A patient sued by a prominent plastic surgeon for posting poor reviews on RealSelf and Yelp is entitled to seek damages and attorneys’ fees, the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court has ruled.
In Aristocrat Plastic Surgery v. Paige Silva (New York County Supreme Court), Dr. Kevin Tehrani of Manhattan, NY, sued patient Paige Silva in April 2021 for posting “knowingly and materially false” reviews of her experience with the surgeon on RealSelf.com and Yelp.com.
The initial trial court case ruled in the patient’s favor in August 2021 and dismissed the surgeon’s defamation lawsuit against Silva, but it failed to award her the recovery of attorney fees and damages.
The former patient would have to pay for her own defense, despite a court decision that ruled in her favor.
Silva, represented by New York civil litigation firm Jones Law Firm, P.C., appealed that decision.
On May 19, 2022, the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of the State of New York ruled in Silva’s favor, modifying the trial court’s original decision and allowing her to seek damages and attorney’ fees.
Central to their appeal, in 2020, the legislature had amended New York’s anti-SLAPP statute to expand its scope and better protect citizens.
According to portions of the defendant’s patient reviews as left on RealSelf and Yelp, which are included in publicly available court documents, Silva paid the surgeon more than $38,000 for an internal gluteal lift, after which she felt “excruciating pains” and was “left with a 4 inch long and 1 inch wide open incision” that hadn’t closed two months after surgery.
Continuing, the review says the plastic surgeon blocked Silva’s phone number after discharging her, banned her fiancé from his office after he called the surgeon “incompetent, negligent, and egotistical,” and that the practice failed to get back to her after she called an aftercare phone line.
Aristocrat Plastic Surgery, P.C. v. Silva, 2022 N.Y. Slip Op. 3311, (N.Y. App. Div. 2022)
“In the present case, defendant 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 (see e.g. Coleman, 523 F.Supp.3d at 259; Mirza, 513 F.Supp.3d at 300). 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).”
In a release, Waleed Bhatti, a paralegal with the prevailing New York law firm, said the ruling is “a victory for defendants involved in Anti-SLAPP lawsuits across New York, as well as states like California and others that have their own Anti-SLAPP laws, as there is now precedence for attorneys’ fees being awarded to Defendants who would otherwise have to pay out of pocket for defending themselves in what are often frivolous lawsuits meant to hamper a person’s ability to freedom of speech and the ability to speak honestly about their experiences.”
The firm’s principal attorney, Bryce Jones, “argued on behalf of the defendant that her reviews were made ‘in connection with an issue of public interest,’” Bhatti writes, “and thus fell within the scope of New York’s Anti-SLAPP laws, which provide defendants a quick way to dismiss meritless lawsuits, specifically those that target a person for exercising their First Amendment rights.”
Surgical Times reached out to parties involved for comment. Information from the Supreme Court of the State of New York, Harris Beach PLLC, Trellis, Reason, Jones Law Firm, P.C., New York Law Journal, and Case Text were used and/or consulted in this report.