Dog Owner Gets Slapped With $65,000 Lawsuit After Posting Negative Review About Obedience Training

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A Virginia customer voiced her dissatisfaction and now may have to pay the consequences.

After enrolling her 14-week old puppy in obedience training at Burke’s Dog Tranquility, Jennifer Ujimori wasn’t happy with the results. After her refund request was shot down, she took to review Yelp and Angie’s List to complain about her experience.

“In a nutshell, the services delivered were not as advertised and the owner refused a refund,” Ujimori wrote on Yelp.

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This view may end up costing Ujimori $65,000. Colleen Dermott, the owner of Burke’s Dog Tranquility, is suing her for defamation, stating this negative review is untrue and has hurt her small business.

But Ujimori isn’t backing down. She is going to continue to head down the windy (and expensive) legal road, as she believes too many customers have been bullied in not posting negative experiences.

“For me, it’s a matter of principle and public interest,” Ujimori told The Washington Post. “People should be free to express their feelings about their service providers. Companies using the legal system to silence their critics has a chilling effect on First Amendment rights.”

The issue began in January after Ujimor enrolled her 4-pound Bolognese into an obedience class, as she has aspirations of having the dog become a certified therapy dog. But upon arriving, her puppy was in a class full of much bigger and older dogs — and was therefore separated form the group. Ujimor argues this didn’t help with socialization and requested a pro-rated refund for the future classes, the outlet reports.

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Not so, says Dermott. She claims she sent an email prior to the class stating this is what the situation may entail, along with Ujimor’s signature on a no-refund contract. Dermott also stated she tried to offer several other solutions, including credit for future classes.

“It had a significant impact in that I’m a small-business owner,” Dermott told the outlet. “I have to rely on these review sites as a major source of advertising.” (The review was taken down by Yelp.)

While Dermott may have thought a defamation lawsuit was the correct route to take, it could have negative implications on her business. The major one being a backlash on the Yelp site. At time of publication, there have been eight one-star reviews in the last two days, many referencing the lawsuit.

This isn’t the first time businesses have taken action on negative reviews. Last year Union Street Guest House had a clause on its website stating it would fine newlyweds $500 for every online negative review posted. They later said it was a joke, but that didn’t stop many people from posting one-star reviews. (Currently, the inn averages 1.5 stars on Yelp.). There was also a contractor that sued a woman for $750,000 for her one-star review. And we are waiting on a decision about whether Yelp must provide Alexandria’s Hadeed Carpet Clearners anonymous user information after a bad review was written.

While it makes sense to be protective of your business’s online reputation  (how often do you check Yelp before heading to a restaurant), some believe it’s a violation of the first amendment: freedoms of speech.For one, Ujimori is hoping this lawsuit will help push the anti-SLAPP law to be passed. This law would allow for a quick dismissal of suits directed at First Amendment rights.

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Image via Flickr