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Supreme Court reverses ban on Internet criticism

The Supreme Court of Virginia acted swiftly Friday to overturn a lower court’s takedown order directing a disgruntled consumer to remove critical online postings about a contractor.

The high court vacated a Dec. 7 order from Fairfax Circuit Judge Thomas A. Fortkort ordering Jane Perez to delete certain accusations about Dietz Development LLC from postings on Yelp and Angie’s List.

The ruling came two days after lawyers filed an appeal of Fortkort’s preliminary injunction.

The Supreme Court’s Dec. 28 unpublished order states the Fortkort order did not prescribe the time during which the injunction was to be effective. The high court also found the preliminary injunction was “not justified” and Dietz had “an adequate remedy at law.”

The Fortkort ruling was appealed by both the ACLU of Virginia and Public Citizen. The groups said the Fortkort order violated both the First Amendment and Virginia law.

Contractor Christopher Dietz sued Perez over her Internet comments implying Dietz stole items from her home. Dietz contended Perez defamed him and cost him $300,000 in business. Fortkort ordered Perez to take down some of her accusations and barred her from repeating them in any new posts while the lawsuit was pending.

In a statement, ACLU legal director Rebecca Glenberg – representing Perez – said Dietz will still have the opportunity to try to prove in court that he was wronged by Perez’ speech, but “the court cannot suppress her speech in the meantime.”

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