Couple That Was Sued For $1M Over Yelp Review Asks Court To Dismiss Lawsuit

For months, we’ve been following the saga of the Texas couple who were first sued by their petsitter for $6,766 over a negative Yelp review, only to have that case dropped and re-filed as a full-on defamation lawsuit seeking up to $1 million in damages. Now, the couple is asking the court to just throw the entire case out because it should be prohibited by Texas state law.

Just to back up a bit for latecomers: The Dallas-area couple posted a Yelp review in Oct. 2015 for a local petsitting service, in which they detailed concerns with the company’s fees and billing, along with claims that the sitter hired to look after their pets wasn’t exactly great with providing updates, and what they contend was potential harm done to their fish.

That resulted in the petsitter filing a claim in a justice of the peace court, seeking the $6,766, not for defamation, but for violation of a “non-disparagement” clause in the contract the couple signed with the petsitter.

These clauses, which penalize customers for daring to write or say anything negative about a transaction (even if it’s true), have been in the news in recent years, after online retailer KlearGear failed in its efforts to collect thousands of dollars from a woman who griped online about a purchase.

(Interestingly, the non-disparagement clause in the petsitter contract is virtually identical to the one used by KlearGear.)

California recently made such clauses illegal in the state, and a federal measure outlawing these gag clauses unanimously passed the Senate several months ago and appears destined for a vote by the House later this summer.

But then, after the disparagement-related lawsuit had made national news, the petsitter dropped that complaint, only to re-file a more extensive lawsuit in a state court.

The petsitter continues to allege violation of the non-disparagement clause, but claims to be a victim of defamation and business disparagement, and that the negative attention has resulted in “numerous rape and death threats… in addition to other forms of harassment such as identity theft, impersonations, crank calls, etc.”

At the time, we reported that the couple had paired up with noted attorney Paul Levy from Public Citizen, and that he was preparing a response to the lawsuit. That motion to dismiss [PDF] was filed this morning, and makes the case that the petsitter’s complaint should be dismissed under a Texas law protecting free expression.

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