eBay Buyer Sues Seller Who Sued Over Bad Review

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By Aditi Mukherji, JD on May 07, 2013 12:16 PM

On eBay, ratings equal social currency: They can make or break a seller's reputation. That's why Med Express, an eBay seller, sued a buyer who wouldn't take down her negative review. It was the only piece of negative feedback against the company.

Med Express eventually backed down, but the buyer's lawyer is pursuing a countersuit because of the company's troubling pattern of suing buyers over bad reviews.

But are Med Express' eBay lawsuits "completely frivolous," as the eBay buyer's lawyer claims?

A Dispute Over Small Change

The eBay buyer in question, Amy Nicholls, paid $175 for a microscope light, as well as $12 for shipping. She was annoyed when she had to pay an extra $1.44 in postage due and left feedback complaining about that inconvenience, reports Ars Technica.

Since the company offered to refund her the $1.44, the company says that she should have taken down the negative feedback, which could hurt its business.

Med Express touts 142 posts of positive feedback and only one negative review. Ironically, it's the lawsuit that may cause more damage to their sterling reputation.

The Countersuit

Nicholls is being represented by Public Citizen, a consumer-advocacy group. In a written statement, Public Citizen's Paul Levy called the lawsuit frivolous, reports Ars Technica.

Levy explained that his client's "opinion might be right, or it might be wrong, but harboring it and expressing it is not a tort. And it is certainly no reason to seek damages, attorney fees, and an injunction."

In a frivolous lawsuit, a party (or his lawyer) knows -- or should know -- that the legal claim he's making is baseless, but pursue the lawsuit anyway. Such lawsuits are commonly used to harass or intimidate the target of the suit.

In Nicholls' case, Levy says that Med Express has little negative feedback because it "bullies critics by filing or threatening to file frivolous lawsuits every time negative feedback appears."

Unfortunately for Med Express, "annoyance" is a feeling anchored by opinion. A review based on lies could lead to a defamation suit, but a review expressing an opinion is typically protected free speech -- even if it hurts a business just as much as an untruthful review.

But businesses should be careful about even pursuing defamation suits. For example, California's "anti-SLAPP" laws can protect defendants against defamation lawsuits that are brought to punish, deter or silence public debate on topics of public interest.

In both frivolous and "anti-SLAPP" cases, businesses that end up on the losing side can wind up paying the other side's attorney fees.

Given Med Express' alleged shady history of suing buyers, Levy is using the case to teach the company a lesson. He's going to pursue attorney fees and then some, reports Ars Technica.

Getting negative reviews is annnoying for any business, but it's better than pursuing a string of lawsuits that will definitely cost your company more than $1.44 -- and a pile of social currency.

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