When Robert and Michelle Duchouquette of Plano, TX, weren't satisfied with the care their three pets received while they were away on vacation, they wrote a negative review on Yelp for Prestigious Pets, the company that had looked after the animals.
The one-star review explained that — among other complaints — the camera attached to their fish bowl had shown that the petsitter had overfed their fish, causing the water to turn cloudy. "I think my review was fair. I went point-by-point on the things about the policies of the company I didn’t like," Michelle told CBS DFW.
Prestigious Pets replied with a ostensibly-cordial response on Yelp, but sent the Duchouquettes a cease-and-desist letter shortly afterwards. "I was beyond shocked and a bit scared," Michelle said.
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When the review was still not removed, the company sued for $6,766, claiming the couple had violated a "non-disparagement" clause in their contract.
Nicole Williams, an anti-trust and trade regulation attorney at Thompson & Knight, said that similar lawsuits have been unsuccessful for breaching first amendment rights. "There are a lot of challenges that can be made to that clause that they are against public policy, that they infringe first amendment speech," she said.