsuits as well. Here is an excerpt from the complaint:
This case involves a creative solution to a common frustration for many businesses, who do not like negative reviews that are published about them on the Internet. However, removing consumer reviews from the Internet is a difficult process given that they are protected by the First Amendment. …
Nevada Corporate Headquarters has … conspired with other companies and individuals to create a scam whereby they suppress negative reviews from the Internet, while evading any First Amendment or due process considerations. This scam also allows them to avoid the risk of another anti-SLAPP attorney fee award.
Several other businesses and professionals who have been the subject of negative reviews online have also employed the same fraudulent machinery as Nevada Corporate Headquarters, as a means of removing this content while evading detection and liability. A California corporation is at the center of this scheme and coordinated its moving parts.
The scam is not all that complicated. Google will remove search engine results from its well-known search engine if it is provided with a court order determining that the information is indeed defamatory.
However, when Nevada Corporate Headquarters sued consumer review websites in the past, it was severely disappointed. Therefore, they needed to concoct a new censorship scam. So, they used a stooge plaintiff, ZCS Inc., to sue a stooge defendant, Collins Mattos.
Defendant Solvera Group, Inc. and Doe Defendants, so called "reputation management" companies, conceived and organized the scam as an alternative way to remove negative posts in lieu of undergoing an adversarial proceeding. Several other businesses and professionals have contacted these companies, which have used similar schemes to remove negative consumer reviews about them.
The other conspirators engaged attorneys Mark W. Lapham and Owen T. Mascott to file sham lawsuits either by the subjects of the negative reviews or by corporations that had no interest in the allegedly defamatory statements, against a defendant who most certainly was not the party that published the allegedly defamatory statements, and the parties immediately stipulated to a judgment of injunctive relief, so the conspirators could provide the order to Google and other search engines, thus achieving the goal of deindexing all pages containing negative reviews.
At first blush, Defendants' scam appears rather brilliant but incredibly unethical. Now that Plaintiff has uncovered and exposed Defendants' unlawful deeds, Consumer Opinion LLC respectfully requests that this Court discipline them for those misdeeds.
The lawsuit claims defendants' behavior constitutes abuse of process, civil conspiracy, and unlawful, unfair and fraudulent business practice under Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 17200.