Dog Trainer Says 'Bad Customer,' Sues for $65K Over Reviews

Different breeds of dog (Canis lupus familiaris) at training school, Belgium
Arterra Picture Library/Alamy
Review sites have given consumers a way to amplify their voices and make an impact on a company's business -- for good or bad. For Virginia resident Jennifer Ujimori, bad reviews on Yelp and Angie's List turned into a terrible experience, as the owner of obedience school Dog Tranquility filed a $65,000 defamation lawsuit against her, according to the Washington Post.

The dispute has become a battle between customer and business owner, with each claiming the ethical high ground. It also highlights a growing area of tension in commerce. Customers displeased with services or products take to social media to complain about the companies they did business with. Small business owners get angry, often claiming that the consumers are unreasonably and that the complaints greatly damage their reputations and cause significant financial loss. But getting into a fight can hurt the company even more.

Ujimori told the Post that in January she took her 14-week-old, 4-pound dog Yuki to a $175 obedience class. But the other dogs in the class were big and Yuki was in a gated-off area by herself. Ujimori said that she asked for a prorated refund but was refused.

"For me, it's a matter of principle and public interest," Ujimori told the 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."

School's Owner Says What She Offered

The Post reported that Colleen Dermott, owner of Dog Tranquility, claimed in her lawsuit that she had sent emails to Ujimori that the group of dogs would be mixed and that there small dogs could be put into an optional gated area. Dermott also claimed that the contract stated there would be no refunds.

Dermott also told the Post that she tried to satisfy Ujimori, including offering a credit for a future class. "It had a significant impact in that I'm a small-business owner," Dermott said to the Post. "I have to rely on these review sites as a major source of advertising."

But the suit seems to have backfired on Dermott, if a look at her Yelp page is any indication. Dog Tranquility has 53 reviews now and an overall rating of two-and-a-half stars out of a possible five. Many people who heard of the story went on and left one-star ratings, castigating her for not taking care of the problem. Others, claiming to be customers of Dermott's, have left five-star reviews, urging those considering the business to pay attention to those from people who have used the business.

This is hardly the first time that a business owner has sued someone over a bad review. A Virginia contractor sued a customer for $750,000 for a bad online review, according to the New York Daily News. And as the Consumerist notes, some businesses try preventing bad reviews through clauses in their contracts.
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