Judge dismisses lawsuit over one-star fish care review
An online review that claimed a pet-sitting company overfed a couple's pet Betta led to a lawsuit. Picture does not show the actual fish mentioned in the report. Image by Shutterstock.
A couple who found themselves on the receiving end of a $1 million lawsuit after giving a pet-sitting service a poor review can sleep easily again, after a judge dismissed the lawsuit.
Michelle and Robert Duchouquette, who live in Texas, had hired Prestigious Pets to come in and take care of their Siamese fighter ‘Gordy’, and to walk and feed their dogs, while they were away on holiday.
However, a video camera was installed on the tank to monitor the fish and after watching the footage the couple left the following on Yelp, accompanied by a one-star rating:
“The one star is for potentially harming my fish, otherwise it would have been two stars. We have a camera on the bowl and we watched the water go from clear to cloudy. There was a layer of food on the bottom from way too much being put in it. Even if you don’t have fish, you should be able to see the change in the bowl and stop putting in food. Better yet, ask us how much to feed if you are unsure.”
The couple also criticised the company in the review for what they said was its poor communication and lack of clarity on pricing.
However, they did add that “the care of our dogs was fine”.
Prestigious Pets claimed that the negative review defamed the company and violated the non-disparagement clause in its contract with the Duchouquettes. It also accused their alleged overfeeding of the fish as tantamount to libel, as overfeeding is akin to animal cruelty, which is a crime.
Judge Jim Jordan said that the defendants were simply exercising their right to free speech by writing the negative review and dismissed the case, ordering Prestigious Pets to pay the couple’s attorney fees with sanctions to deter them from bringing similar lawsuits in the future.