Le-Vel sue blogger, demand review be taken down
In October of 2015, the blog LazyMan And Money published a Le-Vel review titled “Is Le-vel Thrive a Scam?”
At the time of publication, Lazy Man’s review is the top listing on Google for the search “le-vel review”.
The review delves into Le-Vel’s Thrive patch product, raising potential issues with the FTC and a lack of clinical trials.
Analysis of Le-Vel’s other offered products include cost analysis, value for money, the lack of disclosure Le-Vel’s “proprietary blends” have.
A number of sources are cited in Lazy Man’s review, including excerpts from the FTC and consumer-advocate publications.
Based on the pricing of Le-Vel’s products being “banana pants crazy”, Lazy Man asserts the requirement that Le-Vel affiliates ‘buy product yourself or sell enough of it each month‘ will mean affiliates ‘are typically going to be left paying for‘ products themselves, ‘which makes (Le-Vel) look like a Pay to Play scheme‘.
The compensation plan clearly focuses the rewards on people with the most volume in their downline, not sales to outside people.
According to these FTC guidelines, that focus would appear to make Thrive a pyramid scheme.
Social media marketing by Le-Vel affiliates also comes under fire, with Lazy Man exhibiting a coordinated Facebook marketing campaign directed to “Le-Vel leaders”.
The nature of the “planned post campaign” is naturally not disclosed to the general public, with it supposed to look like an organic marketing effort.
Rounding out the review, Lazy Man concludes:
Between the extremely expensive products, dubious marketing, and what appears to be a pyramid scheme (see aforementioned FTC guidelines), I think it is clear that Le-vel Thrive is a scam.
Le-Vel evidently aren’t too happy about the exposure Lazy Man’s review has been getting, with a cease and desist sent to the blog on January 18th.
On behalf of Le-Vel, their attorneys accused Lazy Man of ‘making disparaging, false, and defamatory statements about Le-Vel and its THRIVE product line‘.
Le-Vel’s attorneys went on to reduce a decade of Lazy Man blog posts to a
business model of using the name of a well-known network marketing company next to the word “scam” in order to drive internet traffic.
Indeed, it appears Le-Vel objected to the title of Lazy Man’s review, which literally raised the question of whether Le-Vel was a scam.
Specifically, that Lazy Man made
statements or assertions that Le-Vel: incentivizes its Promoters to make misrepresentations; is violating FTC guidelines and regulations; is illegally violating FDA marketing restrictions; is an illegal pyramid scheme; is a scam; is not a legitimate business; supports Promoters who do not perform any function other than pyramid scheme recruiting; sets up its Promoters for failure as “a [m]athematical [c]ertainty”; is overcharging people by fifty times, for hundreds of dollars per year; sells THRIVE patches that are placebos with no ingredients; and sells THRIVE M supplements that are incomplete multivitamins.
These statements, Le-Vel contends, have ‘prejudice(d) and injure(d) Le-Vel’s business, are defamatory per se under both Texas and Massachusetts law‘.
Further, your defamatory statements are verifiably false.
For instance, Le-Vel is not an illegal pyramid scheme, charges no fees or upfront costs to enroll as a Promoter, and is highly focused on customer acquisitions, providing a rewards plan that emphasizes retail sales of valuable and effective products.
Moreover, Le-Vel promulgates and enforces detailed policies and procedures to ensure that statements regarding its products are accurate and compliant with FDA and FTC guidelines and regulations, and that its Promoters do not make medical or drug claims in association with Le-Vel’s products.
In our own Le-Vel review, I noted that Le-Vel’s price-points might be restrictive. Overall though there did seem to be a significant effort to encourage retail sales.
Effort alone however doesn’t drive retail sales, with disclosure (or discovery) of Le-Vel’s retail sales figures required to make a concrete determination either way.
While Le-Vel respects First Amendment freedoms, it also respects the laws of the United States.
Therefore, we write both to inform you of your violations of Texas and Massachusetts law and to protect Le-Vel’s legal interests under those laws by demanding that you take immediate action to cure your violations.
Le-Vel went on to demand Lazy Man take down their review.
In answer to the cease and desist, Lazy Man claimed the content of the review was an opinion.
Moreover, the context of the Article must be considered as well.
The context of the Article is a blog published on the Internet where (Lazy Man) regularly posts his opinions, ideas and comments about consumer products and their prices for the express purpose of saving consumers money.
The Article is not defamatory because it is based on (Lazy Man’s) opinion which is based on disclosed, non defamatory facts, most of which are quoted and cited to in the Article.
In addition, all other statements in your list of “disparaging and defamatory statements,” are similarly based on links to other sources including the FTC and FDA websites and are (Lazy Man’s) opinions about those disclosed facts.
Indeed, many of his opinions cite to, quote and link to Le-Vel’s own online product brochures and Facebook page.
Citing “earlier articles” that questioned the value of Thrive in a similar fashion to Lazy Man’s review, Lazy Man’s attorney contended ‘it would be nearly impossible to show that any “damages” suffered by your client are causally related‘ to the Lazy Man review.
How much Lazy Man’s review might have injured and prejudiced Le-Vel was not clarified in their cease and desist. The company stated only that
although your defamatory statements have damaged and continue to damage Le-Vel, Le-Vel need not prove damages, which are presumed to flow from the statements themselves.
Sounds pretty convenient to me.
Maintaining that they didn’t agree with Le-Vel’s accusations, Lazy Man nonetheless offered to ‘work with (Le-Vel) to address their complaints in a manner that respects his First Amendment rights.‘
Le-Vel responded the next day, again demanding Lazy Man take down their review.
For reasons unknown Lazy Man wasn’t given any time to respond, with Le-Vel filing a lawsuit in Texas later that day.
Le-Vel is not a fraud, a scam, or an illegal pyramid scheme.
Nevertheless, when Le-Vel asked (Lazy Man) to remove his defamatory article, he not only refused, but he continued to post new defamatory statements about Le-Vel.
Therefore, Le-Vel seeks to recover damages for (Lazy Man’s) malicious defamation and disparagement, and seeks a permanent injunction requiring (Lazy Man) to remove his defamatory publications.
Le-Vel are seeking ‘monetary relief over $1,000,000 and a permanent injunction’ against Lazy Man, which if granted would see them required to take down their review.
Lazy Man publicly announced the filing of the lawsuit earlier today, in a blog post titled “Le-Vel is Suing Me to Silence Criticism“.
Last year a reader wrote me to ask about Le-Vel Thrive.
I decided it was worth looking into and the result was (an) article on Le-Vel Thrive.
My article aimed to educate people on MLM and pyramid schemes similar to Truth in Advertising’s article on The Thrive Experience.
For the most part, I simply stuck to quoting the FTC guidelines on MLM and pyramid schemes and giving my opinion based on those guidelines.
At this stage Lazy Man intends to fight the suit, but acknowledges that he is yet
to find a lawyer in Texas.
Thus far, I haven’t one willing to work on the contingency of winning to get their fees. It’s hard to ask them to take the risk of perhaps working for no money at all.
On the other hand, defending such a lawsuit can run tens of thousands of dollars. Lawyers are typically paid several hundred dollars per hour and it adds up quickly.
To mitigate some of those costs, Lazy Man has called upon his readers to support the blog through a GoFundMe campaign.
I ask that you give what you can to support free speech. If you can’t give anything, please share it on Facebook, Reddit, Twitter, and anything else you might use like InstaChat or SnapGram.
Finally, if you happened to know a lawyer in Texas who is willing to work on contingency and/or a news organization please put me in touch with them.
Thank you for your support.
We’re now almost one thousand five hundred words into this article, so I’ll try to keep my own thoughts on the lawsuit brief.
First and foremost I think that Le-Vel’s response to the review is pretty overbearing. A million dollar lawsuit… really?
Had they of continued a dialogue with Lazy Man instead of running off to court, I think a compromise might have been reached.
Specifically a point of contention on Le-Vel’s behalf appears to revolve around the use of the word “scam”, and all that implies in the world of MLM.
I want to emphasize that last part, by pointing out the word “scam” is pretty vague. What I think is a scam, what Lazy Man thinks is a scam, what Le-Vel thinks is a scam and even what a court might deem a scam, could be drastically different.
Ditto the implications of those meanings, and how others might perceive them (with respect to their own ideas of what is or isn’t a scam).
For that primary reason you’ll rarely see me use the word here on BehindMLM. Not because I’m worried about getting sued over its use, but because I think a review demands a higher level of precision.
This I feel however is point of contention that could have easily been worked out between the two parties.
Malice on the part of Lazy Man towards Le-Vel, at least with respect to the original review as published, seems to be a non-issue.
As to the rest of it, I think there’s merit to what Lazy Man have brought up in their review. Analysis of Le-Vel’s products is certainly not, on face-value, defamatory.
This also goes for cost-analysis, which lends itself to discussion of whether or not Le-Vel might be operating as a pyramid scheme. That line of thought differs to BehindMLM’s review of Le-Vel, but that doesn’t mean in and of itself it’s defamatory.
The cynic in me wants to dismiss Le-Vel’s lawsuit as sour grapes over Google rankings. Anyone can ascertain that Lazy Man’s review is prominent in searches relating to Le-Vel.
But while rankings sour grapes might very well play a large role in their hastiness to file a lawsuit, I do think there may be a case to answer for regarding Lazy Man’s assertion that Le-Vel is a scam.
I also think Le-Vel might be looking at Lazy Man’s settlement with LifeVantage and thinking that, with minimal effort, they might be able to get the same result.
Overall there’s a lot to ponder and, at least personally, I found it a complicated suit to cover. I suspect much of it will come down to Lazy Man being able to defend the lawsuit financially, which is a shame.
On the other hand bloggers don’t often have thousands of dollars to throw at lawsuits (which Le-Vel are no doubt aware of), so there is that.
What are your thoughts?
Did Lazy Man cross the line in his review? Are Le-Vel demanding too much? Was there room for compromise prior to the lawsuit being filed?
Update 28th March 2017 – On March 23rd the Texas District Court of Appeals overturned a trial court’s decision and dismissed Le-Vel’s lawsuit.