Countless businesses and business owners have fallen victim to false and defamatory posts on Ripoff Report. While www.RipoffReport.com states that the website requires truthful reports, the website also “does not guarantee” the accuracy or authenticity of the content submitted by its registered users.
Given the current internet landscape, which includes the Communications Decency Act (which shields websites such as Ripoff Report from being held liable for user-submitted content), Ripoff Report has every right to operate as it does. Nonetheless, this setup has opened the door for countless damaging Ripoff Report posts, aided by the fact that the website has a policy in which it does not remove false posts.
This inability to remove posts from Ripoff Report does not prevent harmed businesses and/or business professionals from pursuing their claims. In fact, victims of false and defamatory Ripoff Report posts can obtain court orders and have the relevant URLs de-indexed from Google and other search engines.
When the sources of false statements on Ripoff Report are unknown, it is typically important to issue subpoenas to Ripoff Report to try to unmask the posters’ identities. In other instances, the subjects of false Ripoff Report posts may be fairly confident as to the identities of the posters, but it is still wise to confirm their identities via the subpoena process.
In either case, note that the longer one waits, the harder it may be to obtain the necessary information: sometimes this is a matter of Ripoff Report no longer maintaining certain user records, while other times it is simply a statute of limitations issue. In Arizona, claims for libel must be brought within a year.
Issuing non-party subpoenas and complying with Ripoff Report’s subpoena policies
Generally, speaking, businesses and individuals must take into account several things when issuing subpoenas (or thinking about issuing subpoenas) at the state level for personally identifying information related to the posters of false and defamatory online content.
Our recently published “Subpoena Guide for Identifying Anonymous Posters” tackles these issues, but in general this list includes: knowing the rules and standards of the forum state; knowing or learning the rules and standards of the foreign state in which the subpoena will be issued; and narrowly tailoring the subpoena to ask for the appropriate identifying information.
A requesting party will also need to allow sufficient time for the poster to object and for the website to produce the requested information, which is often 20 or 21 days.
In terms of issuing a subpoena to Ripoff Report specifically, there are nine key things to remember:
- Direct the subpoena to Xcentric Ventures, LLC, which operates Ripoff Report
- The subpoena must be issued from an Arizona court (Out-of-state requesting parties can use a process server to get their Ripoff Report subpoenas issued by the Maricopa County Superior Court. In addition to the Arizona subpoena form, requesting parties will want to include a valid signed subpoena from the forum state, which features the following text on it: “For the Issuance of an Arizona Subpoena under Ariz. R. Civ. P. 45.1”.).
- The subpoena must be personally served on Ripoff Report’s agent, also per Rule 45
- The subpoena must identify the number of the Ripoff Report post or post (e.g. #1234567)
- Notice of the subpoena must be given to the poster (A “rebuttal” can be filed in response to the particular post(s) in which the requesting party gives the user “adequate notice and a reasonable opportunity to respond.”)
- The requesting party must demonstrate that its claim(s) can survive a motion for summary judgment (Ripoff Report allows requesting parties to satisfy this requirement by providing admissible evidence such as a declaration or affidavit demonstrating that the user’s post contains “provably false statements of fact.”)
- The post must not be published more than a year before the lawsuit was filed (In general, it is necessary to file the lawsuit within a year for statute of limitations purposes. If, however a plaintiff’s claims are for other torts such as business disparagement (not confined to one year), this can be demonstrated in the declaration or affidavit.)
- The post must contain provably false statements of fact
- Pay the $150 subpoena processing fee
If a subpoena satisfies Ripoff Report’s compliance standards, Ripoff Report’s counsel will produce the requested information. This production should include a verified email (even if set up solely for creating a Ripoff Report account), an IP Address, and unverified information including a “Real Name,” “State” (Alabama is the default if no answer is provided), and possibly a phone number, city, and zip code. More often than not, the next step is to determine which internet service provider (ISP) the IP Address is registered to, and eventually issue a subpoena to that ISP. See pages 5-7 of the Supboena Guide linked to above for more details.