Judge refuses to have online criticisms of Greensburg dentist practice removed, allows lawsuit to move forward | TribLIVE.com
Westmoreland

Judge refuses to have online criticisms of Greensburg dentist practice removed, allows lawsuit to move forward

Rich Cholodofsky
1352175_web1_JudgeGavel

A Westmoreland County judge Friday refused to grant an injunction that would have forced the removal of online social media posts a local dentist claims are libelous.

Common Pleas Judge Chris Scherer, in a four-page opinion, said the injunction request from Three Rivers Dental Group in Greensburg could ultimately have a chilling effect on free speech.

“Although this court’s finding is based solely on the facts presented before it and does not necessarily apply to any other postings or statements made in online postings, the grant of a preliminary injunction could adversely affect the public by putting a deterring effect on someone who intended to exercise their First Amendment rights by posting a negative review but hesitated because of a fear of potential lawsuits,” Scherer wrote.

That ruling came following a brief hearing Friday. The company this month filed a lawsuit against a Hempfield man, claiming he made defamatory and libelous claims in online posts to its Facebook page and other social media sites.

Three Rivers said the posts from former patient Robert Ottaviani contained false information about investigations and fraudulent business practices.

Ottaviani has maintained the investigations he referred to in the posts are active.

“I don’t believe (the posts) were libelous. I have a right to free speech,” Ottaviani said Friday. “I contend my allegations can be supported by investigations. What I did was within the law.”

Ottaviani did not attend Friday’s court hearing.

Scherer did not rule on the specific libel allegations brought in the lawsuit and denied a separate request Ottaviani submitted by mail to dismiss the case.

The judge said Three Rivers Dental presented no evidence that the posts would have a negative impact on its business and that written statements from company officials he reviewed Friday was not sufficient for him to determine whether investigations were launched regarding Ottaviani’s claims.

Three Rivers lawyer Marc Schneider said in court Friday the claims made by Ottaviani were not true and that no investigations are ongoing into the dentist group’s conduct. He also argued the social media posts could cost the company business.

Schneider said the injunction was needed to remove posts subject to the lawsuit from the company’s own Facebook site.

“Facebook does not allow for the removal of review posts,” Schneider said.

Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293, [email protected] or via Twitter .

Categories: Local | Westmoreland
TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.