Pet Sitting Service Uses its Form Contract to Try to Squelch Negative Yelp Reviews

The Internet has changed the way everyone does business. A lot of companies that used to rely on professional reviews and/or word of mouth to spread news about their business now have to deal with online reviews. Multiple sites exist for consumers to post reviews of just about any business and Yelp is one of the most popular review sites.

These sites make it easy for consumers looking to try a new restaurant, hotel, gym, etc., especially consumers who are new to the area. All they have to do is perform a quick search of local businesses on Yelp and the site will provide the average rating users have given that business. Users can then scroll through to see individual ratings and what each reviewer had to say about the business.

These reviews have proven problematic for many companies, since most consumers only take the time to post a review if they’ve had a really great experience or a really bad experience, which can skew the results of the average review. Despite the issues this has caused for many businesses, some have handled it better than others.

Prestigious Pets, a pet-sitting service located in Dallas, Texas, included a non-disparagement clause in its standard form contract. Despite enjoying mostly five-star reviews on Yelp, Prestigious Pets invoked its non-disparagement clause and filed lawsuits against two Yelp users who posted one-star reviews of the company for breaching a form adhesion contract that precluded customers from criticizing it by expressing their opinions which would normally be their right under the First Amendment.

The lawsuits were filed pro se against Michelle and Robert Duchouquette and Tatiana Narvaez in Dallas Justice Court, which is the equivalent of a small claims court. The lawsuit against Narvaez has not yet been served, but the Duchouquettes have already responded with a motion to dismiss under Texas’s anti-SLAPP law.

A strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP) is a lawsuit in which the plaintiff knows it doesn’t have any real claims, or that its claims are weak, but the plaintiff (usually a large corporation) decides to file the lawsuit anyway in order to discourage a particular behavior performed by the defendant. The idea behind these lawsuits is to intimidate the defendant by filing a lawsuit that the defendant will have to spend considerable amounts of time and money defending themselves against, even if they are entirely innocent of any wrongdoing. Many states, including Texas, have anti-SLAPP statutes that make these types of lawsuits illegal and impose penalties on companies for filing them.

The law has been slow to catch up with technology that is constantly evolving, but Congress is working to pass the Consumer Review Freedom Act, which would prevent companies from including non-disparagement clauses, like this one, in their contracts with consumers.

Until the law catches up, consumers will have to fight back on their own and they have been doing just that. Once the media brought Prestigious Pets’ lawsuits to the attention of the general public, the company’s average rating on Yelp dropped from five stars to three stars. In trying to get rid of two one-star reviews, the pet-sitting company appears to have created a bigger problem for itself.

Our Chicago libel and slander lawyers concentrate in this area of the law. We have defended or prosecuted a number of defamation and libel cases, including cases representing a consumer sued by a large luxury used car dealer in federal court for hundreds of negative internet reviews and videos which resulted in substantial media coverage of the suit; one of Loyola University’s largest contributors when the head basketball coach sued him for libel after he was fired; and a lawyer who was falsely accused of committing fraud with the false allegation published to the Dean of the University of Illinois School of Law, where the lawyer attended law school and the President of the University of Illinois. One of our partners also participated in representing a high profile athlete against a well-known radio shock jock.

Our Chicago defamation attorneys defend individuals’ First Amendment and free speech rights to post on Facebook, Yelp and other websites information that criticizes businesses and addresses matters of public concern. Our Chicago Cybersquatting attorneys also represent and prosecute claims on behalf of businesses throughout the Chicago area including in Naperville, Burr Ridge, and Hinsdale, who have been unfairly and falsely criticized by consumers and competitors in defamatory publications in the online and offline media. We have also successfully represented businesses who have been the victim of competitors setting up false rating sites and pretend consumer rating sites that are simply forums to falsely bash or business clients. We have also represented and defended consumers First Amendment and free speech rights to criticize businesses who are guilty of consumer fraud and false advertising.

Super Lawyers named Chicago and Oak Brook business trial attorneys Peter Lubin a Super Lawyer in the Categories of Class Action, Business Litigation, and Consumer Rights Litigation. Lubin Austermuehle’s Oak Brook and Chicago business trial lawyers have over a quarter of a century of experience in litigating complex class action, consumer rights, and business and commercial litigation disputes. We handle emergency business lawsuits involving injunctions, and TROS, defamation, libel, and covenant not to compete, franchise, distributor and dealer wrongful termination and trade secret lawsuits and many different kinds of business disputes involving shareholders, partnerships, closely held businesses and employee breaches of fiduciary duty. We also assist businesses and business owners who are victims of fraud or defamatory attacks on their business and reputations.

Lubin Austermuehle’s Naperville and Schaumburg defamation and slander lawyers have more than two and half decades of experience helping business clients unravel the complexities of Illinois and out-of-state business laws. Our Chicago business, commercial, class-action, and consumer litigation lawyers represent individuals, family businesses and enterprises of all sizes in a variety of legal disputes, including disputes among partners and shareholders as well as lawsuits between businesses and consumer rights, auto fraud, and wage claim individual and class action cases. In every case, our goal is to resolve disputes as quickly and successfully as possible, helping business clients protect their investments and get back to business as usual. From offices in Oak Brook, near Oswego, Yorkville, and Plano we serve clients throughout Illinois and the Midwest.

If you are the victim of a defamatory attack on your business or a consumer who has been sued to stop you from posting criticism of a business online at Yelp or anywhere else, contact one of our Oak Brook and Chicago defamation lawyers for a free consultation at 630-333-0333 or online by filling out our contact us form.

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