If you hire Prestigious Pets of Dallas, TX to take care of your pets, you have to sign a sleazy nondisparagement contract through which you promise not to complain in public about the company's service.
It's not surprising that Michelle and Robert Duchouquette of Plano, TX trusted their fish, a beta named Gordy, to Prestigious Pets, after all, their Yelp page was full of five-star reviews. But when they watched the bowl via their webcam, they found that Gordy's water was cloudy, with food at the bottom of the tank, and this led them to believe that he'd been overfed. They posted a one-star review, saying that while Prestigious Pets gave their two dogs "fine" care, they didn't think the fish-care was up to snuff.
So Prestigious Pets filed a one million dollar lawsuit.
The disparagement went beyond the Yelp review, too, according to the lawsuit. It reportedly included a "variety of written and broadcast mediums, including but not limited to via Facebook, Inc., ABC.com, CBS.com, and other media outlets."
The real kicker is the defamation allegation regarding Michelle's statement on Yelp and media interviews about Gordy being overfed.
The statements are defamation per se because each (a) was reasonably calculated to injure Plaintiffs' reputation and thus exposed them to public hatred, contempt, ridicule, or financial injury,1 (b) injured Plaintiffs in their business/occupation regarding the alleged lack of a peculiar or unique skill (pet care) necessary for the proper conduct of the business/occupation, and (c) falsely charged Plaintiffs with the commission of an act that is a crime (violation of TEX. PENAL CODE § 42.092, "Cruelty to Nonlivestock Animals"). The statements have been continuously published and re-published both by the Duchouquettes and by third parties.
In a blog post, Levy said this litigation is worth "watching because until Congress passes the Consumer Review Freedom Act, it could be our best chance to get one of these clauses declared unenforceable." He said the Duchouquettes' hold a "First Amendment right to make fair comments about the plaintiff company."
1-star Yelp review says "Gordy" the pet fish was overfed, attracts $1M lawsuit
[David Kravets/Ars Technica]