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NEW YORK–Public Citizen, a Washington-based nonprofit consumer rights lobby and legal aid firm, has sued a Brooklyn dentist for making prospective patients agree in writing not to publish disparaging remarks about her or her practice as a condition of treatment.
The group’s lawsuit, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, alleges that a former patient of Dr. Stacy Makhnevich was charged $100 a day for more than two months after posting a negative review of the doctor’s practice on Yelp.com.
Huntingtown, Md., resident Robert Allen Lee alleges that Dr. Makhnevich’s office sent records of an October 2010 visit to the wrong insurer, then refused to correct the mistake and tried to pass off Mr. Lee’s request to a third-party company that insisted on a $240 processing fee.
The suit alleges that Mr. Lee was forced to sign a series of documents prior to being treated, one of which prohibited him from publishing any commentary about Dr. Makhnevich that disparaged her or the practice. It also required that he assign the copyright to the dentist for any commentary that he did write. Mr. Lee did not want to waive those rights, but the sore tooth for which he was seeking treatment was causing him too much pain to refuse signing the document, according to the suit.
“What began as a case of a sore tooth is now showcasing an unconscionable practice in which doctors and dentists force patients to leave their constitutional rights at the office door,” Paul Alan Levy, the Public Citizen attorney representing Mr. Lee’s case, said Wednesday in a statement by the advocacy group. “If people are upset about their care, they have a First Amendment right to tell people about it—by going online and posting their thoughts on Yelp, Facebook, Twitter and the like.”
Seeking class-action status for patients who were similarly barred from commenting online, the suit alleges that the dentist’s forced agreement ought to be declared null and void because it violates both constitutional freedoms and doctors’ duty to place their patients’ interests above their own. The suit also contends the provision is an abuse of copyright law designed solely to inhibit expression.
A call to Dr. Makhnevich’s office seeking comment was not immediately returned.
“It is outrageous that a patient would have to sign away his constitutionally protected right to get treatment for a toothache,” Mr. Lee said in the statement. “I have to wonder what this dentist’s other patients have said to make her feel it was necessary to go to this extreme.”