A law firm tried to sue a student over a bad Yelp review. The judge wasn’t having it.

Yelp has become the source of several strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPP) aimed at preventing people from posting bad reviews online for fear of being sued.
Yelp has become the source of several strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPP) aimed at preventing people from posting bad reviews online for fear of being sued. AP

Getting hit by a drunk driver was just the beginning of Lan Cai’s problems.

The 20-year-old nursing student and waitress was driving home this past summer when she was involved in a car crash in Houston that broke two bones in her lower back, according to the Houston Press. With the inevitable onslaught of insurance claims and settlements over damages, Cai hired the Tuan A. Khuu law firm to represent her.

Not long after, Cai fired her lawyer, Keith Nguyen. In reviews and posts to Yelp, Facebook and Google, Cai said the firm was “pushy” at first and then stopped responding to her calls and emails. Eventually, when she decided to hire a different lawyer, they still delayed in responding to her. Cai told KPRC that the firm’s representatives also entered her bedroom while she was still in her underwear and claimed not to know where her car was after the accident.

“After 3 days, they didn't tell me anything about the doctor I needed to go to,” Cai wrote on Facebook. “I was in a lot of pain. Not only that, they didn't know where the hell my car was! And they came to my house and into my room to talk to me when I was sleeping in my underwear. Seriously, it's super unprofessional! ... I came in to the office to meet with my previous attorney, but he literally ran off.”

After she posted her reviews, however, Nguyen emailed her.

“He emailed me, and said, 'I saw what you wrote on social media and I need you to remove it right now,'" Cai told KPRC.

She refused, however, and the firm filed a defamation lawsuit in Fort Bend County Court, alleging Cai had slandered them with “half-truths,” according to the Houston Press. In damages, they sought $100,000 to $200,000, or 10 times what Cai has in her bank account, she told the Houston Press.

“I feel like they're trying to pull every single penny out of me,” Cai said, “just because I didn't want to be their client.”

Nguyen told KPRC that the firm was invited into Cai’s house by her mother when their representatives walked into her bedroom, that the law firm always knew where her car was and that when he “ran off,” he was leaving for the day.

“I feel sorry for her, because again, I gave her plenty of opportunities to retract and delete her post and she refused,” Nguyen told the Houston Press. “She was proud: 'I've got it on Facebook. I've got it on Yelp,' with no remorse.”

On Google, the law firm has a 1.1 out of 5 star rating, with 38 reviews. Many other commenters echoed Cai’s complaints, saying the firm was slow to respond to calls, delayed proceedings and responded poorly when clients decided to seek other representation.

On Wednesday, a judge sided with the reviews and with Cai, dismissing the defamation lawsuit and ordering the firm to pay Cai $26,831.55 in legal fees.

Ars Technica reports that Michael Fleming, Cai’s new lawyer, successfully petitioned the court to have the lawsuit dismissed as a violation of Texas’s law against Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP). Anti-SLAPP laws are aimed at preventing lawsuits brought against people or companies in the hopes that the cost of legal representation and defense will force them to back down or settle. Currently, 28 states have anti-SLAPP laws, with Texas containing a specific proviso protecting citizens’ online speech.

In his motion to dismiss, Fleming, who took the case pro bono, argued that Cai was not guilty of slander because her complaints were both accurate and not the only poor reviews of the law firm. In order for the review to have been slander, Nguyen’s firm would have to prove that it was both inaccurate and had damaged the firm’s reputation.

“This woman is a part-time student and got threatened with a lawsuit after the first review," Fleming told the Houston Chronicle. "But she stuck with it and wouldn't take the reviews down.

“You see this in a number of cases across Texas, it's not uncommon. What you don't really see is a law firm suing someone for reviews.”

Tuan A. Khuu law firm declined to comment on the ruling, per multiple reports.