David Freydin, a Chicago lawyer, posed a question on Facebook: “Did Trump put Ukraine on the travel ban list?! We just cannot find a cleaning lady!” After receiving online criticism, Freydin doubled down: “My business with Ukrainians will be done when they stop declaring bankruptcies. If this offends your national pride, I suggest you look for underlying causes of why 9 out of 10 cleaning ladies we’ve had were Ukrainian and 9 out of 10 of my law school professors were not. Until then, if you don’t have a recommendation for a cleaning lady, feel free to take your comments somewhere else.” As sometimes happens on social media, things escalated quickly. People angered by Freydin’s comments went to his law firm’s Facebook, Yelp, and Google pages, and left reviews which ranged from simple one-star ratings to detailed comments about Freydin’s “hatred and disrespect towards the Ukrainian nation….” Defendant Victoria Chamara’s one-star rating contained the longest commentary, calling Freydin an “embarrassment and a disgrace to the US judicial system,” referred to his comments as “unethical and derogatory,” and labeled him a “hypocrite,” “chauvinist,” and “racist” who “has no right to practice law.” Defendant Tetiana Kravchuk said that Freydin “is not professional” and “discriminates against other nationalities” and told people not to “waste your money”, while defendant Anastasia Shmotolokha wrote that “Freydin is biased and unprofessional attorney”. These statements also accompanied one-star ratings. Defendant Nadia Romenets gave the Law Offices of David Freydin a one-star rating but did not provide any additional comments. And various one-star ratings from John Doe defendants complained of “terrible experience” “awful customer service” “disrespect” and “unprofessionalism”. None of the defendants were clients or previous clients.
The U.S. Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of Freydin’s defamation claims:
“First, the statements do not have precise and readily understood specific meanings. Granted, they are easily understood phrases in the English language. But there are numerous reasons why someone may have had a ‘terrible experience’ or suggest that a product or service would be a ‘waste of money’. Without additional details, the use of these phrases cannot be understood to be precise.
“Second, none of the statements can be objectively verified as true or false. How could a third-party observer gauge whether the commentator received awful customer service, for instance, by just reading a one-star review that says ‘Terrible experience. Awful customer service’? What objective indicator defines whether a given customer service experience was good or bad? Or whether a service or good was worth the money? This review, like the others, stated a non-actionable opinion.
“More fundamental, we must consider the particular social context of these online reviews and what it may signal about their contents. The defendants posted their reviews on Freydin’s Law Office’s Facebook, Yelp, and Google pages, which invite unfiltered comments. We trust that readers of online reviews are skeptical about what they read, both positive and negative. But it is enough in this case that these short reviews did not purport to provide any factual foundation and were clearly meant to express the opinions of the defendants in response to Freydin’s insults to Ukrainians generally.
“Plaintiffs challenge this conclusion by arguing that the defendants’ reviews falsely implied that the reviewers had actually used Freydin’s legal services. In plaintiffs’ view, leaving a review in these internet forums implies that the reviewer had a direct consumer relationship with the reviewee (or here, a client-lawyer interaction).” However: “The point is not whether the individual commentator had a direct consumer relationship with the business that she reviewed. Rather, we ask if a reader could understand whether the reviewer was expressing opinions or facts. The comments in this case fall clearly on the side of opinion. There may be several reasons why someone had a bad experience with a business that have nothing to do with a direct-consumer relationship.”
Law Offices of Favid Freydin v. Chamara, 24 F.4th 1122 (7th Cir. 2022).