Company sues based on comments posted on Ripoff Report
On December 15, 2008, Intellect Art Media, Inc., a Massachusetts-based company that operates a college-level summer program called Swiss Finance Academy, sued Mathew Milewski, a student at Fordham University; Xcentric Ventures, LLC, operators of the website RipoffReport.com; and five anonymous posters for defamation. Intellect Art Media's claims were based on comments Milewski and others had posted on Ripoff Report, a consumer complaint site, regarding the Swiss Finance Academy program. The complaint also alleged a claim for breach of contract against Milewski and a products liability claim against Xcentric. Intellect Art Media later sought leave to amend the complaint to include six more causes of action against Xcentric, including tortious interference with prospective business relations, tortious interference with contractual relations, breach of contract, negligent misrepresentation, common law negligence, and injurious falsehoods.
In April 2009, the defendants separately moved to dismiss. The Supreme Court of New York all claims except the breach of contract claim against Milewksi. The court dismissed the defamation claim against Milewski, characterizing his criticism of Swiss Finance Academy as personal opinion that is protected by the First Amendment. The court reasoned that the context of the website revealed that Milewski was "a disgruntled consumer and that his statements reflect his personal opinion based upon his personal dealing with plaintiff." The court also noted that Milewski's description of the program as a "bait and switch scam" and as a "joke" were "loose, figurative or hyperbolic" statements and were therefore unactionable.
The court likewise dismissed the defamation claim against Xcentric because Intellect Art Media failed to cite affirmative statements made by Xcentric, despite a general allegation that Xcentric added "defamatory headings" in Milewski's post. The court also found that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act shields Xcentric from liability as “[nlo provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” 47 USCA § 230 (c) (1).
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