Judge stops lawsuit dentist filed against patient over Yelp review

Judge stops lawsuit dentist filed against patient over Yelp review »Play Video
Dentist Mo Saleh, end of table on the right, sued his former client, Spencer Bailey, end of table left, for defamation after Bailey criticized his work as a dentist online.

LAKE OSWEGO, Ore. – A dentist who sued a former patient for defamation had his lawsuit thrown out Thursday.

A judge decided the critical comments made on review site Yelp.com and other sites were free speech.

"I'm disgusted. I'm actually really disgusted," said dentist Mo Saleh, who tried to sue his former client, Spencer Bailey, for defamation after finding negative reviews on the Internet. "The reason I'm risking opportunity and risking this negative exposure is because I feel that this is wrong."

But a judge threw out the suit before it got very far.

"When we walked into this courtroom, we didn't walk on equal footing because of the Anti-SLAPP law," Saleh said.

The "SLAPP" in the Anti-SLAPP law stands for Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation.

Businesses can sometimes file those suits to quiet criticism. But the Anti-SLAPP law can be a friend to those who are taken to court, giving them free speech protection when they make comments in a public forum and concern a public interest, which a site like Yelp seeks to serve.

"It's not easy to be sued and dragged into court," said Jeremiah Ross, the attorney who represented Bailey. "Just as we anticipated, they couldn't prove their case because it wasn't a defamatory statement."

Still, Saleh may appeal believing the online criticism was meant to harm him and not simply to inform the public.

"I teach my kids to stand up when you’ve been wronged, and I think that's absolutely disgusting what happened today," he said.

One of the comments Bailey was accused of making was, "If Saleh finds a cavity, get a second opinion and get it filled by someone else."

Saleh was seeking $300,000 in damages.