Judge tosses lawsuit over 1-star Yelp review for overfeeding pet fish

From ArsTechnica:

A local Texas judge is tossing a $1 million lawsuit brought by a Dallas pet-sitting business that sued the owners of a pet fish for giving the company a 1-star Yelp review that complained that “Gordy” was overfed.

Among other allegations, Prestigious Pets claimed (PDF) that a Plano couple violated its non-disparagement clause and defamed it on Yelp in last year’s review. The Dallas County suit alleged that Michelle and Robert Duchouquette’s review about the overfeeding of the tiny betta fish amounted to libel because overfeeding is akin to animal cruelty and a crime.

“I am thankful to have a ruling that supports our right to free speech. We should all have the opportunity to express our opinions without the fear of a lawsuit,” Michelle Duchouquette said in a statement.

Judge Jim Jordan also ruled (PDF) in a brief order that the couple’s lawyers, which included Public Citizen, are entitled to recover legal fees, in addition to sanctions “sufficient to deter them from bringing similar actions.”

Here is the text of the review that sparked the litigation.

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 legal fracas, said Paul Alan Levy, the Public Citizen lawyer who litigated the case, has …

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