Dentist who threatened patient over Yelp comments disappears

A New York dentist who required patients to agree not to post negative online comments about her prior to treatment has disappeared.

Robert Allen Lee of Huntingtown, MD, first went to Manhattan dentist Stacy Makhnevich, DDS, in October 2010. Following a billing dispute, Lee posted online complaints on the Yelp and DoctorBasereview sites, despite signing a form prior to treatment saying that he would not disparage her on the Internet or other broadcast media.

Dr. Makhnevich then sent letters to the websites demanding that Lee's comments be removed. The letters also disclosed Lee's personal information, a HIPAA violation.

But the websites refused to remove the comments, saying they regard purported copyright assignments as legally unenforceable, according to the suit.

Dr. Makhnevich then began sending invoices to Lee charging him $100 per day for copyright infringement. She also threatened to sue him.

The Public Citizen Litigation Group then filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of Lee which asserted the agreement violated New York law, misused federal copyright laws, and violated dental ethics. Dr. Makhnevich subsequently requested that Lee's lawsuit be dismissed, but a court denied her request.

In the last few months, Dr. Makhnevich has disappeared, according to a story on Ars Technica, and her lawyers have been unable to get in touch with her. They said she closed her business and the sole communications they've had with her has been through her assistant.

Lee is still trying to get back the money he says he was overcharged and to have notices sent to Dr. Makhnevich's other patients that the contracts they signed don't prevent them from writing reviews. He is also seeking to recover legal fees associated with the suit.

Dentists who have tried to fight negative comments posted online have often been unsuccessful. In 2011, a California dentist who filed a defamation case over negative reviews on had to pay $80,000 in attorney fees to a young patient's parents, whom she sued. A California appeals court supported Yelp reviews in 2010.

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