A Chicago lawyer can’t use the legal system to quell the online firestorm he started by making negative comments about Ukrainians on social media, after the Seventh Circuit said reactive professional reviews posted about him were opinion and not libel.
David Freydin’s need for a cleaning person was at the heart of the case. In 2017 he posted on Facebook: “Did Trump put Ukraine on the the travel ban list?! We just cannot find a cleaning lady!”
Freydin doubled down in response to initial criticism about the comment, suggesting that Ukrainians “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.”
People responded on Freydin’s firm’s Facebook, Yelp, and Google pages with negative reviews and one-star ratings.
Victoria Chamara was among those who gave the firm one star. In her commentary, she said Freydin was an “embarrassment and disgrace” to the legal profession, said his comments were “unethical and derogatory,” and called him a “hypocrite,” “chauvinist,” and “racist,” who “has no right to practice law.”
Some anonymous defendants left one-star reviews and said the legal service Freydin and his firm provided was substandard, even though they’d never used the firm.
The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois said that under Illinois law the reviews were defamatory per se because they called into question Freydin’s ability to practice law. It nevertheless dismissed the suit, saying the comments weren’t actionable because they were statements of opinion.
Affirming, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit said that the comments are imprecise and can’t be objectively verified as true or false, it said.
Freydin and his firm said that the reviews weren’t true because they insinuated the reviewers actually used their legal services. But the point isn’t whether the commentator had a direct consumer relationship with the business reviewed, it’s whether a reader would understand the reviews to be opinion, the court said.
Chamara’s comments that Freydin was a hypocrite, chauvinist, and racist were also opinion, because they were made without specific factual support, the opinion by Judge David F. Hamilton said.
Nor is a one-star review by itself defamatory, the court said. It reflects a reviewers own preferences, rather than an objective fact that’s true or false, it said.
Judges Michael S. Kanne and Amy J. St. Eve joined the opinion.
Freydin’s law firm represented him and itself. Daliah Saper of Chicago represented the defendants.
The case is Law Offices of David Freydin PC v. Chamara, 2022 BL 31114, 7th Cir., No. 18-3216, 1/28/22.