from the dominoes dept
Still more evidence continues to be uncovered linking shady reputation management companies to fraudulent defamation lawsuits. This tactic has only recently been exposed, thanks mainly to the efforts of Eugene Volokh and Paul Alan Levy. (Pissed Consumer spotted some questionable lawsuit activity as well, shortly before the Volokh/Levy deluge.)
So far, one victim of this fraudulent behavior has obtained a settlement from one of these reputation management firms. It’s likely more such judgments are on the way as more details linking firms to bogus lawsuits are dug up. One judge has already passed on info to the US Attorney’s office. Now, Eugene Volokh is reporting the Texas attorney general’s office has filed a civil complaint against a company called Solvera that, up until recently, performed illegitimate Google takedown services for customers paying upwards of $10,000, using nothing more than bogus libel lawsuits filed by nonexistent companies against fake defendants.
The civil complaint [PDF] details the bogus inner workings of the lawsuits filed by shell companies set up by Solvera. (Also, shell defendants.)
Solvera Defendants next contract with attorneys, including in Harris County, Texas, to file defamation lawsuits on behalf of their customers. At this point, both the consumer and the attorney are misled. Specifically, Solvera Defendants fail to obtain authorization from, or even notify, its customers before contracting with attorneys to file lawsuits as part of their services. Businesses are surprised to learn, after the fact, that a company with a very similar name to their legal name has been named as the plaintiff in a lawsuit.
Second, the attorney has been told by Solvera Defendants that they have already identified and contacted the alleged defamation defendant, the individual who purportedly posted the negative information on the Internet, and the parties have already reached a settlement. Solvera Defendants have already drafted the lawsuit, and send it along with the URL De-Index Agreement to the attorney. Local attorneys are thereby misled, because Solvera Defendants misrepresent that their customer has in fact authorized a lawsuit, when in actuality it is a fictitious business entity. This entity has then granted power of attorney to the local lawyer.
Solvera Defendants make this misrepresentation by sending those attorneys a different version of the URL De-Index Agreement than the one that was signed by the customer. This version of the De-Index Agreement includes provisions stating that the consumer has agreed to be represented by the local attorney by granting a power of attorney, provisions that are not present in the original De-Index Agreement.
Moreover, these local attorneys are further misled because Solvera Defendants fail to actually identify and contact the original poster of the content the consumer had believed was defamatory. Instead, a California blogger has made an additional posting to the original purportedly defamatory content, and has agreed to be “defendant” in the defamation lawsuit.
Identifying the person consumers believe originally posted negative information would be nearly impossible to accomplish from the often anonymous complaints posted on the internet. So, Solvera Defendants have a local California associate sign an affidavit, in which he/she falsely states that he/she is a resident of the Court’s jurisdiction, including Harris County, and further falsely states that he/she engaged in all of the conduct alleged in the lawsuit, which extends to more than just the comment that they had additionally provided. This is evidenced by the fact that invariably the affidavit is notarized in California despite the alleged defamation defendant’s supposed local residence, in Harris County.
A bogus lawsuit is filed in a Texas court, purportedly from a company located outside of the state, featuring a defendant allegedly located in Texas but willing to take a road trip to California to get their confession notarized by a lawyer there. A judgment is secured against the defendant, which is passed along to Google for delisting as supposedly defamatory content. This all goes on without Solvera’s customers knowing this is happening. Not only that, but the lawyers contracted to file the legal paperwork apparently have no idea they’re participating in Solvera’s fraud on the court.
If this complaint sticks, Solvera will be blocked from filing more bogus lawsuits and (importantly) from attempting to deep-six any still pending in Texas courts. If the court finds for the state, Solvera will also be required to repay every customer they defrauded, along with $20,000 per violation of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act. Hopefully, most of this will stick and serve as a pricey deterrent to others hoping to turn a profit by lying to the courts.