US judge won't shield Yelp from Texas lawsuit over crisis pregnancy center notices

By Brendan Pierson

(Reuters) - A California federal judge has refused to shield Yelp from a lawsuit by the state of Texas accusing it of posting misleading notices about crisis pregnancy centers on its online review site.

U.S. District Judge Trina Thompson in Oakland, California, ruled Thursday that federal courts cannot interfere with state actions enforcing their laws unless they are brought in bad faith. She said that required her to dismiss a preemptive lawsuit Yelp had filed against Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton last September in an effort to stop him from suing the San Francisco-based company for posting notices warning users that the centers provided limited medical services.

"To be clear, the court is not convinced that Paxton acted entirely in good faith in bringing this case against Yelp; still, Yelp has not provided enough concrete evidence of his subjective motivations to prove otherwise," Thompson wrote.

"Yelp cannot mislead and deceive the public simply because the company disagrees with our state's laws," Paxton said in a statement.

"Yelp will continue to press forward to vigorously defend our constitutionally protected free speech rights to provide consumers with access to accurate information," the company said in a statement.

Yelp sued Paxton in Oakland federal court on Sept. 27 after hearing Paxton intended to sue the company, which he did the next day. Paxton said that notices Yelp posted on the review pages for crisis pregnancy centers violated a Texas law against unfair business practices.

Crisis pregnancy centers offer pregnant women counseling while seeking to prevent them from having abortions. Generally, they do not clearly advertise their anti-abortion stance.

In August 2022, Yelp began posting a notice on crisis pregnancy centers' pages stating: "This is a Crisis Pregnancy Center. Crisis Pregnancy Centers typically provide limited medical services and may not have licensed medical professionals onsite."

Last February, Paxton and other Republican state attorneys general told Yelp the notice was misleading because it was posted on pages of centers that did have licensed medical professionals.

The company, without conceding that the language was misleading, changed the notices to state that crisis pregnancy centers "do not offer abortions or referrals to abortion providers." Paxton said at the time that the new language was accurate.

In his lawsuit, Paxton is seeking to make Yelp pay unspecified money damages.

(Reporting by Brendan Pierson in New York, Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)