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Log In / Register | Jul 18, 2018

Online Review Rankings Not Defamatory

The "Dirtiest Hotel In America" lost its appeal-- both with customers and in court.

The Grand Resort Hotel in Pigeon Forge was not so grand, according to the reviews on TripAdvisor. After being awarded the dubious honor in 2011, the sole proprietor who owned the hotel sued and claimed:

  1. defamation,
  2. false light invasion of privacy,
  3. trade libel / injurious falsehood,
  4. tortious interference with prospective business relationships.

For some reason not discussed in the pleadings, the hotel was owned as a sole proprietorship (itself indicative of poor business practices). So owner Kenneth Seaton brought an action as Plaintiff.

The fact that Seaton was not named by TripAdvisor was sufficient to dismiss the false light claim (in addition to the fact that a business cannot recover under Tennessee law).

The remaining claims turned on the issue of whether the TripAdvisor list constituted "defamation" as a matter of law.

In contrast to some other courts which have focused on the subjective nature of the specific words (i.e., that "dirtiest" is an opinion incapable of being proven true/false), the Grand Resort court focused on the hyperbolic nature of the claim that a particular business was the "dirtiest." The court also noted that TripAdvisor specifically disclosed that the list was based on rankings provided by TripAdvisor users.

Subsequent to the 2011 list, TripAdvisor stopped publishing its list. The Grand Resort was foreclosed on by the bank and subsequently closed.

Franchisees--like all business owners-- complain about internet sites such as TripAdvisor or Yelp, particularly where the comments are posted without disclosing the real name of the party making the comment.

Grand Resort is a reminder that as a general rule such claims are unlikely to succeed. It is not known from the public record if Mr. Seaton was so informed by his attorneys, but given that the bank ultimately took several of Mr. Seaton's properties it seems that he would have been better off hiring some cleaning staff and paying his mortgages than spending money on a multi-year course of appellate litigation.


Kenneth Seaton v. TripAdvisor LLC

6th Circuit, Aug 28 2013

Seaton v Trip Advisor OPN 28Aug2013.pdf460.79 KB
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Corbin is the online pen name of a contracts aficionado who needs to get a better hobby.

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